Contracts help meet needs of force during COVID-19

By Maj. Brandon Mace | 4th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) | April 17, 2020

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JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. —

In addition to the incredible medical and engineering response being provided by military members around the country to combat COVID-19, there is a less public group working behind the scenes to ensure operations keep moving, U.S. Army contracting.

U.S. Northern Command, through U.S. Army North, is providing military support to the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help communities in need. For the most up to date information on COVID-19 and the military’s response visit https://www.defense.gov/Explore/Spotlight/Coronavirus/.

In the 4th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary), headquartered in Fort Sam Houston, Texas, the go to guy for contracting is Maj. Garrett Funabiki, the officer in charge of the operational contracting support integration cell. His title might be a mouthful, but without his team, the unit wouldn't be able to link contractors to the needs of the force.

“We receive requirements from a unit that needs support, or maybe they need a service,” says Funabiki. “We then provide information, guidance, and some subject matter expertise on how to incorporate contracting into that operation.”

Troops need food to eat and a place to sleep, not to mention the large list of services required to get medical support up and running. The military has the resources to handle these services internally, but with the COVID-19 response taking place in major U.S cities, Funabiki says it makes a lot of sense to leverage local companies.

“The military has services such as cooks, field kitchens, and portable showers,” said Funabiki, “but another opportunity is to use the commercial base. Contractors could provide those showers or meals.”

So what is the advantage? If the military has the capability to provide the service, isn't that the obvious choice? Not always, says Funabiki, and that is why his team exists, to do the analysis and make the recommendations.

“We provide the commander with options so they don't have to commit forces,” said Funabiki. “A contract is generally easier, it can be quicker, it does come at a cost, obviously, but you need to balance the cost of deploying units to do those jobs. More forces add to the footprint, costs, and the time it takes to get those services done.”

With the COVID-19 response, a new requirement Funabiki and his team had to think about was security. Normally military members would provide security for their operations, but in major cities in the U.S., like Seattle where the 4th ESC was asked to assist, they had to weigh all the options and risks.

“Soldiers are not police officers, they're not law enforcement,” said Funabiki. “One of the biggest challenges here is a lot of our standard operating procedures are written for downrange, so bringing them into these stateside operations, we have to take them and make it work.”

To make it work, Funabiki works closely with other members of the 4th ESC staff, people like Maj. Mara Eck. As the unit's protection and anti-terrorism officer, and a former police officer serving in Arlington, Virginia, she brings a unique perspective to the conversation. She said the security agreements in Seattle were easier because of the agencies already in place.

“The security contracts at the field hospital were worked through the event center, it's part of the stadium complex so they have amazing security,” said Eck, “and the Seattle Police Department has a great armed security presence, so they just had to tweak some things for our hospital.”

In addition to coordinating with the security forces, Eck also conducts threat assessments of areas military members could use. This includes everything from work spaces, to parking, to local grocery stores where they might go for necessities. One of her main focuses wherever she goes is hotel security.

“Typically if there's 50 or more staying in the hotel, we would do a full assessment,” said Eck. “We check out the entire hotel from top to bottom. We look at everything from cameras, to lighting, to the rooms themselves, to delivery, entrances, exits, anything where security is involved, we want to see it.”

Eck takes her job seriously. She sets up appointments with managers and security officers, asks them questions about their security and safety plans, and then offers recommendations that will make their establishment more secure for everyone.

“From my perspective, I ask, will the force be safe and secure?” says Eck. “What are the vulnerabilities, and then what can we do to mitigate those vulnerabilities.”

Mitigating risk early and providing a commander with several options with well thought-out recommendations makes for a successful mission. The 4th ESC's mission in Seattle is likely just the first step in the nationwide mission to combat COVID-19, but Funabiki and his team have the expertise and connections to make it happen.

“We are sharing our information across the United States,” said Funabiki. “Our network is really robust in terms of getting information and spreading it out, so we've got the juice!”

The 4th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) is headquartered at Fort Sam Houston, Texas. The command is made up of Soldiers, Civilians and their Families in units headquartered throughout Texas, New Mexico, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Louisiana. As part of America's Army Reserve, these units are trained, combat-ready and equipped to provide military and logistical support in any corner of the globe.

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