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NEWS | Feb. 17, 2016

Intra-agency partnership assists Soldiers in gaining hands-on contracting experience

By Staff Sgt. Sheila Holifield Army Reserve Sustainment Command

A conversation between two Army Reserve Soldiers during physical fitness training was the beginning of a unique training idea to allow Soldiers the opportunity to gain real-world contracting experience during battle assembly weekends.

The Army Reserve Sustainment Command, out of Birmingham, Alabama, has contracting battalions in various locations across the United States. The 915th Contracting Support Battalion, headquartered in Baltimore, and the 917th Contingency Contracting Battalion, located in San Antonio, are made up of Soldiers who have been assessed into the military occupational specialty of 51C and functional area 51.

Upon being assessed, Soldiers attend the Army Acquisition Foundation Course and the Army Basic Contracting Course. Once their coursework is complete, Soldiers are expected to obtain one year of on-the-job-training and then apply to become certified in contracting. 

Lt. Col. Renie Bright, commander of the 915th CSB, and Maj. Camille Morgan, security manager and safety officer for the 915th, developed a plan to help their Soldiers gain hands-on experience by partnering with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Huntsville Center.

Morgan, who works as a civilian at USACE during the week, realized that Army Reserve Soldiers could hone their skills by assisting with their contract backlog. Bright and Morgan then reached out to Colleen O’Keefe, chief of contracting for the USACE Huntsville Center. 

“We suggested a working group that would help the Corps with their workload and at the same time allow our Soldiers to obtain relevant contracting experience in order to meet certification requirements while developing the skills they need once deployed,” said Morgan.

Five Soldiers from the two battalions who were local to the Huntsville area agreed to conduct battle assembly Fridays and Saturdays, instead of the standard Saturday-Sunday most Reservists train. The working group consists of Morgan, Maj. Jose Gamboa, Capt. Charles Wright, Sgt. 1st Class Pamela Brown and Sgt. 1st Class Jason Underwood.

“Every Friday, we conduct real work for the Corps, helping with contract closeouts and de-obligations,” said Morgan, who recently became a Level II certified contracting specialist. 

“This setup gives us an opportunity to learn the policies and procedures associated with contracting and also become trained on tactics we can use while we are working in the contracting arena which help us become more proficient at our jobs,” Morgan added.

Saturdays are dedicated to training and classes with several USACE contracting specialists who volunteer as mentors. They educate the Soldiers on various contracting operations, day-to-day business and contracting tactics that are used downrange. The teamwork has proven a success, as the working group completes an average of 15-20 closeouts each battle assembly weekend.

“I really enjoy teaching and sharing my knowledge,” said Shawn Willie, contract specialist on the USACE furniture team at the Huntsville Center. Willie, who has more than 20 years of contracting experience, assists the working group on internal methods, systems and the closeout process. “We award numerous contracts on the furniture team so these Soldiers have been a huge relief to our team by helping us give closure to the process,” Willie said.

Each person, civilian and military, brings his or her various levels of experience and skill to the table.  

Lt. Col. Ronald Clark, the working group’s team lead, has seen first-hand how important and impactful the training concept is.   

“This partnership has been a great opportunity for us as contracting specialists, because we gain practical experience and hands-on training with systems that we work with overseas,” said Clark, who served as the contracting cell team lead while deployed to Kuwait in 2011.

“While overseas, I learned all about being a 51C, how contracting works in the Army and how important this field is to support the warfighter,” said Clark.

As contracting missions become more prevalent in the military, 915th and 917th Soldiers will deploy as contracting specialists either in small teams or together as a battalion, said Clark.

“Learning directly from these mentors has given us a chance to sharpen our skills, preparing us for upcoming missions,” added Clark. “We are getting knowledge and experience from people who have been there and know the databases, the systems and the ‘ins and outs’ of the contracting field.”

Even for seasoned contracting specialists, the working group has been a positive experience.

Sgt. 1st Class Pamela Brown, contracting specialist with the 917th, has more than seven years of contracting experience as a civilian and as a 51C. While deployed, she managed the non-tactical vehicle contracts in Afghanistan.

“This has been a great opportunity to keep our skills fresh,” said Brown, who is Level III certified. “As a Reservist, you can’t ask for better training during a battle assembly. Typically we would just take classes, and although the classes are good, this program allows you to actually work on real contracts and go through the entire process,” said Brown.

That’s exactly what Morgan had in mind when she began to draft a plan. Her number one priority, she said, was to establish a partnership that would allow Soldiers to learn the process and get hands-on experience while building a network with other contracting professionals.

As the intra-agency partnership continues to provide training opportunities for the Soldiers of the 915th and 917th, Morgan is optimistic it can only become a force multiplier.

“We never really know everything with contracting; you haven’t seen it all yet,” said Morgan. “Every day something can stump you, so we are constantly learning, constantly growing and constantly sharpening our skills.”