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News | March 6, 2024

Contingency Contractors: Partnerships Power the Mission in U.S. Central Command

By Tech. Sgt. James Cason United States Air Forces Central

U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND - “An army runs on its stomach,” a phrase attributed to Napoleon Bonaparte, emphasizes the importance of meeting the basic logistical needs of a military force first and foremost. In a modern contingency environment such as the Middle East, the U.S. Air Force directly supplies a base with equipment like aircraft, heavy machinery and weaponry. But when it comes to smaller logistical details, an expeditionary contracting squadron is largely responsible for feeding the “stomach.”

“We have our hands in just about every aspect of the mission here, from food, phone services, and office equipment to making sure we have electricity and running water. Whether it’s at the AFCENT (U.S. Air Forces Central) level or handled right here by our team, those items or services were procured by Air Force contracting,” said an ECONS director of operations deployed to the Middle East.

A contracting squadron works to enable purchases by acting as the bridge between unit representatives and outside vendors. Units relay needs to their assigned contracting officer, then the contracting officer ensures an ethical and fair process of interacting with vendors to certify the final contract or agreement is legal and meets the government’s needs.

“I wouldn’t say contracting is any more or less important in a deployed location versus back in the States, but there are some big differences,” said an ECONS non-commissioned officer deployed to the Middle East.

For example, we’re able to facilitate bigger contracts, faster to meet the quicker mission demands of a contingency environment, he continued.

The ECONS NCO also emphasized the added difficulty inherent in contingency contracting by explaining, “There’s a bigger risk of fraud, waste and abuse of military funding so we have to make sure we’re always tracking our financial acquisition regulations to safeguard those taxpayer dollars.”

Both the ECONS director of operations and NCO describe another difference between stateside and deployed contracting as an “enjoyable challenge.”

“In the Middle East, people place a much bigger emphasis on building relationships. Back home, it’s all business. You tell the vendor what you need, they give you a price and you’re done. Here, the local vendors want to meet you in person and develop a personal working relationship prior to working with you. It’s definitely more time-consuming, but I’ve learned a lot of people skills and gained a lot of confidence through host nation partnerships that have enabled me to better explain and define contracting to others,” said the deployed ECONS NCO.

A recent vendor day, hosted by the American Chamber of Commerce at a local hotel business center in the Middle East provided the contracting team an opportunity to test their knowledge and flex their partnership-building muscles.

The deployed ECONS NCO said they found speaking with and briefing vendors rewarding because, “the local vendors are the quickest means of getting what we need. We've been in this country a long time and we want to stay out here as long as we need to by showing appreciation to our host nation through investing time and money into local vendors, ensuring they all get an equal chance and understand how to do business with the (U.S.) federal government.”

The deployed ECONS director of operations agreed. “We put millions and millions of dollars into the local economy. Without our relationships and our partnerships with local nationals and other country nationals out here, there wouldn’t be a mission. The planes couldn’t fly, our food and quality of life would suffer, and we wouldn’t be able to support our infrastructure.”

As their deployment winds down, the ECONS director of operations reflected on their accomplishments as a contracting team. “When we got here, our manning was reduced by about 30 percent but we had to find a way to keep the mission going.”

He said one of the best moments of his deployment was when they, “turned a potential manpower problem into a solution by training unit resource advisors to be able to better interact with our vendors and take some of the strain off of our contracting officers. We feel this allowed for more opportunity for partnerships with our vendors, and the proof is that we’ve been able to exceed previous rotations in our number of awarded contracts.”

The ECONS NCO said he didn’t have one specific moment that stood out, but that he sees “the growth in confidence and ability, not just in myself, but in every member of my team. We all know we’re all going through it together. There’s a lot of work that has to get done, but we’re all marching to the same goal … which is ultimately mission support. So we know that without us being there to help support the mission, things are going to fail.”

The partnerships built, strengthened and continued by this expeditionary contracting squadron help power the U.S. Central Command mission today and will help make that mission possible tomorrow.