By John Budnik
USACE - Alaska District
JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARSON – Four Soldiers assigned to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers – Alaska District are helping improve people’s lives by administering contracts for design and construction projects in distant lands.
Established in 2009 under the Army Contracting Command, the military contingency contracting team provides assistance to the Alaska District’s Asia Office. The district constructs schools, medical clinics and cyclone shelters on behalf of U.S. Pacific Command, which is responsible for providing humanitarian aid to 36 countries across Southeast Asia.
The program mirrors what the Army’s 10 contracting teams train for – deploying to warzones, responding to natural disasters or encountering other dire situations with minimal access and resources. Lt. Col. Ryan Zachry, contracting officer on the team, explains how the Soldiers contribute to the district mission overseas and improve the Army’s capabilities.
What is the military contingency contracting team? How does it fit with the district?
When the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq started, the Army was short on contracting personnel. The Department of Defense relied heavily on the Air Force for its capability, while most of the Army contracting personnel were civilians. The wars put a spotlight on the need for military contracting officers because civilians can only deploy if they want to go and are physically capable. In 2007, the Gansler Commission Report, an independent study directed by the Secretary of the Army, recommended the development of an Army contracting workforce. Since then, the Army Contracting Command was established under the Army Materiel Command.
The Army launched the teams, with four Soldiers each, across the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers because of the organization’s expertise in construction contracting. The Corps offers a great training environment to develop Soldiers in this field, while the skillset is highly sought after elsewhere in the Army. Once a Corps assignment is complete, the Soldiers receive an additional skill identifier in construction contracting for potential future assignments.
In 2009, the Alaska District was just forming the Asia Office with a mission emphasis on humanitarian assistance projects, like schools and health clinics. These types of projects were a huge part of the mission in Iraq and Afghanistan.
What positions are on the team?
The group is comprised of a team leader, contracting officer and two contracting specialists. Currently, the positions are filled by Lt. Col. George Nasif, team leader; Master Sgt. Phil Charles, Sgt. 1st Class Regina Lawrence, contracting specialists; and me.
What services are provided to the Alaska District by the contracting team?
Within the Asia Office, we primarily focus on design-build contracts. There are 77 ongoing projects in seven countries; Bangladesh, Cambodia, Laos, Mongolia, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Vietnam. For each action, there is a separate quality assurance service contract that provides daily oversight of the work. The team is capable of supporting other district missions such as the Formerly Used Defense Sites and Environmental Engineering programs when fully staffed as well.
What is the most unique activity the contracting team has accomplished at the district?
The achievement I am most proud of is when we won the Contracting Team of the Year Award in the 2014 Excellence in Contracting Awards for the entire U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. It is not exclusively a military or civilian award, but one for the entire contracting workforce in the Corps. It was the first time a military contingency contracting team won.
What is the most rewarding aspect of being on the contracting team and a part of the district?
For me, it is working with the program managers and engineers in the Asia Office. I learn a lot about the construction process and how engineers think. We are really part of the civilian team and participate in any training they conduct.
What is one thing people need to know about the contracting team?
Mentoring and training the members of a military contracting team helps the Army’s big picture and will pay dividends in the future. It gives the Army the capability to construct overseas in a combat environment. Also, coming to an assignment like Alaska really sets up a Soldier for success. Nothing feels better than seeing the kids in the school you helped build.