Contracting Disaster Relief

KADENA AIR BASE, Japan -- Imagine billowing wisps of smoke rising into the sky, signaling the telltale signs of a fire, as first responders rally to rescue casualties from an earthquake that struck just off the coast. Okinawa is flooded with debris from damaged buildings. Rescue efforts are underway and civilians are evacuated to some of the nearby military installations. What happens after the natural disaster is over and everyone is rescued?

Contracting officers from the U.S. Air Force, Army, and Marine Corps come together to meet the challenges of acquiring the basic necessities for survival. Challenges such as who buys the supplies, what people need for prolonged survival and funding sources in times of crisis.

More than 60 members of the 18th Contracting Squadron and the 18th Comptroller Squadron, conduct annual operational contracting support joint exercises with Marines, Soldiers and the Defense Logistics Agency to ensure Okinawan residents are able to recover after surviving a natural disaster.

During the exercise, contractors and finance agents split into joint teams and are monitored by more experienced members of their units who are there to observe and evaluate each team’s performance on contracting.

“We really put a burden on the evaluators and observers,” said U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Mason Harney, 18th CONS unit training manager. “They are not only responsible for answering their team’s questions correctly, but they also have to ensure they are working in the right direction towards the general values we’re looking for in this training.”

During one of the training scenarios, teams had to compose lists of items to provide relief such as food, water, shelter and hygiene. They also met with vendors and figured out how to communicate in Japanese without translators to negotiate contracts for these items. These are a few of the many problems that the teams may encounter during an actual crisis.

After coming up with a list of supplies and possible vendors, they have to brief the acting commander on the funding necessary to fulfill their objectives.

According to U.S. Marine Corps Maj. Wynndee Young, 3rd Expeditionary Contracting Platoon chief of contracting, there are some limiting factors during training. Even though each service has similar contracting procedures and rules, there are different processes and slight variances in implementation.

“By training together we can self-identify any issues and work around them. I think this helps build our relationship with the 18th CONS,” Young said. “If something does happen, we already have a familiar working experience with them and can work well together.”

“If a disaster were to occur on Okinawa, in reality we are going to be operating jointly,” said U.S. Air Force Maj. Mark Harris, 18th CONS commander. “Our goal with training is to familiarize services to joint contracting operations while providing realistic training opportunities to contracting, finance, and logistics personnel.”

According to Harris, training together with other services highlights the joint environment that exists within Okinawa and takes advantage of all the different abilities of each service to better protect the island.

“We want to be able to respond the best way possible to any emergency, to best serve the people of Okinawa,” Harris said. “Whether it is typhoon, tsunami or earthquake. We all work together as a team to make sure it happens.”