ALTUS AIR FORCE BASE, Okla --
Contracting Airmen work to save the Air Force money by using smart spending techniques to get the best supplies possible at the lowest price. When contracting Airmen deploy, they fall back on their operational contracting support training.
Operational contracting support is what contracting Airmen do when deployed. They use their expertise to buy supplies and services from the deployed location.
"Altus, Sheppard, Keesler, Maxwell and Goodfellow Air Force Bases all sent representatives..."
Which is why Altus Air Force Base and Sheppard AFB conducted a weeklong contracting field exercise that has been happening annually for the past five years.
As the Air Force grows, so does the need for more realistic training and exercises. In response, Altus and Sheppard AFB went above and beyond the previous years and invited three more bases to participate in the exercise, while also utilizing the training facilities at Fort Sill.
"Altus, Sheppard, Keesler, Maxwell and Goodfellow Air Force Bases all sent representatives," said 1st Lt. Elizabeth McKenna, a contracting officer assigned to the 82nd Contracting Squadron at Sheppard AFB. "We expanded to AETC bases because we wanted to see this grow and it definitely has. Now it feels like a much stronger experience."
The group of more than 30 Airmen arrived at Fort Sill on April 15. Unloading bags into the barracks where they would be sleeping, the Airmen talked amongst each other about what would happen in the days to come.
"We had no idea what to expect," said Senior Airman Phillip Lee, a contracting specialist assigned to the 97th Contracting Flight. "We knew where we had to be and at what time and that was about it, everything was a surprise".
On April 16 the Airmen were up bright and early. After breakfast, the Airmen loaded into trucks and traveled for 30 minutes from Fort Sill to Camp Eagle, where they would be working for the next week.
"Fort Sill was nice enough to let us use their facility," said Tech Sgt. Andrzej Wojcicki, a contracting officer assigned to the 82nd CONS. "It brings that deployment feel to the exercise."
Chief Master Sgt. Scott Leblanc and Lt. Col Gene Smith from the Air Force Installation Contracting Agency were able to join the exercise. They served as the mock commanders of the deployed environment.
The Airmen were informed there had been a hurricane that hit the Dominican Republic, and that the Airmen were among the first to arrive.
"These are all based on real scenarios," said Wojcicki "We want this exercise to be as a real as possible and to have these guys learn as much as possible."
Within the next 24 hours the players had to visit a simulated market and find a good source of water to supply the base.
Given basic contracts to fulfill, the Airmen worked in a hardened shelter but the facilitators didn't want to make it too easy on them.
"There were a lot of things that threw us off," said Senior Airman Jake Luceri, a contracting specialist assigned to the 17th Contracting squadron at Goodfellow AFB. "They leaned us towards taking a chance by having our guys handling leased machinery then there was a simulated mudslide. The equipment was damaged and we had to settle with the vendors."
The Airmen were taught about field navigation by Staff Sgt. Gregory Winfrey, a contracting specialist assigned to the 82nd CONS, and a prior service Marine. The training was in preparation for upcoming events.
"We have the opportunity to provide military skills to the Airmen," said Winfrey. "When we deploy we have to work with different individuals so identifying others skills is pretty important."
During one training event, leadership from the exercise waited in bushes and parked trucks. As the Airmen returned from lunch, leadership drove the trucks onto the road and poured out of the vehicle and bushes.
"I had nothing but fun..."
Confronted with fake firearms the Airmen left their car and were lined up on the side of the road. After counting to 30, their vehicles were gone. In the middle of nowhere, they only were left with only each other, a compass and a field map.
After separating into four groups, they left to find a waypoint.
Team one had a rough start.
"To say our team struggled with field navigation would be an understatement," said Lee. "We ended up lost pretty early. A member of our group started speaking up and we noticed she knew more than we thought."
Airman 1st Class Rachel Edwards, a contracting specialist assigned to the 82nd CONS, shined through for team one.
"I was a Girl Scout and hiked with my dad a lot," said Edwards. "I understood where we were and I ended up leading the group."
Although they were the last group to finish, every group learned valuable lessons.
"I had nothing but fun," said Luceri. "I learned a lot in these last few days."
"I want to come back in any way I can," said Lee. "Whether or not I'm a player or I can help plan it, it's an amazing experience. I didn't just learn about deploying, I'm bringing back a lot of information to my shop."
At the end of the week, Col. Smith and Chief Leblanc gave a thank you to participants, handing out five coins collectively.
"I felt like I was working really hard," said Lee. "To be recognized by higher leadership is an honor. It's a motivator to go forward and get better at my job."
Col. Smith reflected back on the week’s events and was proud of the work of both the cadre and players.
"This was just great," said Smith. "When we deploy we do this kind of thing, so learning how to do it before hand is a fantastic opportunity. The Airmen are learning a lot here and we hope this program will continue to grow."
From humble beginnings to a five day, five base exercise, this training has helped contracting Airmen learn their job and grow as Airmen as well. With hopes to includes more bases next year, the cadre are already hard at work designed the next curriculum and preparing for the future.