Air Force contracting conference addresses force, deployment issues Published Dec. 6, 2005 By John Norgren Air Armament Center Public Affairs SANDESTIN, Fla. (AFMCNS) -- Through targeted training and an increased focus on joint operations, the Air Force's contracting career field is reshaping itself to meet the current and future needs of its customers -- wherever they may be.This transformation is driven by the need to maintain contracting support at home, while filling Air Force and Joint Service Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom contracting taskings, according to Charlie Williams, Jr., deputy assistant secretary for contracting, Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Headquarters U.S. Air Force, Washington, D.C."One of our biggest challenges these days is the high ops tempo coming out of the war," he said. "At any given time, we're deploying about 25 percent of our people to support the war effort. And most of these deployments are going to support the joint contracting command in Iraq and Afghanistan."Mr. Williams discussed the challenges facing the Air Force contracting community during a Nov. 14 interview before attending the 2005 Worldwide Contracting Conference in Sandestin, Fla., Nov. 15-18.He explained that overall most joint service contingency contracting is handled by Air Force people. "I'd like to say very proudly that I think the Air Force delivers the lion's share of the contingency contracting capability to the joint war fighter."That's no accident. Air Force contracting personnel have established an excellent joint service track record that dates back to Operation Desert Shield and Storm. It's a tradition that's built into the career field's training program. "We've recognized this is a core capability and core competence of ours - that is to grow and prepare airmen to do the contingency contracting mission," he said.This ops tempo poses a real challenge for those who remain behind. "...The folks at home, whether they're at Eglin or any other Air Force base, have to pick up the pace to continue to do the work at home to support the base operations," he said. "That's high on our minds right now."That's why a few years ago contracting introduced an eight-week training program, the Mission Ready Airmen's Course, for its new enlisted personnel. The program provides training for newcomers previously gained through on-the-job training."That course has been a tremendous hit," he said. "It's received rave reviews from our enlisted contracting force. It gives them the skills they need, so when they hit the ground at their local squadrons they're able to do real work from day one."That success prompted the creation of a similar course for new contracting officers. Similar programs are being considered for civilian members and for sister service contracting personnel."Our next hurdle for that particular course is to say if these courses are good, why don't we bring our civilians into the program using that same approach," he said. "And I'll take it one step further, as we look to our joint contingency contract mission, I believe we're going to use that as a base line for how we train our joint forces to do joint contracting in support of a deployed joint service commander. It's going to be a tremendous advantage for us."Beyond these initiatives, Mr. Williams said the service is also trying to eliminate redundant requirements created by separate Air Force and Joint Service taskings. Consolidation into one contracting organization under a joint service commander is the goal."We've started an initiative to bring those forces together so we'll no longer have to have an Air Force and joint command contracting office operating side-by-side," he said. "Once we bring those together, we can potentially start seeing some efficiencies and maybe reduce the requirement for Air Force contracting officers."Streamlining these operations helps in one way, but it potentially creates another problem in the minds of current Air Force customers. "We want to make sure when we do this consolidation that we can deliver the same capability, same support in a robust way so our (Air Force) customers don't suffer."Anticipating issues and future needs requires a forward-looking approach. Particularly now that the Air Force budget is under intense scrutiny."We have to have a mindset the status quo won't necessarily deliver tomorrow's capability in terms of Air Force contracting," he said. "We have to make sure our folks are looking for the right business solutions to deliver Air Force contracting capability in a much more efficient manner."The Air Force has pressures on its budget," he continued. "The Air Force has the challenge of modernizing its fleet and the Air Force has to figure out how it's going to spend its dollars. So from the perspective of transformation, Air Force contracting needs to look at how we can transform ourselves to provide that support."All of which justifies the service's emphasis on strategic business solutions and force development. "Force development is the issue I spend most of my time on," he said. "We need to develop in our people the skills and training they need. We're telling them what we believe they need to grow and develop themselves in this career field and to be leaders in the Air Force contracting community."Williams says a phrase he picked up during one of his visits puts this issue into perspective."That phrase is, 'Mission First, People Always.' Without developing those strong capable people, we're not going to get the mission done. It's very important to us," he said.