US Army Corps of Engineers
U.S. Army Engineering and Support Center

Reserve Soldiers’ training focuses on ‘Corps’ curriculum

Huntsville Center
Published Dec. 21, 2015
Shirley Burke-Mitchell provides Corps of Engineers Financial Management System training to Reserve Soldiers training at the U.S. Army Engineering and Support Center, Huntsville. A cadre of Huntsville Center acquisition specialists with expertise in a variety of procurement areas volunteered to provide the training the Soldiers require prior to their deployment in 2016.

Shirley Burke-Mitchell provides Corps of Engineers Financial Management System training to Reserve Soldiers training at the U.S. Army Engineering and Support Center, Huntsville. A cadre of Huntsville Center acquisition specialists with expertise in a variety of procurement areas volunteered to provide the training the Soldiers require prior to their deployment in 2016.

An informal conversation between two Army Reserve contracting officers developed into an opportunity to provide Army Reserve Soldiers with crucial acquisitions training prior to their deployment next year.

 In early 2015, Amy Reserve Maj. Camille Morgan, 915th Contracting Battalion, Baltimore, was speaking with her Reserve unit commander about the civilian position she had taken as a contracting officer at the U.S. Army Engineering and Support Center, Huntsville. Morgan explained to Lt. Col. Rene Bright, 915th CB commander, how experienced acquisition specialists worked in almost every aspect of the Center’s specialized programs focused on supporting the Department of Defense and other government agencies.

Morgan noted that not only is Huntsville Center’s acquisition force experienced at executing the Center’s contracting actions, but many of the contracting personnel at the Center had previous experience working U.S. Army Corps of Engineers missions at deployed locations. Morgan said that since there were many Soldiers in her unit new to the Army contracting career field, she and Bright devised a plan to bring the Soldiers up-to-speed. Morgan said after speaking with Bright further, they realized there might be a possibility to provide their Soldiers with an opportunity to work at Huntsville Center, receive on-the-job training performing contracting actions, and gain valuable experience working with the Corps of Engineers.

“Many of our Soldiers had completed the basic contracting foundation course, but they had minimal on-the-job training,” Morgan said. “So we thought there might be an opportunity for our Soldiers to work alongside Center contracting officers and gain experience. We also thought about conducting our drill weekends at Huntsville Center.”

The timing of the concept couldn’t have been better for Bright, who also serves as the Army Reserve Support Center Advisor for the Army Contracting Command. In that capacity Bright is responsible for managing more than 120 Army Reserve contracting officers from the 915th and 917th Contracting Battalion, San Antonio, Texas. Although the 915th CB has deployed its Soldiers in support of the Army’s mission in East Africa, both the 915th and 917th CBs are were recently tasked with taking on new missions supporting Central Command operations in South West Asia.

“We’re Reservists—we only drill one weekend a month, but it takes us a full year to become certified, so we have to put our Soldiers on active duty orders to get them the training they require, and we are always looking for creative ways to get that contracting experience,” Bright said.

With the concept in mind, Morgan took the idea to her immediate supervisor at the Center who then elevated the concept to Colleen O’Keefe, Center Chief of Contracting.

“I explained that the intent was to get our Soldiers hands-on experience with contracts for a year so they could get their Level - 1 certification. Instead of drilling at our unit in Baltimore, or in at the Army Reserve Support Center (Birmingham, Alabama) or at Army Contracting Command (Redstone Arsenal, Alabama) I thought ‘well, a lot of us had never done anything with the Corps of Engineers before. We had learned base operations-level contracts, but none of us had performed any work with construction or energy contracts, so why don’t we drill at a Corps of Engineers organization like Huntsville Center and learn about how the Corps does business.’ ”

After hearing the proposal from Bright and Morgan, O’Keefe said she thought the concept would be good for everybody involved.

 “I thought it was a great idea,” O’Keefe said. “Huntsville Center is such a different USACE organization— we don’t do a lot of civil works projects—most of our work is focused on specialized support to all of the Corps' divisions and districts throughout the world. But also, Huntsville Center programs are focused on supporting the warfighter. This idea is just an extension of that support, so assisting these Soldiers with their training was an easy decision for me. So obviously, I said yes.”

After staffing the request through the appropriate channels and getting approval from Army Reserve and Corps of Engineers leadership, the wheels were put in motion.

By October, Reserve Soldiers were receiving orders for duty at Huntsville Center, including Sgt. 1st Class Jason Underwood, a former active duty Soldier with more than 14 years of service as a pharmacy technician.

Now living in the Muscle Shoals, Alabama, area, Underwood’s Reserve status requires him to reclassify his Military Occupational Specialty to 51C Acquisition, Logistics & Technology Contracting Noncommissioned Officer.  After completing Defense Acquisition University courses, Underwood was placed on a one-year mobilization assignment to Huntsville Center to gain a year of experience required for Level I certification.

“I was excited when Lt. Col. Bright told me that the Corps of Engineers in Huntsville would be a possible location to gain the experience I require,” Underwood said.

“I began work at the Center in October, and I feel that I have already gained valuable knowledge that will help make me a better contracting noncommissioned officer when I deploy,” he said. “Because the Corps uses the same contract writing software that the Army uses in a contingency environment, Huntsville Center is an ideal place for a new contracting specialist to learn.”

However, many Soldiers from the 915th and 917th Contracting Battalions won’t be placed on active duty orders, but will gain their experience and training during traditional monthly weekend drills taking place at Huntsville Center.

To accommodate those Soldiers, Morgan began working with her Center co-workers to craft a training plan to bring the Soldiers up-to-speed by teaching them specific aspects of Corps contracting operations such as Corps of Engineers Financial management System operations, contract close-outs and other actions specific to the Corps.

A cadre of Huntsville Center acquisition specialists with expertise in a variety of procurement areas volunteered to provide the training the Soldiers require.

Adam Humphrey, Huntsville Center contracting officer, has been working in the contracting career field for more than eight years. He said the training and hands-on experience the Soldiers are receiving will ensure they have the solid foundation to immediately impact the mission once they deploy.

“We’re providing the expertise and instruction to increase the skills they need to hit the ground running (once deployed). They are learning the necessary processes and policies associated with contracting and also getting hands-on help with our accounting database and our contract writing system—they will have a good idea what they need to do when they get down range,” he said.

Maj. Jose Gamboa, 917th Contract Support Battalion, Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston, said the Huntsville Center instructors are providing the right training focused on the deployed environment.

“The support and the education we’re getting is fantastic,” Gamboa said. “We’re getting a lot of training related to forward deployment like the standard procurement system training and fundamentals of services, obligations, closeouts and the applications associated with blanket purchase agreements. We’re getting the right training to be successful down range.”

However, there are other non-technical aspects of the training Morgan said Center contracting specialists are providing too.

“We’re finding out first-hand what we can expect when we get down range,” Morgan said. “We’re learning about how we go about conducting business in theater and who do we reach out to. We’re understanding how we can best build relationships with local business while we are there. That’s something you just don’t normally get in a classroom situation, and that’s why it’s so valuable.”