Contracting specialists crucial to mobility, warfighting efforts

(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Tara Stetler)

Airman 1st Class Sean Leigh, 375th Contracting Squadron construction contract specialist, stands among the ongoing construction of one of his projects in the basement of the 375th Air Mobility Wing building, Feb. 9, 2018, at Scott Air Force Base, Illinois. For base construction projects like this one, the 375th CONS is responsible for hiring contractors, a task that is increasingly important as the Air Force becomes more reliant on contractors to accomplish the mission. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Tara Stetler)

SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill. – On his first day of technical training, Airman 1st Class Sean Leigh learned the importance of his job when his instructor told a story of how a simple contract helped protect the lives of Airmen on the front lines.  

His instructor said that Security Forces personnel had been using concrete to fill in the holes made by improvised explosive devices so that no more could be placed in that area, said Leigh, a construction contract specialist with the 375th Contracting Squadron.

Because of the way the contract was written at the time, it didn’t prioritize the materials or fall within the purchase guidelines.  However, with the help of the right contract specialist, the contract was re-written to meet guidelines and prioritize the materials so that lives could be potentially saved.

“That’s when it dawned on me how important this job can be,” said Leigh.

Today, many Airmen remain unaware of the far-reaching impact of those who work in contracting squadrons. These specialists who work largely behind the scenes are crucial to the safety and security of their home installations as well as mobility operations globally.

On the home front, contracting Airmen ensure units have met their readiness requirements with items such as a medical clinic’s x-ray machine, a security gates’ ID scanners, or an air traffic control tower’s training software, for instance.

To meet these needs, various contracting teams are dedicated to construction, medical, information technology, and other critical services, and they affect virtually everyone with a mission to accomplish.

Lt. Col. Chad Sessler, 375th CONS commander, explained how they are responsible for ensuring the wing—and mission partners—execute their multi-million dollar budgets properly. For instance, expenses managed by 375th CONS totaled just under $80 million in 2017, while the two years prior both broke the $100 million threshold.

“We are dedicated to being good stewards of taxpayer money,” he said.

He also said that while the acquisition of supplies is a major part of their mission, most of the contracts they execute are for construction projects.

“In my time here, I’ve seen a lot of quality of life improvements,” said Sessler, who has been in command since June 2017. “Just in the Force Support Squadron, there were improvements to the bowling center, Arts and Crafts Center, and Child Development Center.”

In some cases, these improvements address not only quality of life concerns, but also safety upgrades such as improving a slick floor in the CDC or redoing the fire suppression system in a historical building on base.

Contract specialists are also responsible for hiring contractors.

“We’re becoming more dependent on contractors to accomplish the mission,” said Sessler. “[As long as] funding and manning continues to be a challenge, 30 percent or more of those executing any Air Force mission will be contractors.  As acquisition professionals, we’re becoming more important in ensuring the missions continue.”

Contractors at Scott support 31 mission partners, including the U.S. Transportation Command and Headquarters Air Mobility Command, whose missions have global impact.

Sessler said they receive a lot of requests from the two commands including highly important information technology contract requests.

For example, in November 2017, members of his team helped AMC maintain coverage for their Global Decision Support System. The system is AMC’s premier Command and Control system, and it supports 20,000 users worldwide. The team had to quickly perform software license renewals, preventing a lapse in support or adding additional costs to the contract. This ensured the continued success of a vital AMC mission.

It is successes like this and the support that contracting squadrons provide to a variety of missions that are the most rewarding said Sessler.

“When you see what you’re doing to support these missions, it keeps you motivated as you serve your country,” said Sessler.