JOINT BASE MCGUIRE-DIX-LAKEHURST, N.J. --
“I really have nothing to compare it to. This is unlike anything I’ve ever done before,” said Master Sgt. Ronald Abbate, from the 821st Contingency Response Support Squadron at Travis Air Force Base, California. “Some days, it’s one of the most frustrating jobs someone can have. But other times, it’s one of the most rewarding jobs anyone can have.”
“This job can be a giant pain in the butt, but I love doing it.” said Master Sgt. Ryan Fowler, from the 621st Contingency Response Support Squadron at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey.
It may be difficult to imagine, but they’re both describing the same job: contracting. Abbate and Fowler are two of only four contracting officers who work to support the dynamic mission of the 621st Contingency Response Wing.
As Devil Raiders, these contracting officers are prepared to acquire whatever is needed to keep the mission going during any unplanned or unexpected operation. These “6Cs” as identified by the Air Force Specialty Code, remain on alert with their unit every day of the year.
Abbate was the 6C to go to Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, with the contingency response element to assist the base’s recovery from Hurricane Michael in October 2018.
“I grew up in Florida, but when we first got there, it was crazy how much damage there was,” said Abbate, who is a Jacksonville native. “Hangar doors were blown off; trees were snapped like twigs; it was crazy.”
After he arrived at Tyndall, Abbate did what he always does when arriving at any CRW location: make the unit as self-sustaining as possible, he said. That’s when Abbate’s previous experiences and exercises helped him move forward.
“After getting settled, we start thinking about what the career fields will need,” said Abbate, who has worked in contracting for more than 13 years. “Anything from aircraft parts and lumber to bolts and spray paint.”
During contingencies, things that are normally easy to find can be a challenge, said Abbate.
“Many stores in Florida were closed because of the damage,” said Abbate. “So, we had to be creative. Some things had to be flown in from other states or regions in order to get what we needed.”
For exercises or contingencies, contracting officers have the same things on their minds.
“Doesn’t matter where we go, we always have to think about food and fuel,” said Abbate. “You wouldn’t think getting food and fuel would be a challenge, but it can be.”
When CR forces are tasked during a contingency, the unit brings enough food for a short period of time, which gives the contracting officers the opportunity to find a long-term solution.
“When we went to Tyndall, the base provided meals for us, but that’s not always the case,” said Abbate. “In other countries or more austere environments, we have to find other solutions.”
On top of these necessities, contracting officers also have to consider other critical items.
“Tents, cots, potable water … basic human needs,” said Fowler. “These ‘life support’ items are important to sustain operations wherever we are.”
The challenge for these items is some can’t be acquired locally, said Fowler.
“Our large tents, showers and equipment aren’t commercially available at many of the locations we go,” he added. “So we rely on major military hubs to bring us what we need if we can’t get it locally.”
One item that regularly can’t be brought in is restrooms.
“When we were in PSAB [Prince Sultan Air Base, Saudi Arabia], restrooms can be tricky too,” said Fowler. “For many contingencies, we use porta potties, but in Africa or the Middle East, we have to find ‘western’ style, ones that Americans are most familiar with.”
Acquisition is a major aspect of the contracting AFSC, but in order to fulfill the obligations of a contracting officer, translators are key.
“If we’re with our air advisors, many of them can communicate in local languages, but other times we have to use the tools at our disposal,” said Fowler.
Fowler, equipped with a worldwide cell phone, will use translation websites to translate English into local language to communicate in order to get the necessary items.
“Sometimes broken English works. It’s not ideal, but it gets the job done,” said Fowler, who has been in the contracting career field for more than nine years.
Despite the challenges imposed to contracting in the CRW, Fowler still has strong feelings for what he brings to the mission.
“Every single time we go out the door, there are always different issues that we have to deal with and then we have to come up with our very creative solutions for it,” said Fowler. “This is the type of stuff I love doing.”