More and more civilians in the contracting field are volunteering to deploy and work alongside their military counterparts to support contingency operations in the Middle East. The contracting officers gain experience working in a joint contingency environment and bring considerable experience and stability to the theater. Their mission is to provide the war fighter with critical supplies and services to meet the day-to-day mission. That's what contracting officers do and they are trained well to do just that. But in theater, contracting is part of a larger mission and along with finance we support several initiatives cleverly coined, "Money as a Weapon System." In the process of providing the supplies and services to customers, the goal is to compete and award contracts in a manner that positively affects the war efforts and the local economy.
One of the first initiatives early in the war was to get U.S. currency off the battle field to reduce its impact on the local economy and help stabilize the local currency. As a result policies and directives were put in place to require all contracts to Iraq or Afghan vendors to be awarded and paid in local currency. The second initiative, closely tied to the first, was to support the growth of the local economies with the "Iraq/Afghan First" initiatives. The Regional Contracting Centers (RCCs) throughout the theater worked hard, along with local business advisers, to compete and award as many contracts as possible to Iraq or Afghan vendors, or vendors employing Afghan people to perform the contracts. These efforts have resulted in increased employment and in many cases, have grown small start-up businesses to include some women owned businesses.
The most recent initiative supports greater usage of the Northern Distribution Network (NDN) which is a newer supply route (established in 2009) winding through several Central Asian States.The route provides an alternative passage in and out of Afghanistan which is a land-locked country. With the pending retrograde of the U.S. out of Afghanistan estimated by 2014, this route plays an important role in our efforts to move equipment and cargo out of Afghanistan. Contracting's role again is to compete and award contracts aimed at vendors in the Central Asian States along that route to increase usage of the road making passage safer for our troops.
As a deployed civilian assigned to the CENTCOM Contracting Command, I had the opportunity to work many of the challenges associated with contracting in a deployed environment and using "Money as a Weapon System." The experience was both challenging and rewarding knowing the effect contracting has in supporting the overall strategy for the war. As we draw down operations, civilians from all skill sets who volunteer to deploy will continue to play a key role in Afghanistan.