35th Contracting Squadron: The power of the pen

The 35th CONS is responsible for acquisition of goods, services and construction projects necessary to sustain Misawa Air Base’s mission capabilities.

U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Ashley Grant, the 35th Contracting Squadron services and acquisitions flight NCO in charge, reviews a request for services during a meeting at Misawa Air Base, Japan, Feb. 12, 2017. Even though they are one of the smallest squadrons in the 35th Fighter Wing, the 35th CONS works with every unit on base. With 14 personnel in the services and acquisitions flight, including six military and eight Japanese nationals, they make sure every unit has what they need to support their respective mission set. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Melanie A. Hutto)

MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan -- As master negotiators, stewards of taxpayer dollars and professional shoppers, the saying “the pen is mightier than the sword,” resonates heavily with the 35th Contracting Squadron at Misawa Air Base.

These Airmen acquire goods and services and coordinate construction projects necessary to sustain Misawa Air Base’s mission capabilities. The squadron is broken down into three sections including construction, services and acquisitions and plans and programs, all with specialized responsibilities when it comes to contracting.

The services and acquisitions team, referred to as “B-Flight,” is comprised of six military members and eight Japanese nationals. They purchase commodities, write contracts for mission-related tasks and support facilities and amenities offered to Airmen and their families.

“From F-16 Fighting Falcon maintenance stands to the person who makes your coffee at the Mokuteki, we have a hand in making it a reality,” said Tech. Sgt. Ashley Grant, the 35th CONS services and acquisitions flight NCO in charge.

Delivering agile, effective and compliant contracting solutions—enabling the joint and bilateral mission of the 35th Fighter Wing—is B-Flight’s primary goal.

Senior Airman Benjamin Albers, a 35th CONS contract officer, describes his typical day as coordinating with units around base, working diligently to provide customers with the tools they need to accomplish their respective mission sets.

"Thanks to the hard work and diligence of the 35th Contracting Squadron, Misawa secured more than half a million dollar in new radios to replace equipment over three decades old,” said Maj. Daniel House, the 35th Operations Support Squadron wing electronic warfare officer. “They enabled us to build a new deployed operations facility, empowering increased operations from Misawa to squadrons from other bases while minimizing impact to local flying operations."

For Fiscal Year 2017, B-Flight awarded 137 contracts valued at $18.3 million in new services and commodity contracts. Additionally, B-Flight also negotiated and issued 251 contract modifications to existing contracts valued at $3.2 million. Overall, the 14-person team manages a service contract portfolio valued at approximately $39 million comprised of 69 reoccurring option year contracts.

Buying equipment and suppliesis not the only job for which these contracting professionals are responsible. Before B-Flight makes purchases, they help prepare and negotiate contracts to qualified vendors. At this point, the most suitable company receives the contract, discusses delivery terms and receives goods before making payment and the contract closed.

“One of the most challenging aspects of the job is when an unprecedented event occurs that needs to be rectified as soon as possible,” said Master Sgt. Tavis Salas, the 35th CONS acquisitions flight chief. “We have to come up with solutions quickly and effectively while trying to maintain business integrity.”

Contractors are responsible for knowing the difference between a want and a need when units request a service or commodity; however, it is not as easy as just saying “no.” Being in a support career field, the team must figure out other options to fulfill a request, while combatting the challenges of being overseas.

“There are exemptions when it comes to doing business overseas,” said Salas. “There are trade agreements we follow, different dollar thresholds and determining whether we are authorized to solicit for a service.”

Overseas contracting differs from stateside because business practices change. While overseas, the Air Force relies on the local economy, but practices in the U.S. use small businesses to strengthen the American economy.

“Our government and contractor relationships are very important,” Grant said. “It’s not only about what we can do for our customers but also how we treat our contractors, so they continue to want to do business with us. The services our host nation offers are invaluable, and we are greatly appreciative of them.”

B-Flight’s efforts led to multiple awards at the Pacific Air Forces level and they will go on to compete at the Air Force level.

Albers won Outstanding Contracting Airman, and Tamaki Hunt won Outstanding Operational Contracting Civilian in Training. Additionally, 2nd Lt. Geoffrey Bender won Outstanding Contracting Company Grade Officer and Capt. Roberto Guerra won Outstanding Contingency Contracting Officer. 

Whether it is pricing office supplies or multimillion-dollar parts for the flight line, the 35th CONS ensures their shopping carts fill up with the best value for the taxpayer and the Airman.

[Editor's note: This is part one of three-part series highlighting the 35th Contracting Squadron.]