VICENZA, Italy -- After three years as the 414th Contracting Support Brigade commander and principal assistant for contracting, Col. Christine A. Beeler will relinquish command July 12.
Beeler, whose father served in the Air Force, grew up in Old Saybrooke, Connecticut, and attended college at Boston University. During her freshman year, friends introduced her to the Army ROTC program. To her surprise, she enjoyed casually participating in the program and eventually joined. Beeler commissioned as an ordnance officer in 1991 and served in a number of positions, including ROTC teacher, and earned two master’s degrees before transitioning to acquisitions in 2001.
The colonel assumed command of the 414th CSB on July 22, 2014, less than three months before the commencement of Operation United Assistance, the Defense Department’s response to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.
Beeler recently agreed to participate in a question and answer session about her time as commander for the 414th CSB.
Q: What would you say is the 414th Contracting Support Brigade’s mission?
A: Our job is to provide readiness to the Army forces in Italy and Africa through contracting solutions. We harness the power of the commercial market to fulfill sustainment, logistics, communications, and transportation needs either here, in support of the garrison mission, or, occasionally, the NATO battalion that is part of the NATO brigade here. We also have a sub-office in Livorno at Camp Darby, which supports the contracting needs down there.
In Africa, big construction is mostly done by the Army Corps of Engineers. The contracting brigade’s ground functionality is to write contracts to provide those types of services. The brigade headquarters’ job is to provide oversight over that activity. One of the things we learned in the last ten years, back to 2005, when we had all that fraud going on in Iraq and Kuwait, is that it’s not that people weren’t working really hard, it’s that so many people were working really hard that nobody had time to watch anybody else. Just like fences and locks keep honest people honest, the dishonest ones are going to try to break the lock anyway. If you provide appropriate oversight an appropriate level of metrics and management to the process, you can mitigate that risk to a great deal and catch it faster. Then, the risk to forces, funds, and missions that are being supported by those dollars are kept at a low, manageable level.
At the headquarters level, I have someone that does human resources and all those basic functions for the contracting folks. Then, we resource them money, training and all of the things attributed to a headquarters element. Plus, I have my own in-house legal support and policy compliance folks; we spend a lot of time working on that. The last component is how do we plan, how do we assist USARAF, in particular, but also U.S. Africa Command, Special Operations Command Africa, and some of our other direct customers. How do we help them plan and shape their concept of support and operation, to include harnessing the commercial, available assets, wherever they are located completing a particular mission? It is really hard to get stuff into Africa, and sometimes it is really hard to get it back out.
It has been the most fascinating part of my job. I did contracting in Kuwait, but I was focused on the garrison and on contracting in a country. Occasionally, we were tasked to do a mission somewhere when I was the director there. However, this mission has been that on steroids. We are actually a smaller organization than I had there, but our reach and ability to shape things and drive process changes with our customers allowed us to think and see further out the potential uses or fills from the commercial sector. This dynamic enabled us to all operate more efficiently, and, more importantly, more effectively.
Q: How important is your mission in Africa?
A: I would say contracting and the use of commercial resources underpins the activities of USARAF, Special Operations Command Africa and AFRICOM on the continent. If it were not for contracted resources, the Army would have substantially more forces deployed on the ground to achieve its missions, with respect to AFRICOM’s mission and USARAF’s mission.
Q: How do you think your mission supports the ‘set the theater’ priority?
A: ‘Set the theater’ involves several tasks. Knowledge is one of them; understanding what is available and how fast we can tap into those resources enables the planning functions and the execution functions that I think USARAF is trying to achieve. If you look out across the mission analyses that the USARAF folks have done, operational support contracts are huge pieces of the sustainment logistics tasks; we have planners embedded in all of those functions. Let’s say you want to fly something to one country, and then drive it to another country. What do you need to do that? You need a transportation contract. You need somebody to get it across the border, so you are dealing with customs clearance once it gets on the ground in the first country, and additional customs clearance when crossing borders as we go between different countries. What are we allowed to fly in? Flying is really expensive, so what should we ship in using surface transportation? We are really embedded in all the activities that the USARAF G4 is doing, in terms of setting the theater for sustainment.
We are also part of the discussion with the G1 on how to account for contractors in our area of responsibility. While there aren’t horrible things happening everywhere, horrible things can happen. The U.S. contractors are part of the total Army workforce, so how do we track for other nationality contractors that we have under U.S. government contracts performing these services in (at least) 9 countries and 11 different locations? That is just on the (Logistics Civil Augmentation Program) contract right now. That does not include all of the individual contracts we are doing in support of individual activities.
Q: How would missions like the counter-Lord’s Resistance Army or OUA happen without contractors?
A: There would be a large number of equipment and many Soldiers. When looking at courses of action, we always look at feasibility, acceptability and suitability to achieve the effects that are assigned to AFRICOM and then assigned to its subordinate units. In many cases, it certainly takes a long time to move stuff into Africa – to anywhere, for that matter. We can move the 82nd Airborne pretty quickly, as we saw in Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm. However, when (the Soldiers are) out there on a point waiting for the mountain of muscle to make its way in, how long does it take to build logistic stockpiles? If that is your objective, then that is still the right way to go, but if your objective is small, partnership activities, working with our partners and allies to help them achieve their desired security and economic goals in their states and deal with the threats that they have, we are not sending mountains of steel, aircraft and Soldiers. We are doing small things that may require logistics for a short amount of time, like the exercises; building muscle memory and strength; and then helping them figure out how to do it too.
I read an article not too long ago. It talked about how in World War I, we mobilized. We mobilized man, machinery, and industry. In World War II, we mobilized man, machinery and industry. In Korea, we shrank everything and grew it up, and then we shrank it back down again. As you get to Desert Shield, Desert Storm and the Global War on Terrorism, mobilizing and bringing up all of this stuff and bringing it back down afterward becomes hard on the economy. Contractors and contracted commercial resources increasingly became the right solution to fit in that feasible, acceptable, suitable and political decision, in many cases.
I don’t think there is anything that AFRICOM wants done that 414th couldn’t provide contracting support if they needed it.
Q: What has been the most fulfilling part of your job?
A: Working with a wonderful team, not only in this organization, but also across our community. I could not have had a more rewarding experience working with U.S. Army Garrison Italy or our partners. I have gotten to do a few things with the Center of Excellence for Stability Police Units; I also worked with SOCAF and AFRICOM, with Maj. Gen. Darryl Williams, and now Maj. Gen. Joseph Harrington and Brig. Gen. Kenneth Moore. I could not have asked for better leadership as a subordinate, and I could not have asked for better folks to work in this organization, in USARAF, or across this job. That has been the most rewarding thing, the people I’ve gotten to work with.
Q: What is next for you, and what are your goals for the future?
A: I will be the deputy director of contracting for the Corps at the headquarters in downtown Washington, D.C. I will be able to take all that I’ve learned here in one theater and expand it to a global operation. The Corps does construction, both civil works in the U.S. and military construction for the Air Force and the Army, as well as foreign military sales work across the globe. It will be expanding my horizons to that next level. I have only had to worry about here, and now I have got a global footprint and global workforce. I am hopeful that I will be able to help build the teams and provide them with the resources they need to achieve their effects for the Corps and their customers.
Q: Is there anything you would like to add?
A: I am going to miss Italy. I have enjoyed all of my tours, but I have really enjoyed this one the most and so has my husband. We have had a great partner opportunity here – he was my Family Readiness Group lead, where he was very involved with the garrison. I think as we take all that back to a big city like D.C., we are going to miss the small town feel of Vicenza and our friends and colleagues here. But I will be happy to get back to my parents, brothers and sisters, family, barbeques and all those sorts of things that apartment dwelling isn’t really conducive to do.
I don’t know what the future holds. I have a little over 25 years (in service). I will hit 26 years in October -- we will see what happens. It’s just been a blessing. I never thought in my wildest dreams that I would join the Army or be where I am today. Things happen for a reason – I am a firm believer.