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Air Force Contracting Officers Lead the Way, Pay the Way, & Pave the Way for New Horizons 2018

U.S. Air Force contractors have built relationships and negotiated contracts during Exercise New Horizons 2018 in Meteti, Panama, April 20, 2018.

U.S. Air Force contractors have built relationships and negotiated contracts during Exercise New Horizons 2018 in Meteti, Panama, April 20, 2018. New Horizons is an annual training exercise for U.S. military civil engineers and medical professionals that prepares participants to deploy, conduct joint operations with partner nations, and redeploy back to the United States. (Courtesy Photo)

U.S. Air Force contractors have built relationships and negotiated contracts during Exercise New Horizons 2018 in Meteti, Panama, April 20, 2018.

U.S. Air Force contractors have built relationships and negotiated contracts during Exercise New Horizons 2018 in Meteti, Panama, April 20, 2018. New Horizons is an annual training exercise for U.S. military civil engineers and medical professionals that prepares participants to deploy, conduct joint operations with partner nations, and redeploy back to the United States. (Courtesy Photo)

U.S. Air Force contractors have built relationships and negotiated contracts during Exercise New Horizons 2018 in Meteti, Panama, April 20, 2018.

U.S. Air Force contractors have built relationships and negotiated contracts during Exercise New Horizons 2018 in Meteti, Panama, April 20, 2018. New Horizons is an annual training exercise for U.S. military civil engineers and medical professionals that prepares participants to deploy, conduct joint operations with partner nations, and redeploy back to the United States. (Courtesy Photo)

U.S. Air Force contractors have built relationships and negotiated contracts during Exercise New Horizons 2018 in Meteti, Panama, April 20, 2018.

U.S. Air Force contractors have built relationships and negotiated contracts during Exercise New Horizons 2018 in Meteti, Panama, April 20, 2018. New Horizons is an annual training exercise for U.S. military civil engineers and medical professionals that prepares participants to deploy, conduct joint operations with partner nations, and redeploy back to the United States. (Courtesy Photo)

METETI, Panama -- At any given time, around 200 members of the U.S. military will be housed, fed, and shuttled to and from work sites and living quarters while performing their duties as part of Exercise New Horizons 2018. Negotiating, securing, and adjusting contracts for those services and many more falls on the shoulders of two Air Force non-commissioned officers conducting business in Panama City, Meteti, and several other towns and villages across the Central American country where construction projects and medical services are taking place.

Air National Guard Master Sgt. Forrest Lipe and active-duty Tech. Sgt. James Richard ‘JR’ Mullis have already logged more than 380 hours of phone calls, 4,000 miles travelling to sites, and 1,200 hours of office, lunch and dinner meetings, to ensure the 346th Air Expeditionary Group has what they need to conduct their joint deployed training exercise.

The planning process for all things NH18 began in 2017 with Air Forces Southern planning meetings and site survey trips to Panama for initial talks and requests for contract bids.

On February 1, Mullis arrived in country and hit the ground running and at the end of March, Lipe departed his case work supervisor position at the Logan Correctional Center, a female max prison in Lincoln, Ill., to join Mullis working 12- to 15-hour days in finalizing contracts and building the relationships needed to accomplish their mission in the deployed environment.

Building relationships and negotiating contracts in Panama versus in the United States has its differences.

“Here in Panama when it’s time to talk contracts, we don’t,” said Mullis, who explained, “there is a lot more to meeting and forging contracts here. You first have to earn a bond of friendship—talk about families, work, and everything in between—before actually getting down to business. When we’re discussing contracts in the States, it’s as simple as, ‘you have a business or a product, we need that business or product,’ we go back and forth on their quote versus what we can pay, come to a conclusion and that’s it.”

Conversely, according to Mullis, getting a contract signed in Panama requires multiple meetings at offices, over lunch, over dinner, and even then, multiple iterations of the contract back and forth so it can take weeks versus a few hours.

“We had to dig deep into the details for a lot of things that you would naturally assume you’d receive in the States,” said Lipe, “like soap for laundry service. We received the bid from one hotel in Meteti who said he could wash all the laundry for a very low price, so we asked if that included soap. He said no, that would have to cost extra. So, there are differences in the U.S. negotiations and Panamanian ones, but also between how things are done in the city versus rural areas, but they all want to see you in person to talk.”

On top of the time put in to work contracts, there is also the difficulty of having companies deliver their goods and services to Meteti, Panama, a roughly four-hour, 300-mile round trip from Panama City.

“The most difficult part of negotiations is just the geographic location of the exercise” said Mullis, a contracting officer with 12th Air Force at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Tucson, Ariz. “We can buy items needed in Panama City or have things shipped to the city, but then getting them shipped to Meteti is another story. For the items we can get shipped, the cost is astronomical, sometimes two- or three-times more when you factor in the shipping charges.”

Another issue the contracting officers face is that Panama City is a booming economical hub currently with high-rise building construction everywhere you look. That puts a strain on getting some necessary resources to the very rural town of Meteti, far from the investment dollars of the big city. For example, the concrete needed for the bases of all the building projects was too big of a job for the local companies, but too small for the booming concrete businesses in Panama City so the team had difficulty getting concrete.

That didn’t stop the dynamic duo, in a win for concrete they found an unusual way to get the concrete needed to the five construction sites around Meteti.

“We were working the hotel contracts with a prevalent businessman in Panama City who was also on a business council,” said Mullis. “When we wrapped up hotel negotiations, he asked if there was anything we needed or were having issues with. We told him there was difficulty with concrete. That gentleman happened to be good friends with a top concrete company owner. When the hotel contractor called the concrete contractor, he explained to them we needed help and were on a timeline.”

Lane said, “we received a call the next day from the concrete company representative asking what we needed … and that’s how things go here sometimes.”

Just one example of how the contracting officers remained flexible yet undeterred to get the job done so the deployment mission can be met. And their customers couldn’t be happier with the level of support they’ve received.

“There is no way I could do my job without the contracting guys,” said Tech. Sgt. Israel Revuelta, the lead services specialist for the deployment. “Just with them securing the basics like lodging, ice, water, and all the other things we need—they also have made receiving people to lodging easier, I can just check the people in and make sure they are taken care of, like government lodging. Had they not secured these hotels, there’s no way we could lodge this entire group here (in Meteti).”

Revuelta, who’s tasks span the entirety of the New Horizons mission, include running lodging, meals-to include restaurants as well as MREs (meal, ready-to-eat), MWR operations (morale, welfare, and recreation), water distribution, and a host of other duties he’d have a much larger team to help with.

“Honestly, everything I need here goes through them,” said Revuelta whose home-station duty is as the section lead for the eight-person services team supporting the 820th RED HORSE Squadron at Nellis AFB, Nev.—the same squadron here working construction projects. “They’ve worked to also secure quality of life projects as well like the hotel day room for MWR to food, fitness, and all the lodging. They have done this and continue to work contracts for any necessary changes, because contract issues don’t stop once the initial one has been signed, there are constant alterations that take place.”

Another twist to the usual contracting way is the tracking system they use. New Horizons 2018 is the test bed for a new way for the Air Force to conduct contracting operations, an all-digital format not used before.

In previous years, contracting officers would deploy with multiple large hardened cases with a desk, computers, a book’s worth of purchasing order forms, and every bit of supplies they would need to conduct business. Now, they have one hardened case, roughly the size of two briefcases combined side-by-side that houses a tablet, printer, and some basic supplies as all the work is done digitally, even with contracts signed using their fingertip on the tablet.

“This lighter footprint has been amazing for us to be able to move quickly and get things done faster and easier,” said Lipe. “It’s been a big help in what we’ve done here but isn’t without drawbacks—being online can sometimes be an issue in the very remote areas and so can doing business with electronic fund transfers. Most of the remote towns and villages and even in Meteti, people don’t use electronic funds, they prefer hard currency. But, we can work with that too and revert to the old way of hard copies and cash.”

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Always Ready to Defend! 24/7/365 🇺🇸
A true honor to work with our Partner Nation! #partnership
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Colombian Kfirs fighters train with the A-10, F-16
Always Ready to Defend! 24/7/365 🇺🇸
A true honor to work with our Partner Nation! #partnership
Check out the view from inside a Colombian Air Force refueling tanker as it performs an in-air refueling mission in the skies above Tucson, Arizona! Members of the Fuerza Aérea Colombiana are training this week at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base as they prepare for Red Flag 18-3. This week has been another great example of how the U.S. and partner nation air forces train together to accomplish shared goals. U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona
Wow! What a sight to see! Fuerza Aérea Colombiana #Kfir aircraft preparing for #RedFlag 18-3! U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) Nellis Air Force Base Air Combat Command
Members of the Fuerza Aérea Colombiana are training this week at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base as they prepare for Red Flag 18-3! Check out our video from a Colombian 767 as the aircrew performs an in-air refueling of 3 Colombian Air Force Kfir fighters! U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona
Volunteers from JTF-Bravo recently donated food and supplies for more than 150 Honduran families near Cane, La Paz. Service members hiked to the village carrying bags of donations to provide for the community and spent time playing soccer with the children as part of Chapel Hike 76. Our forces remain resilient and connected to our neighbors by giving back to the community. Voluntarios de nuestra organización recientemente donaron alimentos y suministros para más de 150 familias hondureñas cerca de #CaneLaPaz quienes subieron a la aldea con bolsas de donaciones para ayudar a la comunidad y compartieron su tiempo jugando fútbol con los niños, como parte de #ChapelHike76. Nuestras fuerzas siguen siendo fuertes y conectadas con nuestros vecinos al ayudar a la comunidad.
Today we said farewell to Colonel Eric Cólen Guedes, 12th Air Force (AFSOUTH) Brazilian Air Force Liaison Officer. Colonel Cólen received a Meritorious Service Medal in recognition of his work as a crucial link between 12th Air Force and the Brazilian Air Force. Our Liaison Officers play a critical role in strengthening ties between 12th Air Force and our partner nation air forces. We thank Colonel Cólen for his hard work and wish him luck as he moves on to his next assignment! U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) Força Aérea Brasileira
Check out this live shot of the Colombians training and flying here at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base
Lt. Gen. Mark Kelly, 12th Air Force (Air Forces Southern) commander met with Colombian Air Force Brig. Gen. Pablo Enrique Garcia Valencia! 🇺🇸🇨🇴🤝
The Colombian Air Force Fuerza Aérea Colombiana has sent their finest Kfir team to participate in Red Flag 18-3! 🇺🇸🇨🇴🚩🎉 U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) Nellis Air Force Base
Here's your chance to meet some of our Partner Nation Colombian Airmen! #RedFlag2018 🚩 🇺🇸🇨🇴
We’d like to give a 🔥warm 🤗 welcome to the members of the Colombian Air Force Fuerza Aérea Colombiana who arrived today at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona! They will train with the 162nd Wing Arizona Air National Guard as they prepare for Red Flag 18-3!🚩️🇺🇸🇨🇴️ U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) Air Combat Command Nellis Air Force Base
Happy Independence Day!
Creech Air Force Base Airmen show-off the MQ-9 Reaper!
A Colombian Air Force pilot shows his enthusiasm about participating in the upcoming Red Flag 18-3! We are just as excited as him! 😁🎉🌎✈️
Wow! The F-15E Strike Eagle's train with JTACS!
The Colombian Air Force are bringing their #Kfir's to Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada for Red Flag 18-3!
Check out our video from the Conference of American Air Chiefs in Panama City, Panama! This conference brought together Air Force leaders from 19 nations in the Western Hemisphere June 18-22. The System of Cooperation Among the American Air Forces (SICOFAA), the conference’s sponsoring organization, was established in 1961 and promotes the exchange of experiences, knowledge and training among member nations to strengthen cooperative capabilities in North and South America. Senan Panamá Embajada de Estados Unidos en Panamá U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) Deputy Under Secretary of the Air Force, International Affairs Heidi Grant Fuerza Aerea Guatemalteca United States Air Force
Today we bid farewell to Colonel Kim Campbell, Commander of our 612th Theater Operations Group and 474th Air Expeditionary Group. Colonel Campbell relinquished command to Colonel Travis Ingber during a change of command ceremony at Davis-Monthan AFB, Arizona. We thank Colonel Campbell for her leadership and wish her the best of luck in her next assignment!
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RT @FuerzaAereaRD: The Air Force of the Dominican Republic congratulates the United States Air Force @usairforce on the commemoration of th…
RT @USEmbassyBogota: RT @southcomwatch: ¡Feliz cumpleaños a la #FuerzaAérea más grande del mundo! @USAirForce #AFBDay #AIRPOWER @AFSOUTH ht…
Today, the U.S. Air Force celebrates its 71st birthday! Here at 12AF, we celebrated with a cake cutting by our comm… https://t.co/HrPqSbM9ua
Thanks to the Colombian Air Force for celebrating our Air Force's 71st birthday with us. https://t.co/lyORNhx6Gz
🇨🇱Today is Chile's Independence Day! Well wishes to all our Chilean friends as they celebrate! 🎉 12AF (AFSOUTH) lea… https://t.co/mrCYXm9BdK
RT @jtfbravo: Congratulations to all CENTAM SMOKE graduates! / Felicitamos a todos los bomberos por su particpación en #CENTAMSMOKE ! / @b
Great work graduates of CENTAM SMOKE. https://t.co/0Yy3FQ1Ihg
Some great photos of partner nations working together in Colombia during #AngeldelosAndes2018 https://t.co/2B0zhZ193x
@usairforce Pararescuemen train in the @FuerzaAereaCol led multinational search and rescue exercise👼… https://t.co/ubeJcam40g
RT @FuerzaAereaCol: Continuando con las misiones de búsqueda, salvamento y rescate, en el Ejercicio #ÁngelDeLosAndes2018, se realizó una op…
Today in the 🇨🇴 @FuerzaAereaCol multinational Air Force exercise 👼 Angel de los Andes⛰️ participants from Colombia,… https://t.co/b1DfXBgphP