WIESBADEN, Germany -- “I deployed to Iraq in 2007, and when I got there everything was just ‘magically’ there. I had food. I had somewhere to sleep. I kind of wondered how did all that get there?” Contracting Specialist Master Sgt. Eulid Temblador said. “Well, it got there through contracts.”
Temblador deployed as a radio transmission operator with an infantry brigade then, but has since reclassified to the 51C military occupational specialty, or MOS, an Army career field where Soldiers focus on providing that contracting piece that’s so critical to everything the Army does.
He is now one of four Soldiers serving in the Contracting Division of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Europe District. While noncommissioned officers serving as contracting professionals are 51C’s and officers serving as contracting professionals are 51A’s, they are often all conversationally referred to as 51C’s.
In Europe District these military personnel provide contracting support to the command’s wide variety of missions in Europe, Africa and Israel, with an emphasis often on the more remote and less traditional projects.
“At the Europe District, we’ve found that several of our programs, Humanitarian Assistance as an example, provide the best possible opportunities for our 51C’s to exercise the knowledge, skills and abilities from formal classroom training, on-the-job training with Department of the Army Civilians teammates, and their previous experience they bring to bear,” said Europe District’s Chief of Contracting Chris Tew. “In addition to the great work our 51C’s perform, the Europe District also benefits greatly from the ‘can do’ attitude and example they provide to the organization.”
Most 51C’s work in larger Army or joint commands focused primarily on the contracting mission and providing support to other Army commands and units, like Army Contracting Command or the Defense Contract Management Agency. While they are flexible in their support, the bulk of their work tends to be managing contracts for supplies, services and basic life support – much like Temblador described in his experience in Iraq.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, with its unique and varied missions, has its own large contracting mission. As such, most U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Districts will have a small number of military personnel working as part of their larger civilian contracting teams.
“In the Army, every uniformed Army contracting professional starts off as something different, and because the Army values experience and leadership, we require 51C's to first gain general Army knowledge by serving in an initial entry MOS before coming into contracting,” said Europe District’s Maj. Marcus Stringer, one of the four ‘51C’s’ in the Contracting Division. “Working as a contracting professional and specifically with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers brings unique opportunities and experiences, ranging from COVID-related missions to humanitarian assistance and A/E (architect/engineer) service contracts - all the different experiences that we've been able to see and do over the past few years add to our repertoire of how to approach future mission challenges.”
During COVID, the contracting professionals in the broader U.S. Army and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers played key roles in the nation’s fight against the pandemic including contracting for the setting up of alternate care facilities to treat patients with COVID and supporting vaccination efforts.
In Europe District, contracting professionals support things ranging from large-scale construction projects to sophisticated A/E contracting tools to environmental cleanup efforts. 51C’s in Europe District support the full spectrum of the District’s projects, but often support remote humanitarian assistance projects and other construction missions the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers manages for the U.S. European Command and U.S. Africa Command.
“I was able to go to Azerbaijan, and actually conduct a site visit to the kindergarten that we were building, along with two future kindergartens that are going to be built,” Temblador said. “So part of the contracting process is getting in touch with those different cultures, working with the host nation partners, the State Department partners, seeing how they work projects and finding out what their impact and focus is.”
Master Sgt. Aaron Kopecky, another member of the Europe District contracting team, noted that being able to support impactful projects like that in Azerbaijan and around the world is one of the reasons he enjoys serving in the Army, and with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
“I think it’s neat because I know that even though we're doing these good things for these countries -- for what we used to call ‘hearts and minds’ -- they're aware of how helpful America can be,” Kopecky said. “Because we also understand that in the Army there's always an underlying 'Big Army' strategic mission at work, and so what we're doing is actually congruent with that strategic effort as well.”
The District’s uniformed contracting professionals are versatile and support Europe District’s wide range of missions, in addition to those impactful humanitarian assistance projects. One example of this expertise is Contracting Division’s Special Programs Branch Chief Chris Solinsky, who recently retired from active military service as a lieutenant colonel in Europe District’s Contracting Division. He was just recognized as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Excellence in Contracting Awards Program 51C Commissioned Officer of the Year for 2022. This was for his outstanding contracting support to multiple key Europe District missions, including support to the F-35 program in Israel and key Missile Defense Agency projects – as well to several humanitarian assistance projects.
Tew also noted that, in addition to the expertise and perspective these Soldiers bring to Europe District’s contracting team, working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, be it in Europe or elsewhere, the benefits go both ways.
“The embedding of 51C contingency contracting specialists within the Europe District is the direct result of the Army applying lessons learned from both Afghanistan and Iraq,” Tew said. “Contracting capabilities are a key force multiplier for the Army and as the Army has worked to reconstitute the force, we are partnering with them to train and develop Soldiers on the unique aspects of engineering and construction so that they can then apply that expertise to future assignments and similar missions with Army Contracting Command and elsewhere.”