News | Sept. 26, 2017

DCMA Downrange: Deployment delivers global QA perspective

By Larry Lopez DCMA Santa Ana

Editor's note: Larry Lopez is a lead quality assurance specialist at Defense Contract Management Agency Santa Ana. When hired four years ago, Lopez had limited information on the agency’s purpose and the amount of products it was responsible for. After a tour in Afghanistan as part of the Contingency Response Force, he was able to see firsthand the importance and extent of the DCMA mission. Agency employees who would like information on how to become involved with the CRF or other deployment opportunities can contact John Wrend, CRF program manager, at john.wrend@dcma.mil or DCMADeploy@dcma.mil.

SANTA ANA, Calif., Sept. 26, 2017 — When I deployed to Afghanistan, I had no real idea of what my job would be. Quality assurance specialists always strive for perfection, but how can you succeed when you have no idea what the job is?

For me, it was an easy answer because the Defense Contract Management Agency trains us to adapt, make the best out of every circumstance and perform to the best of our abilities in the face of an ever-changing defense acquisition world. This experience would be no different — adapt to changes in policy, personnel and environment — and work to make effective changes to lower the learning curve for the people coming in after me.

At home, our focus is on American warfighters to ensure they receive the best we can give them. But what happens when the job is dealing with coalition partner nations who are also fighting the war on terror? My new job was to focus on ensuring all nations received the logistical support needed to keep us, and them, safe from terrorists.

I had a big learning curve ahead of me. I relearned property books, hand receipt operations, and how to open and close job orders for vehicle maintenance. I learned about letters of justification, coalition operational needs statements, implementing arrangements, and the multitude of transaction details that assist the U.S. with keeping track of owned and loaned equipment and how we pay our bills in theater.

I worked in Kabul, Afghanistan, at a multi-national base with Romanian, Georgian, Italian, Danish and Turkish coalition partners. All of my previous assignments had shaped my view of American warfighters — and these weren’t our warfighters. This new job quickly changed my perspective. In their own way, these are our warfighters. We loan equipment to them to perform tasks like force protection, route clearing, training, assisting with Afghan law enforcement and various other missions throughout the country.

Our quality assurance goes further than I ever thought. The job we do at home not only benefits our warfighters, but a multitude of nations that rely on American equipment to perform as expected when needed to bring them home safe. How awesome is that?

I arrived at my post near the end of November and had to spend the holidays with relative strangers — people that were not family. The Romanian National Support Element was by my office, and from day one, they made me feel right at home. I ended up celebrating Christmas Eve with them and enjoyed a traditional Romanian dinner. It was outstanding celebrating their culture with them. I was also involved with the Georgian National Support Element who were very welcoming and willing to share their culture and the holidays. Because they follow the Orthodox calendar, I was invited to celebrate a second Christmas Eve on Jan. 6, and New Year’s on Jan. 14.

It was a strange yet wonderful to experience to see how different cultures celebrate holidays. Sharing their cultural celebrations helped keep me from being homesick over the holiday season. I was celebrating with family after all, I just didn’t know it yet.

This experience being deployed to Afghanistan has helped me learn new skills and reinforce that what we are doing back home really matters, not only to the American warfighter but also to a multitude of other nations. I have met people from around the world in places I never would have thought of going to. I was truly blessed with this opportunity to serve my country.

I saw firsthand what a difference quality assurance makes in the lives of the warfighters, coalition partners, civilians and deployed contractors. They use the equipment we help the government procure and deliver every day. Today and from now on, when I think about being the independent eyes and ears for the Department of Defense, providing acquisition insight from the factory floor to our warfighters, it has a whole new meaning. At least for me, it is also a multi-national one team, one voice.