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By Maj. Micah Walker
In less than three years, one of Defense Contract Management Agency’s newest international sites proved its capabilities through a gauntlet of challenges and became a case study for successful C-130 support-expansion across Canada.
Located nearly 2,000 miles from the next closest DCMA Americas’ office, DCMA Americas Abbotsford overcame challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic and recent catastrophic levels of flooding throughout British Columbia since its establishment as a satellite office in 2019.
Despite these obstacles, DCMA Americas Abbotsford hit the ground running, successfully leading their industry counterpart, a contractor with limited experience working with the U.S. government, through contract and delivery hurdles to complete their first aircraft upgrade within months of contract award.
To date, nearly a dozen C-130 aircraft have rolled through the contractor’s hangar doors for avionics upgrades or complete periodic-maintenance inspections. Army Col. Steven Gutierrez, DCMA Americas deputy director, said the accomplishment impressed the agency team.
“The induction of aircraft and stationing of personnel so quickly after contract award in a foreign country is nothing short of remarkable,” he said. “It is a demonstration of the capability DCMA brings to ensure contract execution. We leveraged our strong alliance with our Canadian host-nation partners and interagency relationship with the Department of State to strategically expand our national technology and industrial base’s aerospace maintenance, repair and overhaul sector.”
The first steps of standing up a new satellite office routinely require support from other DCMA offices, but due to COVID-19 border restrictions, Abbotsford was prevented from assistance by its nearest neighbors in Washington state. Instead, the standup began with support from the DCMA Americas headquarters, on the opposite side of the continent, in Ottawa, Ontario.
Nevertheless, the location received its site certification in the first six months, and inducted its first aircraft and assigned its first permanent DCMA employees within the year.
Air Force Reserve Lt. Col. Carol Stanley became Abbotsford’s first quality assurance specialist due to her previous site-establishment experience and operational expertise as commander of the Air Force’s 513th Maintenance Squadron.
“The opportunity to stand up a new facility was intriguing,” Stanley said. “I also knew I had a unique perspective as a commander in the Reserve. Combined with my experience in standing up a facility in Montreal, I knew the position would be a good fit when I applied.”
Stanley was joined by three more experts rounding out the skillsets needed to organize and build the office’s core capabilities.
Selected from the DCMA Boeing Seattle office, Quality Assurance Specialist Kenneth Lohle looked forward to the opportunity as it served as a reunion to his prior Air Force service as an enlisted C-130 crew chief.
“I was excited to come up to Canada and work on the platform again,” Lohle said. “My time in Abbotsford has been an extension of my service. We have a great team up here, and we truly complement each other well.”
Given the complexity and duration of work, leadership determined a resident Aviation Program Team was needed to meet program demands.
Filling the role of government ground representative was U.S. Marine Gunnery Sgt. Benjamin Morrison, who brought significant experience as a former maintenance controller for the KC-130J fleet and as a member of the vice presidential helicopter support unit.
Air Force Maj. Peter Gac was selected as the government flight representative for his previous experience at Lockheed Martin Marietta and knowledge of how to accelerate the contractor maturation process.
With the site’s staff positions filled, one of their first projects was to identify resource constraints from the military services and to find innovative solutions to alleviate warfighter burdens.
The Abbotsford team streamlined the capabilities of their new office by leveraging Morrison’s safe-for-flight expertise to reduce travel and document review requirements needed for Marine Corps customers and supported units.
DCMA Americas pivoted to meet the emerging new office workload by providing full contracting support from their London, Ontario, location until a permanent contracts administrator arrived in 2021.
The remote contracts team leveraged its expertise and connections by collaborating with host nation partners, contractors and program offices across the globe to help stakeholders navigate the unique contracting requirements encountered within Canada.
Ron Bauman, Contracts supervisor, praised the group effort.
“Considering the complexity of the work, the efforts of our team have been nothing short of astounding,” he said. “With the additional contracting support in Vancouver, we can successfully support the growing workload.”
According to Bauman, the successful inclusion of these programs to DCMA’s growing portfolio of contract support in Canada established it a case study for building collaborative efforts between remote offices. DCMA Americas used lessons learned from the standup to answer a growing demand for emerging services.
Abbotsford’s main contractor and its sister company in Halifax, Nova Scotia, were recently selected to perform new C-130 work as a subcontractor supporting an avionics upgrade for the Marine Corps. The upgrade is nearly identical to current work performed for the Air Force in Abbotsford, but required the stand-up of a new facility in Halifax — an obstacle for which Abbotsford was prepared.
Drawing on support from across the agency, within three months of award notification, DCMA Americas facilitated compliance with the usually lengthy and resource-intensive compliance process ensuring contractors have the required air, ground and safety procedures in place.
Leveraging Abbotsford’s certification lessons to streamline the process, DCMA Americas positioned itself with rotational support from across Canada to champion early efforts as the first two aircraft arrived in Halifax in January.
Michael Sparks, DCMA Americas’ quality assurance supervisor, said “In standing up Abbotsford, we had a steep learning curve. However, the experience gained in British Columbia provided both (contractors) and DCMA Americas a road map to follow to certify on time. Another critical component to our success in Abbotsford has been the experience the new employees brought along with them when they arrived. We will also prioritize experience and the ability to be a self-starter should we need to establish a permanent office in Halifax.”
Leaning forward, DCMA Americas is taking a proactive management approach in its air operations portfolio in Canada. Thanks to the lessons learned overcoming challenges in supporting multiple contracts and service branches in Abbotsford, DCMA Americas is working to facilitate open communication between the Air Force and Marine Corps C-130 program offices to singularly mitigate risk stakeholders encounter when using the same contractors.
This support took shape as government only bi-weekly forums allowing DCMA Americas to provide updates on facilities and data while allowing the program offices to prioritize risk and brief decision points in anticipation of future requirements.
DCMA Americas’ Technical Operations Director Susan Pierchala said, “DCMA Americas is challenged with the same resource constraints the rest of the government is. Then you add in the challenges of immigrating to a new country during a pandemic and our hiring process can take upwards of a year. Implementing this forum has enabled a shared understanding and flattened government communication.”
In addition to ensuring consistent messaging, Pierchala hopes the forum facilitates educated business decisions for their customers in prioritizing their own collective risks, which will allow the DCMA team to efficiently allocate their limited resources in the future.
The initiative has drawn praise from each service’s program office as Halifax’s requirements for air operations continue to gain fidelity and momentum.
Looking back over the significant collaboration and success of the past few years, Sparks set Abbotsford’s example as a positive representation of future prospects for DCMA Americas.
“We should know within months if we need a permanent presence in Halifax,” said Sparks. “I am envious of the potential opportunities out there. It will be a great experience working with dedicated partners in an amazing location. For the right person, it is an opportunity of a lifetime.”
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