Army innovates to provide technology, services to Balkan troops

CAMP ABLE SENTRY, Macedonia--Defense Department managers in the Balkans are innovating to bring the latest technology and needed supplies and services to troops in this region. William Ashley, a retired Army colonel who now serves as the senior civilian science adviser to U.S. Army Europe in Germany, makes quarterly visits to the Balkans to talk with commanders here about their operational problems--and then tries to solve them with either Army or commercial technology. "The idea is that commanders aren't always aware of research being done at Army laboratories and research, development and engineering centers in the [commercial sector]. We are their commercial link," Ashley told GovExec.Com as he waited to board an Air Force C-130 en route to Macedonia from Germany. For example, a commander recently told Ashley that he could no longer afford to use 100 soldiers a day to guard the more than five-mile perimeter around Camp Bondsteel, Kosovo. So, Ashley will test a commercial-off-the-shelf fence detection system over the next few weeks that could eliminate the need for most perimeter guards. The system is supplied by Arizona contractor Southwest Microwave. Ashley also will try out a commercial X-ray truck for inspecting vehicles as they cross the Kosovo-Macedonia border, a popular thoroughfare for arms smugglers. "All inspectors have now are mirrors and flashlights," he said. The Army is also using its own research in the Balkans to help commanders better detect rounds of mortar fire. The service's Space and Missile Defense Command is developing acoustic sensors that could be attached to unmanned aerial vehicles deployed in the Balkans to help better detect enemy fire. Ashley said commanders prefer testing out prototypes to the traditional acquisition process, which often takes three to four years to bring new or commercial technology to the field. However, he said, if commanders want to buy the equipment in quantities they still have to work through traditional contracting channels. Meanwhile, Maj. John Hauck, the Army's multinational support cell chief in the Balkans, said coordinating agreements to share goods and services among more than a dozen nations participating in Operation Task Force Essential Harvest in Macedonia is saving Defense dollars. Under the agreement, for example, the Army gives German soldiers free meals at Camp Able Sentry in exchange for free meals for U.S. troops on German bases. In other cases, the Army has sold participating nations services provided by its service contractor, Brown and Root. And, in perhaps the most unusual exchange, the Army has obtained free car washes by allowing its chaplain to perform Roman Catholic masses for troops from other nations. Hauck said there are three types of informal sharing agreements among the NATO nations: swapping the same services; making equal value exchanges for different types of services; or selling services to one another. There are only a handful of restrictions on bartering. For example, "I don't trade military labor," said Hauck. The cross-servicing agreements have become increasingly popular in the military as the number of multinational peace-keeping operations has grown over the past decade, Hauck said. According to Hauck, the cross-servicing deals benefit the Army by eliminating the need to write lengthy contracts (sharing agreements are much shorter) or running costly bill-paying operations for all goods and services procured, and by allowing military personnel to administer the contracts on site with other nations. More importantly, the exchanges allow all the nations to get needed goods and services as soon as possible, he added.
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