Click here for the PDF of the article as it originally appeared in the PAE employee magazine.
Among the many enduring missions that PAE is proud to support is America's largest diplomatic mission in the world, based in Baghdad, Iraq. PAE supports the Department of State (DoS) at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad and its associated sites throughout the country. Other DoS locations include the U.S. Consulate General in Basra, and a hub at the Baghdad International Airport called the Baghdad Diplomatic Support Center (BDSC) where DoS has operations.
In 2013, DoS undertook a major transition, shifting from U.S. military-sponsored support contracts like LOGCAP and competitively awarding two new civilian-managed support contracts, one for facility operations and maintenance services through the Operations and Maintenance Support Services (OMSS) contract and the other for critical life support services and logistics through the Baghdad Life Support Services (BLiSS) contract covering DoS facilities throughout Iraq. PAE was proud to be selected by DoS as their new Iraq service provider. To successfully manage these large, complex programs, PAE's Iraq team performs with the utmost skill, dedication and pride, while at the same time demonstrating extreme flexibility amidst a changing environment.
PAE has maintained a presence in Iraq since 2007, serving initially as the operations and maintenance (O&M) startup contractor at the U.S. Baghdad Embassy Compound (BEC). At that time, PAE successfully transitioned the newly built facility from the construction contractor to a fully operational and supportable infrastructure. Through the award of OMSS in February 2013, PAE continued its presence as the Top Secretcleared O&M provider for the BEC, while also taking responsibility for facility operations at DoS' BDSC and Basrah compounds. PAE then expanded support further to include life support services at all three locations with the award of BLiSS five months later.
"The two contracts go hand-in-hand," explained Ken Messner, who serves as Director of Iraq Operations and oversees both contracts as well as PAE's overall presence in Iraq. "Through OMSS and BLiSS, we are able to provide both the platform and services our customer requires in order to live and work. For example, through BLiSS, we purchase and deliver 12 million gallons of fuel a year, which the OMSS employees then use to operate and support the DoS compounds and associated DoS locations' buildings and vehicles."
As the largest U.S. diplomatic mission in the world, the BEC site occupies approximately 104 acres in Baghdad's "International Zone," also formerly known as the "Green Zone." To offer comparison, the BEC is slightly smaller than Vatican City by only a few acres. "We essentially operate a small city," said Ken. "BEC is not connected to the Baghdad city grid, so we have to pump our own water, run electricity from generators, and conduct waste water treatment among many other tasks in order to operate the compound and make it functional."
Under the OMSS contract, PAE personnel perform O&M on all facilities and equipment as well as conduct minor construction, janitorial services, pest control and motor vehicle repair services. PAE professionals operate, monitor, and repair Building Automation Systems (BAS), provide service desk operations and schedule service work. PAE also purchases parts, materials and storage to support our operations, maintenance and repair missions.
PAE provides the supervision, qualified skilled labor, materials, spare parts, and equipment needed to meet requirements for security, engineering, management, logistics, and administration in support of the BEC. PAE developed an O&M plan that serves as the roadmap for maintenance efforts, and PAE operates the most recent version of a computerized maintenance management system used by the DoS at all U.S. Embassies. The PAE maintenance program boasts a rapid response rate to emergency service calls 24 hour per day, 365 days per year. PAE manages emergency, urgent or routine service calls through a ticketing system that monitors the repair to completion.
Under the BLiSS contract, PAE's life support services team is responsible for food procurement, preparation and serving to support several thousand people on a daily basis; and fuel procurement and delivery to operate multiple generators and a very large vehicle fleet country-wide. PAE also provides program management, postal support services, solid waste management, property scrap, destruction and disposals, warehouse operations, transportation services, as well as airfield management, operations support, and airfield and structural fire protection at BDSC.
PAE also provides fire and emergency services under the BLiSS contract. Through the PAE/BLiSS Iraq Fire Department Firefighter Training Program, PAE enhances firefighter performance and reliability while strengthening the professionalism of contracted Fire and Emergency Services personnel. The program gives employees the opportunity to study and test for 34 individual basic and advanced certification levels, allowing PAE to retain more employees by offering an opportunity for advancement from their current position. A combination of written tests, practical exercises and live fire training is used throughout the training.
Due to the nature of the security environment in Iraq, personnel live and work within the BEC, BDSC and Basrah compounds. With constrained living quarters, recreational activities become an important morale booster for the on-site teams. PAE supports this aspect of Embassy life through its Morale Welfare and Recreation (MWR) services, which include maintenance of activity areas such as a tennis court, swimming pools and TV lounges. PAE also provides Regional Security Office (RSO) supplemental staffing support for a number of critical operations and programs.
At times, PAE is asked to carry out special requests, such as military movement missions. For a movement mission, PAE's BLiSS transportation and logistics team provides cargo, containers and other sensitive equipment, sometimes on very short notice, using flatbed trucks, forklifts and a crane that PAE personnel operate. Such missions require extreme flexibility. In an email, a U.S. military officer commended the group by writing, "they [PAE's transportation and logistics team] are masters of their craft; their patience and flexibility allows us to remain successful despite our constantly changing environment."
A Changing Environment
The changing environment in Iraq constantly challenges the ability of the PAE team to provide consistent and high quality services. In June 2014, the insurgent violence initiated by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) reached the Baghdad area, and the BEC and BDSC were faced with serious security threats. "While the DoS made the decision to reduce the number of non-essential personnel from the International Zone, our services were still needed," said Pete Capwell, Contracts Manager for Iraq Operations. "We provide all the essential services that keep the BEC and BDSC running, so it was critical that we adapt to the situation and continue to support the U.S. mission. Due to the rapidly changing environment, we had to change the scope of some of our projects to ensure people were safe and supported."
Approximately half of the PAE workforce was relocated outside of the threatened area while our remaining employees stayed on duty at the BEC and BDSC. This skeleton staff worked long hours with minimal days off; keeping the DoS compounds in the Baghdad area operational until the security position was strengthened with the arrival of the U.S. military teams, and the temporarily relocated personnel were able to return.
"By October 2014, a majority of our staff that relocated during the height of the security crisis had returned to their permanent duty station. While there were a few that decided to resign, the majority of our employees remained to support the mission, sometimes working 80, 90, 100-hour weeks. Despite all the challenges, we were able to keep the BEC and the vital BDSC airfield site operational, particularly with the help of our subcontractors for food and fuel, and of course, because of our dedicated workforce," said Ken.
Although there is still a continuing security threat today, PAE is maintaining services and even making improvements. "One of our biggest challenges, and therefore one of our biggest opportunities when first starting BLiSS, was to switch all the food facilities from a military style dining facility (DFAC) operation serving reheated frozen entrees, to a DoS conceptualized cafeteria that features meals cooked from scratch using local produce to support the Iraqi economy, and providing our customers more variety and fresher options," said Ken.
Although the initial timeline of the dining facility transition was affected, PAE succeeded in opening all three dining locations (at the BEC, BDSC and Basrah) and is offering a greater variety of fresher food to customers. The Thanksgiving meals PAE served showcased the success of the new approach to food service in Iraq. Ambassador Stuart Jones recently presented PAE and food subcontractor Taylors International with a certificate of appreciation reading, "with over a 97% positive customer feedback rating, your decision to start preparing more meals using fresh ingredients and move away from heat-and-serve food has had a huge impact on post morale."
In a letter to the BLiSS team, BLiSS Food Operations Manager Burgess Newsom wrote, "Collectively we have achieved what can only be considered an unparalleled success. Every day you lead your teams to provide meals that are nutritious, thoughtful and when the occasion calls for it, fun. Most of you have had to train and retrain your teams from scratch and all of you have worn more than one hat during the process. Your commitment to excellence does not go unnoticed."
PAE will no doubt be required to continue to operate in a flexible manner in the years to come. "With the lingering security threat, we can never be too sure what will be asked of us next," said Pete. "But the team we have in place is very flexible and is able to adapt to any situation. I couldn't be more proud to work amongst such dedicated individuals."
After a visit from PAE Chief Operations Officer Karl Williams in June, the team received an email from Karl expressing his gratitude for their hospitality and thoughts on their performance. "Your tireless work in a challenging environment is an excellent example of what we at PAE aspire towards. It was Joe Kennedy (once an Ambassador himself) that said - 'When the going gets tough, the tough get going.' Now that I have personally experienced it, Iraq is tough and you are definitely going," said Karl.
"It's a true partnership," concluded Ken. "Our customer is very happy with the progress we have made and the things that we are doing on both contracts. No matter the obstacles, we will continue to proudly support the largest U.S. diplomatic mission in the world and its constituent posts."