Bosnia: not quite business
DND and ATCO Frontec join forces to supply
Canadian troops in Bosnia
by Richard Bray
Lindsay Hardy is outside having a cigarette, pacing back and forth with a cordless telephone, explaining to a customer how he intends to fill a current purchase order. "We do the normal dickering," he says. "You want more business; I want a better price."
Hardy could be at a government procurement office, anywhere in Canada, but he is outside the Canadian Forces supply hangar in Velika Kladusa, Bosnia-Herzegovina, formerly Yugoslavia, surrounded by bunkers, barbed wire, armoured vehicles and hundreds of soldiers. What is even more unusual, is that Hardy is a civilian. He works for ATCO Frontec under the Contractor Support Program (CSP), providing Canadian peacekeepers with a wide range of non-combat services.
The two-year, $83-million CSP contract, with an optional third year worth $34 million, covers secure satellite communications, utilities, transportation, vehicle maintenance, fuel, facilities and grounds maintenance, fire safety, billeting, catering, supply and environmental protection.
The section of Bosnia for which Canada is responsible, like the entire country, is still battered by the war. There are burnt-out buildings; the fields and hills are blighted by millions of land mines and its people, Serbs, Croats and Muslims are bitterly and deeply divided by the recent bloodshed. There are many new grave-markers in little cemeteries and fresh flowers at roadside shrines to fallen heroes.
Now, more than five years after the Dayton Accord brought a cease fire to the region, peacekeepers are still needed to keep the factions from each other's throats. They will be needed for years to come. Their task is to maintain a "secure and stable environment" by making sure that the former belligerents adhere to the terms of the Accord - a job that only soldiers, well-armed and well-supported, can do. The hope is that wounds will heal, an economy will emerge and democratic institutions will take root and flourish. .
Canada changes military units in Bosnia every six months in "rotations," or "rotos" as they are called. The ATCO Frontec contract began with Roto 7, the arrival of the 2nd Battalion, Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry (2PPCLI) Battle Group from Winnipeg, with elements from 1 Royal Canadian Horse Artillery and Lord Strathcona's Horse. From the north, to the south, detachments of Canadians live in camps surrounded by barbed wire and in their menagerie of armoured vehicles -Grizzlies, Bisons and the new Coyote - they patrol their respective areas.
Bosnia is considered a "mature theatre," a place where there is no longer a threat of imminent danger but where an armed presence is required. Nobody is allowed out of camp alone. In any group, there will always be at least one armed person. Because of land mines and booby traps, stepping off the tarmac or hard-packed ground is not only forbidden, but potentially suicidal. Inside or outside the camp fraternization of any kind with anyone is strictly forbidden. The alcohol ration of two drinks a day is strictly enforced.
Colonel Ted Grant, commanding officer of Task Force Bosnia Herzegovina, headquartered in Velika Kladusa, said, "The aim of the contract [with ATCO] was to free up military personnel. We had found in the department that certain trades were being overtaxed - mostly what we refer to as Combat Service Support (CSS) - engineers, supply, maintenance, transportation, cooks and structural engineers."
When Canada decided to take on another peacekeeping mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea, there simply weren't enough CSS personnel to go around. Somehow, they had to be released from duty in Bosnia.
"ATCO is providing that. They are freeing up about 150 people on this tour," he said. "This is not a money-saving operation. The department went into this with their eyes open, knowing it would be more expensive, but they need to free up those military people."
Dave Rooke is ATCO Frontec's project manager on the ground in Bosnia. He defines his main challenge as, "Building a better relationship with our customer. Demonstrating that we can do all aspects of the work in excess of their expectations. Make them wish they'd done this earlier. DND told us, 'We couldn't get it done as fast as we want it done.' DND has a lot of rules and structures. They're almost process-driven and we feel we're almost the opposite. We think they're already saving money. I can't tell you that we cost them less. I think we do."
Canada is by no means the first NATO country to use civilian contractors in what the military calls "deployed operations," but the ATCO Frontec contract goes farther than most by "embedding" or putting civilian and military personnel side by side in work groups.
Lieutenant Colonel Robert Kelly is commanding officer of the National Support Element in Bosnia, the group responsible for logistical support. Very early in the contract, it became clear there were some economies available in the procurement area. For local purchasing, he said, "The contract was written so that they would take over purchasing new items. They would do half the requirement. We've had two people going to the same store to buy the same thing, because they're for two different reasons. Why not just have one person buying things for everybody? And so they said 'yeah,' right off. So what we are going to do now is have one organization buy everything and that is ATCO Frontec. It wasn't in the contract but both agree that it makes sense."
Lieutenant Sheri Peck, officer in charge of Supply Platoon at Velika Kladusa, works with 43 people: 15 military personnel, 10 ATCO employees and 18 locally engaged staff. It is her job to ensure that supplies flow smoothly from their various sources through to the soldiers that need them. The local buyers work for her.
She says, "It is necessary to maintain and manage an ATCO Frontec budget and a DND budget. To ensure that DND funds are being spent appropriately, DND has certain approval authorities that must be followed when purchasing is done. As far as the actual buying and sourcing of the material is concerned, only ATCO Frontec personnel do the work. Financial liability for the material that is purchased, however, is currently being shared between both ATCO Frontec and DND. In very general terms, ATCO Frontec is responsible for the purchase of consumable type items that have been issued before but have run out. DND is financially responsible for "new requirement" type items that the military did not have here before but that are now required to perform our daily jobs effectively."
At 2PPCLI Battle Group, headquartered in Zgon, south of Velika Kladusa, Captain Steve MacDonald, the unit's quartermaster, is one of Peck's main customers. He has been in Bosnia since September 8th - one short week before ATCO Frontec became part of the supply chain. As far as the supply process goes, he said, nothing much changed with the advent of ATCO Frontec. "We submit our supply requests the same way; I manage my shop the same way; I still have the same number of personnel I would have had prior to their arrival."
However, MacDonald said that it was apparent that ATCO Frontec had some initial difficulty with their purchasing network. "Three Canadian Support Group was tagged with the purchasing responsibility for previous rotations in Bosnia and had a supply chain in place that was well established, getting things overseas in a reasonable amount of time. Now that's changed a little bit. ATCO Frontec uses their own supply network within Canada. They were probably understaffed a little bit."
With winter coming on, heaters and tire chains were a priority. MacDonald said ATCO Frontec managed to provide them in time, but went "right down to the wire." Other items will take longer. "All the 'nice-to-haves," he said, "will take a while to acquire. There's a learning process when you take charge. Definitely, there's going to be some growing pains. They have to get used to working with the military, get used to the way we operate."
Steve MacFadyen manages the Zgon camp for ATCO Frontec. Like MacDonald, he believes it could be the next rotation before the supply system is in shape.
Despite the difficulties, however, everyone was quick to point out that the Canadian contingent had never gone without the supplies it needed to get the job done - soldiers had hot meals, hot water came out of the pipes and the vehicles went on patrol.
Even though civilian techniques and efficiencies are being applied to the support function, the military task comes first. As the battle group commander in Zgon, Colonel Marv Makulowich said, "It's difficult to define flexibility beforehand." For example, so as not to tip off Bosnian civilians working in the camp kitchen, he was given only eight hours notice to provide 400 soldiers for an operation in the town of Drvar; until then it was business as usual in the camp. "Does that mean 400 meals get thrown out? It certainly does."
And in Bosnia, adaptability is crucial. After a café bombing and several drive-by shootings during the summer in the town of Glamoc, a detachment of about 45 Canadians took up residence in an abandoned factory, halting the violence immediately. The presence of heavily-armed soldiers and their high-tech vehicles cooled things down. They stayed for months, mounting day and night patrols, demonstrating clearly that a new order was there to stay. Warrant Officer Joe Linden said that with the lessening of tensions in the town, much of their work is humanitarian.
This outpost could be considered ATCO Frontec's ultimate customer, dependent on the company for the quality of their food and water, the reliability of their communications and the supplies they consume on a daily basis.
At the Tomoslavgrad base, at the bottom end of the Canadian Area of Responsibility, Major Simon Hetherington says he is fortunate to have the 11 ATCO Frontec people who work with the 430 soldiers under his command. "We set the standard in army-CSP cooperation. They have a very can-do attitude and are very flexible in their interpretation of the Statement of Work in the contract. They respond whenever we need them."
Because successive Canadian units have taken a short-term view, Hetherington pointed to one potential advantage to the presence of ATCO Frontec. "We have to look beyond the six months that is our tour in Bosnia. A longer vision is needed … hopefully, ATCO Frontec will provide that vision."
Warrant Officer Don Hulan is the company quartermaster in Tomoslavgrad. Asked about the difficulties of making the army-contractor relationship work, especially in the beginning, he stated flatly, "I don't feel the onus is on me." Pointing to military procedure for hand-overs of responsibility where one unit overlaps with another, he said, "It should have been handled like a 'relief in place.' " However, the soldiers concerns were being listened to and looking ahead to the next units to come in, he said, "It's going to be better for Roto 8."
Meanwhile, just as ATCO Frontec procurement officer Lindsay Hardy sits back to relax and enjoy his cigarette, Master Corporal Mark Jackson walks up with a purchase order in one hand and an electrical component in the other. Clearly, something isn't right. A quick glance showed a female component has been supplied instead of a male and Hardy asks, "Do me a favour?" he asks. "Make up a new one?"
"Not a chance," jokes Jackson.
After a brief and friendly discussion, Jackson agrees to go into Velika Kladusa where Hardy has become friendly with the owner of an electrical supply store. There, they will look up the manufacturer's part number and arrange to order direct. Later, Jackson said he had come to expect that kind of service from Hardy. In fact, he said, "I was surprised at the level of service when I got here."
There may be bumps but, clearly, the CSP is on the road to success.
Richard Bray is a Nepean-based freelance writer specializing in the IT sector. He has been published in magazines and newspapers in Australia, the US and Canada and is now editor of Ottawa Computes. Before freelancing, he worked as a producer, reporter and senior writer for CBC in Toronto.