November 12, 2013
BAGRAM AIR FIELD, Afghanistan - Support, management and accountability are all three key elements to support financial operations throughout Afghanistan.
The maintenance of financial support for soldiers in a deployed environment is essential. If a soldier's personal finances are not in order it can create devastating effects to mission readiness.
"We have to ensure soldier's pay is accurate; and if it isn't, it is our job to fix it correctly and accurately," said 1st Lt. Wesley S. Tudor, detachment commander of the 101st Financial Management Support Detachment. "If we don't, Soldiers will be thinking about their finances and how they are going to take care of their Families, rather than their mission."
One of the services provided for soldiers in Afghanistan is disbursing support, which gives soldiers access to their pay while in a deployed environment. Finance operations also provide military pay services, also known as MILPAY; this is a service that allows soldiers to resolve pay issues. Soldiers also have access to military financial programs like the Savings Deposit Program through their finance personnel.
There is one other service military finance personnel manage, a program called Eagle Cash Card.
"Eagle Cash Card, that's pretty much how we do all these things when it comes to disbursing and the savings deposit program," stated Tudor, a native of Morehead, Ky. "You can't do anything without the Eagle Cash Card. That is our main source of completing our task."
With the Eagle Cash Card Soldiers do not have to worry about carrying cash that can be lost or a credit card that has associated personal information.
"You can just carry around this little card that has a pin number tied to it," Tudor said. He added that the card is a valuable asset for finance operations, because a soldier can use the card at the Post Exchange or even to get a haircut without fear of losing cash or compromising personal information.
"All services a soldier receives in the U.S. can also be received in Afghanistan by the finance management support unit and it's detachments," said Lt. Col. Derek G. Bean, commander of 101st Special Troops Battalion, 101st Sustainment Brigade, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault).
Few forward operating bases (FOB) have full-time financial support capabilities, so there was a need for Financial Management Support Teams (FMST) to be implemented. These teams consist of two and three financial management personnel. The main function of these teams is to travel throughout Afghanistan to remote FOBs to ensure every soldier in theater has the opportunity to receive finance assistance.
"It's very important that we make those missions. Soldiers at remote areas need to access their money as much as the soldiers from the larger FOBs," Tudor explained.
The personnel from the FMST are a unique team with huge responsibilities. "The type of a soldier that is providing financial services in Afghanistan, in combat, is a highly trained, very smart soldier who's accounting for hundreds of thousands of dollars a day, and in some cases, millions of dollars, emphasized Bean, a native of Charleston, S.C.
One of those key elements is accountability Bean explained. Every single dollar that comes into Afghanistan and goes out of Afghanistan has to be accounted for. Every transaction has a trail, a receipt. "It's a big responsibility because the loss of one dollar invokes an investigation," Bean continued.
One of the highly trained soldiers Bean spoke about, recalled an experience she had when she carried a large amount of money as a forward operating base closed and the finance detachment consolidated their team to a larger base.
"We closed down our finance office in Salerno and there were three of us who had to carry all that excess money," stated Spc. Nicoll C. Flores, a native of Woburn, Mass., and a cashier with the 101st Financial Management Support Detachment.
"We had about 1.3 million dollars and it weighed a ton... it was so heavy. I got a little bit nervous having all that money because you never know what's going to happen...you just have to keep your eyes open and make sure everything around you looks okay."
Even though taking care of soldiers is a priority for the finance mission in Afghanistan, there are other assets the financial management support detachments support.
Ensuring payments are made to civilian contractors are part of their mission. As explained by Bean, simple things such as portable latrines require contracts and those contractors are paid through the military finance company.
"We have our hands in everything throughout the country, that's the way I look at it," Tudor smiled.
The finance detachments have their challenges as they are incorporated into just about every aspect of operations in Afghanistan. It is a natural process for there to be a drawdown in financial support alongside the drawdown of soldiers and the closure of operating bases.
"When we first arrived there were two finance companies and seven total finance detachments," Bean explained. "One finance company and five detachments fell under the 101st Sustainment Brigade in Eastern and Northern Afghanistan. One finance company and two detachments fell under the 15th Sustainment Brigade in Southern and Western Afghanistan."
The 101st Special Troops Battalion, 101st Sustainment Brigade, will transition the finance support into a smaller more mobile theater asset. As we continue with the drawdown and base closure operations they begin to transition into a single Sustainment Brigade. Bean explained the process as all logistical and support assets consolidate so will the finance management support. Eventually there will be a reduction in the finance company, which will leave one finance company in theater to provide mission command and operational support to seven finance detachments that will cover the entire finance operation in Afghanistan.
"We started this process last month and we're gradually taking over the two-finance management detachments in the South," Bean said. "We're currently in the process of accounting for all the funds and will assume mission command and operational support."
The financial operations personnel, although small in number, pride themselves on the impact their mission has in Afghanistan. Hundreds of thousands of dollars are managed and processed to support the troops and sustain the forces. These dollars can be distributed in a variety of ways such as, Eagle Cash Card, cash, and vouchers.
"The only other currency our financial management deals with is the Afghani currency. We use Afghani in an attempt to get the U.S. dollar out of Afghanistan's economy," stated Bean. "We're trying to ensure that as the Coalition transitions out of Afghanistan; the Afghani currency is the one being used throughout its commerce. This is why we encourage the use of the Eagle Cash Card, so there are minimal U.S. dollars being used in Afghanistan."
The finance teams throughout theater work to effectively manage millions of dollars, to ensure a steady cash flow, provide financial support aimed to assist soldiers in a deployed environment, assist in the development of Afghani use in commerce and to smoothly transition into a smaller more mobile finance asset.