Keeping cash out of enemy hands while protecting U.S. service members downrange may seem a world away from historic Boston, but it all starts within the walls of the Federal Reserve Bank here.
Soldiers and civilians of the U.S. Army Financial Management Command combined forces with U.S. Department of the Treasury and Federal Reserve employees to prepare deploying Army Soldiers and civilians, along with U.S. Marines, on a host of electronic commerce technologies including EagleCash, International Treasury Services, and the Over-the-Counter Channel at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston May 6-10.
"This training is inclusive with all aspects of e-commerce and is geared toward disbursing and banking officers, key noncommissioned officers and the Soldiers maintaining these systems," said Eric Reid, USAFMCOM Army Financial Services director. "This quarterly training gives them a deep dive into the backend on how everything works together because they're the ones who have to make sure everything is balanced and know how to troubleshoot it."
"These systems all work together to protect the deployed service member by allowing them to pay vendors without using their debit or credit cards overseas where financial security isn't as tight," said Tony Taylor, USAFMCOM EagleCash program manager. "They also keep U.S. dollars out of the battlespace where they can be leaked from vendors to our enemies, which can turn into weapons coming over the fence aimed at our troops."
Key to this system is EagleCash, a stored-valued card program administered by the Treasury and co-managed by the Department of Defense that service members can use 24/7 to load up to $350 per day onto a card from kiosks placed at some of the most remote locations in the world.
"EagleCash cards keep the Soldiers' bank accounts completely separate from their purchases in a closed-loop system, so they can feel confident their private banking information is safe when dealing with overseas vendors," explained Taylor. "Not only does this give our Soldiers peace of mind, it keeps them in the fight instead of standing in line waiting at a finance office to get cash."
Not only does EagleCash potentially save lives, it saves money. The Army estimates it has saved approximately $225 million since the program's inception, and it's administered by the Treasury for a zero-sum balance.
"Since we started with this program many years ago in the Balkans, EagleCash has become and essential tool on the battlefield and our other operational deployments to reduce the reliance on cash," said Reid. "This reduces the opportunity for illegal actions, such as money laundering, and it reduces those security and accountability requirements, which come with inherit costs."
Training participants also received in-depth and hands-on training with ITS and OTCNet.
ITS enables agencies to issue international foreign and U.S. dollar wire transfer payments without a corresponding U.S. financial institution. There is no cost to federal agencies to use ITS, and the Treasury pays all transaction fees associated with processing international payments and collections.
OTCNet is a web-based application where federal agencies manage and report all check and cash deposits in one place.
"The greatest part of this training was the ability for us to talk to these program managers and tap into their wealth of knowledge," said U.S. Army 1st Lt. Patrick Dickman, 4th Financial Management Support Unit Alpha Detachment disbursing agent, who will be deploying to the Middle East later this year. "These are the same people who I'll be calling when I'm deployed and having issues.
"I also got to meet part of the team we'll be replacing when we deploy," Dickman continued. "You can't really put a price tag on that kind of networking and knowledge sharing."
U.S. Army National Guard Spc. Irianis Cruz Torres, 27th Finance Management Support Unit information management officer, will be heading downrange on her first deployment later this year tasked with keeping finance equipment functioning.
"I'm very tech savvy, but I normally work on radios, so I don't touch anything financial as part of my day-to-day responsibilities," said Cruz Torres. "This training not only connected me with the people I can contact if I get in trouble, but it gave me a better understanding of all the systems, making my job easier so I can make our finance Soldiers' jobs easier."
Not all of the participants were heading overseas. U.S. Marine Chief Warrant Officer Timothy Taylor, Regional Disbursing Office West expeditionary fiscal officer, just returned from a trip to Kuwait where he conducted FM office site visits.
"In my job, I stay back and run the expeditionary fiscal operations for all the deployed 1st Marine Expeditionary Force Marines in (the U.S. Central Command) and the Pacific," explained CWO Taylor. "This training really gave me perspective on the backend of FM operations and is helping me structure my training (for deploying Marines) better.
"There are a lot of things I took away from there," he added. "Things I didn't understand or things we can definitely be doing better."
Looking to the future, Dickman said he's ready to leverage his training and the relationships he built to take on any challenges he may face.
"As green suiters (service members), we have a strong partnership with our civilian counterparts here," the lieutenant concluded. "We come at it with a desire to not quit until the mission is done, and they look at problems from a big-picture perspective, giving us the flexibility to deal with complex issues and come up with creative solutions."
A direct reporting unit to the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Financial Management & Comptroller, USAFMCOM provides finance support and liaison on matters pertaining to the adequacy of finance policies, systems and reporting requirements to Army commands, component commands, direct reporting units, installations, tactical units and the Defense Finance and Accounting Service.
USAFMCOM also performs Army-wide, unique actions such as financial management unit technical training, electronic commerce and classified finance and accounting oversight.
USAFMCOM is responsible for the delivery of Army-wide Financial Management functions including enterprise resource planning systems support, audit and compliance support, financial operations support, ERP business process standardization support and Army field financial management activities operational oversight.