CAMP ARIFJAN, Kuwait - The Australian general officer serving as the deputy commanding general of operations for U.S. Army Central took a tour of the vault, managed by the 175th Finance Management Support Center here May 6.
"I am fascinated by the pieces and parts that make up this magnificent organization," said Australian Army Maj. Gen. Christopher A. Field, who also served in Iraq, as well as a peacekeeper in East Timor and Lebanon.
Field said he was glad to find out that the 175th FMSC is based at Fort Shafter, Hawaii, as part of the U.S. Army Pacific. "This organization is from the Indo-Pacific, where Australia sits."
Army Maj. Jeremy Eckel, the 175th FMSC's deputy director and disbursing officer, said, he and his Soldiers were happy and thrilled to have Field visit the vault a highly-secure office, counting room and storage facility for handling and safeguarding millions of dollars in cash.
The major told the general that one of the highlights of their soon-ending deployment was the removal of easily counterfeited currency.
"We retrograded all pre-2004 currency, which has less security features than the more recently printed ones," he said. "All the money we brought into theater is post-2004--difficult, near-impossible to counterfeit--so we've cleared out of this theater all of old bills that nobody wants to use anymore," he said.
"We're especially excited about meeting with an Australian general because they operate on our home turf," Eckel said. "We are USARPAC, we support USARPAC, and so any chance to engage with senior leaders within USARPAC--from our allied partners--is a great opportunity."
When the general arrived, Eckel presented him with a short overview of past, current and future operations for the 175th FMSC, before he was brought into the vault itself.
Army 2nd Lt. Brandon Thurmond, the 175th FMSC's deputy disbursing officer, led the general into the storage room and after a short overview, gestured to three tightly sealed packages on the table. Each FedPack contains 16,000 $100 bills and weighs roughly 70 pounds.
The lieutenant told Field each package held $1.6 million in $100 bills, one of which he then picked up and put in the general's arms. Fields held the $1.6 million package and put it back on the stack.
According to Eckel, the mission of the vault is central funding in support of operations in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility. "It's to bring all the U.S. currency into and out of theater--all cash currency."
The Los Angeles native stated the 175th FMSC also provides direct oversight and support to the tactical Army finance units.
Thurmond said the unit acts as the theater currency reserve.
"We hold U.S. dollars here in reserve and support," the Augusta, Georgia, native said.
"If things are to draw down, we'll take some in, if there are more contracts that need to be paid, we'll issue that out," he said. "We issue out to our down trace units, who will break up the FedPack and issue bills as necessary."
The lieutenant said 175th FMSC Soldiers travel to Germany to collect the cash provided from the U.S. treasury through an American bank operating there.
Thurmond said it was important to bring in the fresh money to replace the pre-2004 bills, which the Soldiers bring to Germany to be traded in.
"In the last three months, we collected about $1.3 million in pre-2004 bills," he said.
To identify the pre-2004 bills, they use law enforcement-grade, high-speed bill counters with cameras that photograph both the front and back of each bill and register the bill's serial number, denomination and year it was printed.
These counters also scan for factors, which flag a bill for further examination as a possible counterfeit, he said.
"We hold it up to the light and we've got our magnifying glass and we've got our counterfeit pen and the charts that show the different years of the different denominations--and some of the features we're looking for," said the former rugby player at the University of North Georgia, where he graduated and earned his commission at the school's ROTC program.
Army Sgt. 1st Class Benson Njoroge, the 175th FMSC's disbursing manager and banking noncommissioned officer in charge, said he could tell the general was really engaged in the visit.
"He was very patient to listen to what we actually do and how it affects everyone in theater," said the native of Nakuru, Kenya. "I'm impressed because he really wanted to know about whatever we do that touches the lowest enlisted Soldier."
Njoroge, who was the 2019 U.S. Army Finance Corps NCO of the Year, said as he wraps up his work and the end of his tour, he looks back at a deployment full of professional growth.
"In this tour, I learned about building relationships," he said.
"We've been involved in a lot of funding missions, retrograde missions, and that involves working with the people in Germany, working with the people at APOD, in Qatar, as well as Camp Ali Al Salem and force protection," he said. APOD is shorthand for the Aerial Port of Debarkation at the Kuwait International Airport, which is the section of the airport set aside for the Air Force in support of U.S. Central Command operations.
When the visit to the vault was over, the general started to leave, and then turned to some of the Soldiers and said: "That's possibly the last time I'll hold $1.6 million."