At the top of their game, professional athletes train hard and apply some of the most extreme pressures to ensure they’re hardened into their sport’s best and most capable talents because they realize the importance of winning. Winning matters.
And, with lives and freedom around the globe at stake, the U.S. Army is built to win. That is why finance and comptroller Soldiers converged at Joint Base McGuire-Dix, New Jersey, to build the professional grit, fortitude and technical prowess necessary to win against near-peer adversaries during exercise Diamond Saber Aug. 11-19.
“Diamond Saber is the World Cup, the Super Bowl, the NBA Finals of financial management,” explained Lt. Col. Jason Hempstead, 78th Training Division Diamond Saber exercise director. “It brings finance and comptroller units from all components – active, Guard and Reserve – together to train hard, learn from each other and compete in a friendly manner.”
Established in 2004, Diamond Saber is a U.S. Army Reserve-led exercise that trains and evaluates Soldiers and joint partners on warfighting functions such as funding the force, payment support, disbursing operations, accounting, fiscal stewardship, auditability and data analytics.
"[It’s] the ideal training for finance and comptroller Soldiers that is structured in a way where they get to learn from the experts and learn from each other before they get to exercise that knowledge and get evaluated," said Stephen “Sully” Sullivan, U.S. Army Reserve chief financial officer.
"We have the U.S. Army Financial Management Command, USAFMCOM’s Army Military Pay Offices and the Defense Finance and Accounting Service here, bringing all the expertise together to provide a unique opportunity for Soldiers and leaders to just focus on financial management tasks," Sullivan continued.
The importance of Diamond Saber to the Army’s overall readiness is both at enterprise and individual levels.
“Money matters to everyone. During conflicts, our financial management support teams fund the fight and provide critical support to the warfighter by establishing banking operations and using the local economy,” explained Hempstead. “Diamond Saber ensures our finance Soldiers can conduct their mission essential tasks, move with combat units and ultimately support the combatant commanders.”
But, competition around the globe isn’t always friendly, and that’s when sustaining a lethal force capable of deterring, and if necessary, destroying America’s adversaries becomes all-the-more vital.
“In the world we live in today, we can see what happens when an army doesn’t focus on sustainment operations,” said Capt. Alexander Pace, 78th TD Diamond Saber exercise planner, who enlisted into the infantry and later commissioned into air defense artillery.
“When I first started my career, I thought America’s Army was the most powerful and lethal because of our combat arms, the training they receive and the technology that they implement,” Pace recalled. “But, what we see in our world right now with certain nations, who have more infantry and technology than their opponents, is that they are losing their conflicts because they can’t sustain those forces.”
And, with the Army’s changing focus from counterinsurgency operations to deterring and preparing for large scale combat operations, Diamond Saber aimed to meet the challenges posed by near-peer adversaries, including denial of communication services.
“Readiness includes being able to function without connectivity and the things that make our jobs back home easier and better,” explained Hempstead. “We have to be able to turn out the lights, scale back the tech, and pull out the pen and paper to continue on the mission.”
In the modern battlespace, combined and joint operations are also critical to the U.S. military’s strategic capabilities to deal with any threat, big or small.
“It’s always been important to have the multiple components – active, guard and reserve – come together like this because that’s how we fight, so it only makes sense,” said U.S. Army Lt. Col. Adrian Plater, 82nd Finance Battalion commander. “If you truly want to talk LSCO and replicate the finance operational architecture from port of embarkation to the forward line of the troops, you’re going to need all of the components.”
In the case of the active component 82nd FI BN, the training was even more critical as the unit is deploying to the Middle East in Fiscal Year 2023, and two of the three reserve component detachments deploying under them were also at Diamond Saber.
“We’ve had great dialog with them, and that crosstalk is so important,” said Plater. “You want to open the lines of communication so you can start working with each other, get that discovery learning out of the way and put in place some tactics, techniques and procedures to make the transition into theater as smooth as possible.”
And, while Diamond Saber builds expeditionary fiscal readiness through procurement, disbursing and commercial vendor services, it also hones the skills necessary to ensure Soldiers on the battlefield and their families back home are taken care of financially.
“As a former infantry guy, I love roughing it and don’t mind sleeping out in the field, but the first time there’s a pay issue, morale tanks, and that can decimate your fighting force,” explained Pace. “If you have pay issues, you’re not only going to hurt morale, but long term, you’re going to hurt retention and recruitment.”
“If the Soldiers’ morale isn’t there, they can’t fight with the lethality they need to win,” agreed Hempstead. “We build lethality through trust by helping to mitigate the risk and fear of Soldiers and their families not having been paid properly and timely.”
Despite the pressures and hardships associated with training, Pace said exercise participants made the most out of the two weeks.
“Soldiers like to train, and these Soldiers were happy getting to exercise their talents and equipment,” he said. “The observer controllers had fun building injects and telling the exercise story, and the participants were happy doing what they signed up to do.”
While Pace wasn’t surprised about Soldier attitudes, he was surprised at what he learned about the Finance Corps itself.
“The Finance Corps is the smallest branch in the Army, and before I took on this exercise planning mission, the branch seemed kind of boring to a ground-pounder like myself,” he recalled. “But, when you hear about some of the missions and roles these Soldiers have been on – landing on unimproved runways in the middle of Africa with a special forces group, investigating fraud, handling counterfeit currency – you quickly realize it’s a very exciting, diverse, specialized and technical branch.”
"Financial management is a very technical skill, so the ability to just focus on that for two weeks is incredible,” concluded Sullivan.