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Finance Support of Operation Iraqi Freedom I (Ed Stanton)

160, 9/1/2010

Finance Support of Operation Iraqi Freedom

By BG Ed Stanton

I was honored a little over three months ago to assume command of the 336th FINCOM in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.  This short article is to share with you what finance support looks like from our foxholes in Kuwait and Iraq as the force transitions from highly successful decisive operations to stability and support operations.  I have intentionally limited the scope, as this is an ongoing operation, but I will provide updates as the campaign evolves.

OUR MISSION:  The 336th FINCOM provides command and control for all Finance elements supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom.  This support includes establishing finance policy, providing central funding, active and reserve component pay support, procurement and accounting support, and executing internal control procedures.  The FINCOM headquarters is located at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, with elements dispersed throughout the region.

OUR CONCEPT OF SUPPORT:  During the initial phases of operations our emphasis was to conduct Reception, Staging, Onward Movement, and Integration.  Our mission set included initiating deployment entitlements, providing finance support to soldiers (check cashing, casual payments, inquiry resolution), supporting contracting operations in the Area of Responsibility, and funding disbursing and paying agents to provide support during later phases of the campaign.  As we transition to stability operations, our finance mission is expanding to support procurement through paying agents embedded with contracting teams, provide disbursing agent support for the Early Entry Command Post, and provide finance support teams to support Logistics Support Areas.  As METT-TC has allowed, we have deployed battalions to provide sustained finance support in Iraq, support deployment operations, transition to stabilization efforts, and begin redeployment operations.  We currently disburse funds from three Disbursing Station Symbol Numbers (DSSN) to support our operations. 

DSSN 8551, based at Camp Arifjan, is responsible for central funding, disbursing, and military pay (RSOI) in theater.  All paying agents are funded from DSSN 8551. 

DSSN 8748, based at Camp Doha, operates as the F&AO for ARCENT-KUWAIT and is responsible for commercial vendor service, travel military pay (Active and Reserve) disbursing and accounting. 

DSSN 8547, the contingency DSSN for the 208th FB, will supplement Commercial Vendor Service support operations in Iraq.  We will activate other contingency DSSN based on mission requirements.

OUR TEAM:  In the beginning stages of Operation Iraqi Freedom, the 336th FINCOM staff had no soldiers in Theater from the 336th.  Rather, the FINCOM for the month of January was comprised of ten soldiers from the 18th SSG, 10 soldiers from the 4th FB, 15 from the 3d SSB and my aide and me.  Until the end of January, when the 15th FB arrived with 58 soldiers to provide EAC support, we had no subordinate battalions on board so we depended on the ARCENT-KUWAIT office at Camp Doha for the full range of finance operations.  In February, 4 soldiers from the 266th FINCOM, 11 from the 82d SSB, 7 from the 101st SSB and 31 from the 24th SSB arrived.  In March, 20 soldiers from the 9th FB, 21 from the 3d SSB, 51 from the 208th FB, 56 from the 101st SSB and an ADVON of 3 from the 336th FINCOM entered the Theater.  In April, the remaining 55 from the 336th FINCOM, 56 from the 469th FG, 63 from the 230th FB, 69 from the 4th FB, 79 from the 338th FB, an ADVON of 3 from the 49th FB and an ADVON of 8 from the 8th FB arrived and began finance support operations.  Our effective strength grew from 37 in January to 148 by the end of February, 299 by the end of March and 632 at the end of April.  Unfortunately, until March the flow of finance assets was not aligned with the arrival of supported units.  In particular the 3d Infantry Division was fully closed in Theater before the main body of the 3d SSB arrived.  This composite team of small elements from 16 units resulted directly from the disintegration of normal force flow procedures as DoD opted not to use the traditional Time Phase Force Deployment Data (TPFDD) process. The finance team also includes SOF and Marine liaisons who work hand-in-hand with our operations section and we have enjoyed tremendous support from the Defense Finance and Accounting Service which sent DoD employees to provide assistance in theater for the Defense Military Office (DMO) software and the Military Paper Check Conversion (MPCC) system.  I am extremely proud of our Finance leaders and soldiers who have come together as one team, mission focused, and dedicated to providing the best possible finance support.

MILITARY PAY:  The Military Pay mission encompasses the full range of transactions to include deployment entitlements and pay inquiries.  We currently service over 135,000 pay accounts including 105,000 Active Component, 20,000 Reserve Component, and 10,000 National Guard soldiers.  Knowing who is in theater continues to be our biggest challenge to providing top quality pay support.  We rely heavily on our personnel brethren to provide us accurate listings of soldiers arriving in theater by multiple means including military air, commercial air, contracted air, and ship.  Initially, this was a hit-or-miss process with many soldiers leaving the Air Point of Debarkation and the Sea Point of Debarkation without having their ID cards scanned into the Theater Personnel System (TPS).  Our joint efforts with the personnel community have subsequently remedied this problem, and the vast majority of inbound soldiers are being properly accounted for in Theater.  We are now able to utilize the database populated in the TPS to start entitlements within a few days of arrival.  This success story in progress has minimized the number of pay inquiries throughout the Area Of Responsibility.  To ensure soldiers in theater are receiving the proper entitlements, we recently conducted an audit of over 72,000 active duty accounts.  This six-day process resulted in the correction of over 2,000 soldiers' pay and was transparent to the soldier.  Additionally, visits to units on the ground carried out by finance soldiers armed with laptop computers, ensure any soldiers that were initially missed, are identified and that entitlement starts are processed.  Hardship Duty Pay – Location input for Reserve Component soldiers has to be input every month due to RC pay systems limitations.  The majority of the input is done as a mass input from a locally developed database configured to "code" the required information into DMO and the remainder is coded based on inquiries and unit input.  We are currently auditing every Reserve soldier's account to ensure they are properly paid. 

TRAVEL:  The Travel section at Camp Doha (ARCENT-KUWAIT) processes all travel vouchers in theater.  Our travel mission has experienced a four-fold increase since December 2002.  We made a deliberate decision not to pay accrued per diem during the deployment, but to make that payment of $3.50 per day when soldiers file their travel vouchers with their servicing Defense Finance & Accounting Service office upon return to their home station.  This will minimize overpayments, simplify processing and provides no hardship to the soldier

CENTRAL FUNDING:  The theater-funding mission, operated at Camp Arifjan, has accountability in excess of one billion dollars and as of April 2003, has funded over 400 agents for a total of $60 million.  Our mission to support the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance by paying an emergency stipend of $20 to Iraqi civil servants using seized funds has increased our accountability and operational tempo significantly and will continue to do so in the days and months ahead.  As you probably know from media reports we have been fully engaged over the past several weeks in securing and accounting for unprecedented levels of captured/found cash.  

DISBURSING:  Our disbursing mission continues to grow daily as our military pay teams cash checks and issue casual pays throughout the theater.  To date, we have cashed 37,000 checks for $8,400,000 and issued (and collected!) 42,000 casual pays for $5,800,000.   Currently, ARCENT-KUWAIT has the only Limited Depositary Accounts in the theater.  They provide the local currency  required by other finance offices in Kuwait and Qatar while all other areas are currently using U.S. dollars for purchases.  MPCC is an exceedingly more efficient way of processing checks for deposit with the Federal Reserve Bank system.  In lieu of photocopying checks (front and back), preparing a Deposit Ticket, and mailing the deposit to the Federal Reserve Bank for processing, the customer's check is scanned at the time of service, and sent to the Federal Reserve Bank for processing as an Automated Clearing House transaction via a network link, and processed as a deposit within 24-48 hours.  Non-sufficient funds checks are automatically held for redeposit at mid-month and end-of-month.  Deposit tickets and debit vouchers are emailed to disbursing personnel the next working day instead of mailing a paper copy through the United States Postal Service.  An archive of all checks is maintained for research purposes.  MPCC has been a great success in reducing the number of checks returned to the Finance Office.  The ARCENT-KUWAIT F&AO, for example, experienced a 67% decrease after using the system for 10 months.

ACCOUNTING:  The Accounting section at ARCENT-KUWAIT supports DSSN 8748, and 8551.  The expert staff at Camp Doha allows us to do the majority of accounting disbursement input locally.  OPLOC-Rome performs the accounting function for DSSN 8547 and will do so for and additional Contingency DSSN.  Our accounting records to include Merged Accountability and Fund Reporting are in balance and are current. 

CVS:  The Commercial Vendor Service Section at ARCENT-KUWAIT, Camp Doha, has seen a tremendous increase in the number of contracts they service.  Since 1 October 2002, we have made 4,900 contract payments for $266,000,000 with $147,000,000 made since February 2003.  Contracts processed include: Blanket Purchase Agreements for water, ice, and other bulk items, leases for apartments, rental vehicles, and cell phones; acquisition and cross-servicing agreements for propertu usage such as landing fees at local airports; construction contracts for Corps of Engineer projects developing bed-down areas in Kuwait; and regular purchase contracts for required goods and services.

Summary:  As you can see from this short article, our mission is challenging and inclusive of our full set of core competencies.  Our Finance Team has responded magnificently adapting quickly to support constantly changing operational requirements.  Working together since the arrival of the first soldier in Theater, the team has provided world-class support in every functional area.  I look forward to providing an update in thirty to sixty days that addresses our role in the reconstruction of Iraqi.

TO SUPPORT AND SERVE (May 2003)

Addendum:

(Editor, Thanks to COL Bob SPEER, we have a list of the meanings of the alphabet soup in the article.)

METT-TC  - (Mission, Enemy, Terrain and weather, Time - Troops available, and Civilians) Planning factors that must be considered for successful execution.

FB  (Finance Battalion) - A deployable tactical finance unit that has 3-7 finance detachments assigned that provides support on an area basis, however, also often habitually support deployable

SSG - (Soldier Support Group)  - XVII Airborne Corps elements tried combining finance and AG units under Soldier Support Battalions (SSB) and Soldier Support Groups. 

EAC support -(Echelons above Corps)

ADVON - (Advanced Echelon - lead element)

SOF - (Special Operations Forces)

Defense Military Office (DMO) software - Software that allows a user to view and analyze both reserve pay and active duty pay entitlements status.

Military Paper Check Conversion (MPCC) - It is an automated tool that scans a user's (the individual writing the check) paper check (Account number and check number), the amount is keyed and verified by the user.  The paper check is handed back to the user.  The electrons are sent to the federal reserve and within 24-48 hours the check is verified for sufficient funds and cleared.  It eliminates deposits and nearly all bad checks.

OPLOC-Rome   (Operation Location - Defense Finance and Accounting Services at Rome, New York) - One of several DFAS organization that regionalized installation finance and accounting support.)