Finance team brings cash flow back to Iraq

  • Published
  • By Tech Sgt. Beth Del Vecchio
  • U.S. Air Forces Central Public Affairs
In August 2010, President Barack Obama announced the end of the combat mission in Iraq. In December 2011, images of the last U.S. service members leaving the country flooded the media.

But they weren't the last to leave.

A handful of U.S. service members, along with a strong U.S. and international contractor presence, remain in the country to live and work, assigned to the Office of Security Cooperation-Iraq in support of the country's continued development into a sovereign, stable nation.

But when U.S. Forces-Iraq deactivated and the majority of the troops left, so did certain amenities, the biggest being the Army Air Force Exchange Service draw down, leaving the remaining force to work through issues that arose abruptly and unexpectedly. Months later, the second- and third-order effects of the draw down were becoming too big to be ignored, so leadership called for some help.

A two-person financial management team was established from U.S. Air Forces Central for the Office of Security Cooperation-Iraq to help fix current issues and to develop a plan to mitigate them in the future. The team hit the ground running, visiting each site to assess the situation on the ground and determine specific needs.

Their goal was to figure out how to bring back cash flow throughout the country.

"When USF-I left, all cash operations stopped," said Army Col. J.C. Campbell, the OSC-I Financial Management director. "We had a couple work around actions, but there was no plan for the way ahead. We had to give people other options than keeping money under their mattresses."

The majority of the workforce in Iraq is made up of international and local contractors who are paid in cash, but there was nowhere for the money to go. The banking system in Iraq is being rebuilt after years of war and because of security concerns and policy, the small remaining AAFES shops weren't able to collect, hold or transfer large amounts of cash.

EagleCash, a value card system run by the Department of Treasury to reduce cash on the battlefield, was also hindered. Although EagleCash cards were still accepted at AAFES, the kiosks to load the cards were removed; leaving customers without money once the balance ran out.

Customers were left with either too much cash with nowhere to put it or none at all.

Once the team established the specific needs at each location, they planned visits to each site regularly to help refill EagleCash cards or facilitate couriers for cash. They also started to develop a long-term plan for returning cash operations to the AAFES locations and carrying cash from the sites to the main AAFES branch at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.

"The impact was immediate," Campbell continued. "People on the ground told me the things the team have done raised morale by 100 percent."

Senior Airman Deborah Vives, a financial management team member deployed from Joint Base Andrews, Md., said she figured out quickly, during her first site visits, that the people on the ground really just wanted to know they weren't forgotten.

"Once the military left, everything left with them,'" Vives said. "The people at these remote sites weren't happy, and they thought there was no one to help them. When we showed up for the first time, the people were just happy to see us and to know that we were there to help and that we are going to work hard to fix all of these problems."

Vives has been in Iraq for four months and makes regular trips to each site with her team lead,Tech. Sgt. Ivan Prakash deployed from Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, to keep customers happy. Now that cash is flowing, the team can make a plan for a responsible draw down of EagleCash and focus on working themselves out of a job.

"This is a process that we have to set up, that's never been done before," Prakash said. "We're trying to establish a system that is so easy and transparent, anyone can do it. That way, there isn't a specialized need here after we leave."

The team is working with each site lead to establish plans to transport money through commissioned officers to the embassy on a regular basis. They are also conducting on-site interviews with customers to determine alternatives to EagleCash.

Vives and Prakash are planning for the future and they will leave their mark on future operations in Iraq; a big feat for the two lowest ranking military members in the country.

"We're making history here," Vives said. "At the end of the day, we'll be successful if everyone can perform the processes we create. It's very exciting history to be a part of."