Airman delivers cash, military pay services to austere locations

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. R. Michael Longoria
  • 9th Air and Space Expeditionary Task Force - Iraq Public Affairs
What was typically a three-hour convoy turned into an 11-hour journey for an Airman and his teammates when their mine-resistant, armor-protected vehicle broke down in the middle of a village.

Senior Airman Jon-Nicos Walker and his fellow service members ran to the next available MRAP to continue on their mission, while Iraqi protesters lined the streets.

This doesn't sound like a common experience for most comptroller Airmen, but this is one of the moments that, according to Airman Walker, sticks out during his first deployment.

"This is my first time overseas and I'm glad to be serving in the role that I am," said Airman Walker, a military pay technician assigned to the Air Force Financial Management Det. 2 at Contingency Operating Site Marez near Mosul, Iraq. "Most people in my career field, when deployed, are usually stuck in an office all day, while I get to travel on a weekly basis."

The detachment is responsible for 17 locations across northern Iraq.

The job is different compared to that of most comptroller Airmen, Airman Walker said, because Det. 2 caters directly to the Army, offering all the services of a stateside base finance office.

"From our location here, we travel out to other checkpoints and offer the same services to the Soldiers there," Airman Walker said. "Some places we visit weekly while others only twice a month. I've been able to travel all over Iraq, via helicopter and ground convoy, to provide support to Soldiers out in austere locations."

To date, he has helped more than 11,000 service members with various pay-related issues, including more than 900 EagleCash card loads totaling $270,000, and more than 850 military pay transactions. In addition, Airman Walker has settled countless overdue travel reimbursements valuing more than $25,000.

The detachment is also a test base for getting U.S. currency off of the battlefield. Instead of disbursing U.S. dollars, the comptrollers are giving service members Iraqi dinar.

"The reason behind (disbursing dinar) is because using the U.S. dollar here isn't giving the Iraqi economy a chance to grow," Airman Walker said. "This gives (Iraqis) a chance to build up what they have, as opposed to counting on us and our dollar."

While the traveling is fun, he said, the interactions with his follow service members are the most rewarding.

"When we go out to those locations, we get a lot more appreciation from the Soldiers," Airman Walker said. "They just enjoy us being there. Even if they don't need anything, they still thank us for coming out. It's an uplifting experience."

Airman Walker travels to locations where the Soldiers don't have many of the base support functions or amenities of other sites, like a base exchange or post office.

"They are outside working all day," he said. "So, it's good that we are here so they can bring their stuff directly to us. We are right here so they can come and talk to us if there are any issues, especially since most of them don't have access to email, and if they do, they probably don't have time to check it."

At any rate, "face to face communication is the key to good customer service," he said. "It makes it easier on the Soldiers who are here for 12 to 13 months at a time."

Since he is on a joint expeditionary tasking, Airman Walker said he realizes he is getting a once in a lifetime opportunity.

"I'm actually rolling outside the wire," Airman Walker said. "I've talked to the senior NCOs back at Grand Forks (Air Force Base, N.D.), and they've never had the chance to do some of the things I'm getting to do here."