389th Finance goes where soldiers go

Spc. Craig Schneider enters his personal identification number during the financial management support team's recent visit to FOB Sweeney.

Spc. Craig Schneider enters his personal identification number during the financial management support team's recent visit to FOB Sweeney.

Ever wonder just exactly how do our soldiers get paid when they are deployed in the rural parts of Afghanistan?

It’s a good question and an Army journalist, Sgt. Christopher McCullough, tells how in this story posted on DVIDS, a military website (http://www.dvidshub.net).

FORWARD OPERATING BASE SWEENEY, Afghanistan – Located 6,343 feet above sea level, in the southern fringes of the Safed Koh Range, in southeast Afghanistan, Forward Operating Base Sweeney is certainly one of the most remote coalition bases in Zabul province, if not the most remote. As a result, soldiers here lack some of the services often found at larger FOBs throughout the country, such as finance.

So what is a soldier assigned to a remote outpost, such as Sweeney, supposed to do if they, or their families, experience financial problems, or if they are simply in need of some cash? That is where the soldiers of the 389th Finance Detachment, Puerto Rico, come into play.

“Basically, we’re a [mobile] financial management support team” based out of FOB Lagman, explained Spc. Arnaldo Martinez, a financial specialist with the 389th Finance.

“What we do is we help out people in other FOBs that don’t have finance facilities,” he said. “We come out and make sure that they get their pay squared away; that we solve whatever pay issues they have. We also make sure they have … sufficient money to be able to carry on with their lives out here.”

The two-soldier finance team assists the men and women of Battle Company, 5th Battalion 20th Infantry Regiment, Task Force 1st Squadron 14th Cavalry Regiment in a number of ways that range from cashing checks and conducting pay inquiries, to collecting deposits for the Savings Deposit Program or dispersing cash via a Soldier’s Eagle Cash Card or casual pay.

“We can – through our computer systems – load money from their banks onto their cash cards,” said Martinez. “We will also, more than gladly, either give them U.S. currency or Afghan currency, depending on their needs.”

While there is little to spend money on at FOB Sweeney, the availability of U.S. and Afghan currency allows the soldiers to pay for necessities like a haircut or purchase small items at the local bazaar.

The 389th mobile FMST’s assistance does not stop there. They are also able to help square away any pay issues soldiers from Battle Company, 5-20 Infantry might have by means of a mobile computer system that allows Martinez and Spc. Angel Ramirez – the other half of the mobile support team – to access the soldiers’ financial records, even out here in this remote mountain base.

“We basically carry a small office in our backpack and carry the office with us all the way here so we give the proper support to the soldiers,” said Martinez.

Such mobility allows the 389th mobile FMST to take a look in the system and see if a Soldier is receiving all their entitlements and address any financial problems they might be experiencing, explained Ramirez.

“In addition to providing cash, the finance team can assist soldiers with pay problems,” said Martinez.

“They can research why pay entitlements for housing, family separation, and additional combat pay entitlements are not showing up on a soldier’s pay.”

Even in the absence of electronic communications the 389th mobile FMST is able to help soldiers in need.

“If we didn’t have internet, it’s okay because the program we use is basically a stand-alone system,” said Martinez.

They would then handle the transaction exactly like they would back in their main office.

Staff Sgt. Antonio Barajas hands his Eagle Cash Card to Spc. Angel Ramirez, a financial specialist .

Staff Sgt. Antonio Barajas hands his Eagle Cash Card to Spc. Angel Ramirez, a financial specialist .

“When we go back to our FOB … we’d plug it [the stand-alone system] in and we’ll send the information and reports to the higher-ups,” said Martinez.

The same could be said of any issues they may encounter while without communications.

“We will write down the soldiers’ issues and when we go back … we will spend the whole day going through [them] and we will go research their issues and we will try to find a solution for them,” said Martinez.

Upon discovering a solution, the 389th is quick to get back in touch with the soldier.

“If we find something wrong, we’ll make sure we square it away the same day,” said Martinez.

While financial issues do sometimes happen, with the 389th Finance Detachment being on point, Arrowhead families everywhere will not have to worry that their financial issues, or those of their soldiers, won’t be addressed in the timeliest manner possible.

“Our goal here is for 100% customer satisfaction,” said Martinez. With dedication like this, they just might get it.

U.S. Army story and photos by Sgt. Christopher McCullough

Getting ready to roll on patrol

SPC Heather Ray in her MRAP

SPC Heather Ray in her MRAP

Spc. Heather Ray of Battle Company, 5th Battalion 20th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, TF 1-14, 2nd Infantry Division prepares her Mine Resistant Ambush Protected All Terrain Vehicle (MATV) before going on patrol to a local village outside Forward Operating Base Sweeney..

U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Joshua S. Brandenburg

Deployments can be an especially stressful time but …

MWR at Forward Operating Base Sweeney computer stations

MWR at Forward Operating Base Sweeney computer stations

Forward Operating Base Sweeney – For the junior soldiers of Battle Company, 5th Battalion 20th Infantry Regiment, Task Force 1st Squadron 14th Cavalry Regiment – many of whom are under the age of 25 – a deployment can be an especially stressful time in their lives, particularly if they are deploying for the first time.

“I really didn’t want to come on this deployment,” said Pfc. Jack Schuster, of Walla-Walla, Wash., who is deployed to Afghanistan for the first time. “But I figured I had to go and try to work it out the best I could. So far it hasn’t been as hard as I thought it would be.”

The stress of being deployed isn’t reserved exclusively for first timers. Even those who have deployed before may experience family issues back home that can cause undue stress for some, such as Spc. Samuel Beck, of Mayfield, Ky., who deployed previously to Iraq.

Sam Beck talking with a local sheep herder

Sam Beck talking with a local sheep herder

“I have a wife and daughter at home,” he said. “My wife is currently pregnant right now too,” though he adds that his leadership is working with him so that he can try to be home for the birth.

In some cases, the stress of being in a remote location, far from home, can be a challenging time for newly married soldiers.

“It’s not how I want to spend the beginning of my marriage,” said Schuster. “I’ve been married for a little bit, but we’re still in the beginning stages.”

Some, though, have come to embrace the solitude that is present on Forward Operating Base Sweeney.

SPC Jeff Pearson

SPC Jeff Pearson

“I like that we’re on our own little FOB,” said Spc. Jeff Pearson, of Tacoma, Wash. “We can kind of set it up how we want instead of just falling into an old unit’s area and using what they had.”

Now while there is no magic carpet to whisk soldiers home to their families, and some services such as combat stress support are absent from FOB Sweeney, there are facilities there that can help negate the stress of being apart; such as the Morale, Welfare and Recreation facility, which Battle Company leadership continues to expand.

MWR at Forward Operating Base Sweeney computer stations

MWR at Forward Operating Base Sweeney computer stations

The MWR (Morale, Welfare and Recreation facility) at FOB Sweeney, which is located a short walk from their living quarters, features 10 computers and six phones to help keep soldiers connected to their loved ones at home. It also features a fully equipped gym, Xbox consoles, a ping pong table, a pool table, dart boards, and several movies for viewing. The MWR at FOB Sweeney, as with any FOB in Afghanistan, offers junior and senior soldiers alike a welcome distraction from the stress and challenges of being deployed.

“The MWR is where I spend my free time,” said Spc. Lance Rogers, of Webb City, Mo.. “I get to Skype with [my girlfriend], talk on the phone and Facebook.”

SPC Lance Rogers in Afghanistan

SPC Lance Rogers in Afghanistan

Other ways soldiers have found to reduce their stress levels is through the camaraderie that is universal across the Army. Sometimes just being able to talk to a friend and realize that you’re not alone helps ease the pain of being so far from home.

“A couple of the friendships I’ve made [here] so far seem likely to be lifelong friendships,” said Schuster.

With time, junior soldiers come to realize what all senior soldiers already know, that a deployment does not last forever, and in the end, it can financially help a young soldier and his family.

“At first I was sad, but I’m preparing us for our future, so I look at it like that and that gets me through every day,” said Rogers.

Story and MWR photos by Sgt. Christopher McCullough

The MWR at Forward Operating Base Sweeney

The MWR at Forward Operating Base Sweeney

Plowing the road to Shinkai Bazaar

Feb. 19, 2012 – Shopkeepers from the Shinkai Bazaar did not know what to make of all the snow that was pushed aside during the snow removal there by Battle Company soldiers. They watched as the soldiers and their bulldozers plowed the road and then shoveled the snow away from the entrances of their shops so they could resume business.

Bulldozer clears the road

Sgt. Philip Vota and Spc. Patrick Intorre

Sgt. Philip Vota and Spc. Patrick Intorre

Shopkeepers from the Shinkai Bazaar look at the deep snow

Shopkeepers from the Shinkai Bazaar look at the deep snow

Sgt. Philip Vota and Sgt. Robert Logue,

Sgt. Philip Vota and Sgt. Robert Logue,

Soldiers, kids and snow ... a perfect combination

Soldiers, kids and snow ... a perfect combination

Sgt. Robert Logue tosses snowballs with youngsters

Sgt. Robert Logue tosses snowballs with youngsters

Patroling in Afghanistan’s snowbound mountains

So much snow, so much to do.

But soldiers of Battle Company at both FOBs, Sweeney and Wolverine, aren’t wasting either! In the past few weeks the Army and many soldiers have posted photos of their work and fun moments in Afghanistan’s snow-covered mountains.

Enjoy this gallery of photos, which will rotate each time this page is loaded. It won’t take much to remember your own youth or the exuberance of playing in the snowdrifts: