News: The EagleCash Nest: Soldiers and Civilians in Kuwait Work to Keep Cash out of Combat
Story by Natalie Cole
As bases close in Iraq and Operation New Dawn begins, soldiers and civilians on Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, are helping keep the cash out of combat. Finance soldiers with the 1st Sustainment Brigade are a part of a larger group that monitors and redistributes EagleCash Cards and kiosks in Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan.
The EagleCash program is a part of the U.S. Army’s Near Cashless Campaign, which aims to promote electronic transactions and lessen the amount of U.S. currency in combat areas. An integral part of the EagleCash system, the EagleCash kiosks look like small Automated Teller Machines with touch-screens. There are multiple kiosks spread out on bases so soldiers can have easy access to manage their EagleCash funds.
Soldiers with the 1st SB Financial Management Support Operations Team work with the Federal Reserve Bank-Boston (FRB-B), Defense Finance and Accounting Service and the Kuwaiti Equipment Depot. As military bases close in Iraq, and troop levels decrease, team members send the extra EagleCash kiosks to the Kuwaiti Equipment Depot on Camp Arifjan. At the depot, employees make any necessary repairs and recover electronic information from the machines. Employees at the Kuwaiti Equipment Depot are an extension of the FRB-B and the U.S. Treasury, said Laney Bare, with the U.S. Treasury Financial Management Service.
Next, the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston identifies which kiosks need to go where to meet needs on the ground, and employees redistribute the machines to other bases. In all, it takes about two weeks for the cash machines to make it to a new destination, said Maj. Lawrence Seward, officer of the 1st SB Financial Management Support Operations team.
Finance soldiers at the company level in Kuwait are responsible for monitoring the EagleCash transactions that take place on Camp Arifjan. In Kuwait and Qatar alone, the EagleCash program has eliminated about $1 million of cash a month in battlefield transactions. “That has been the net effect,” Seward said.
Seward added that soldiers have other hands-on responsibilities. “We also hand out ECCs to soldiers coming in and throughout Kuwait, Iraq and the theater,” he said. In addition, the 1st SB finance team educates troops on the reasons behind the EagleCash program and operates the Fiscal Fitness Hotline for those who have trouble with their cash cards.
Beyond individuals, there are organizations that are going cashless with the EagleCash program. For example, Bare said the Morale Welfare and Recreation organization in Kuwait uses the card. “With the MWR, [they have] so much money to go out and make purchases for different events they have for their units. Now they have incorporated the Eagle Cash card. The MWR representative here in Kuwait receives one master card … linked to the MWR account and 20 cards linked to the master card,” he said. “It just takes cash completely out. They can use that card to make their purchases on post.”
With the increase of troops in Afghanistan, Seward said the main focus of EagleCash teams in Kuwait and elsewhere involves the infrastructure to use the cards. “It’s going to be a matter of the placement of machines, the correct amount at the proper locations.” Many of the kiosks that will help build up the system in Afghanistan will be the ones diverted from Iraq, he added.
The EagleCash program, and the infrastructure it takes to keep it running, is one part of the overall Near Cashless Campaign. Other efforts include promoting host nation banking in the countries where U.S. troops are deployed. Host nation banking means that “the institutions and citizens of that country are purchasing things in their currency and not U.S. dollars,” Seward said.
Host nation banking is based on the premise that flooding countries such as Afghanistan and Iraq with U.S. dollars can undermine the Counter Insurgency efforts. “Establishing sound host nation banking and not flooding these countries with U.S. dollars but rather using their own indigenous currencies reduces the risk of corruption and increases the transparency of transactions. You have a paper trail,” Seward said. “And, it boosts up the local economies so it doesn’t devalue their own currency.”
Promoting host nation banking and running the EagleCash program are integral parts of the U.S. Army’s overall mission abroad. “It’s an expensive task trying to build up a country like Afghanistan. To try to be successful over there, any opportunity to save money using technology is the way of the future,” Seward said.
Who is Affected?: Individuals, Army Units and Taxpayers
Under the Near Cashless Campaign, soldiers are issued an EagleCash Card with a direct link to their bank accounts, Bare said. Soldiers insert the card into an EagleCash kiosk to load funds to the card or transfer funds from the card back to their bank accounts. The EagleCash Card allows the option to get cash back when making purchases with the card, which is protected by a private identification number.
“Every time someone uploads funds to their EagleCash Card, there are no fees incurred by the service member,” Bare said. He added that “It’s convenient and widely excepted across theater where service members are deployed.”
For soldiers, the card reduces international banking fees incurred when using ATMs, and it eliminates risk for fraud while deployed, according to Bare. The card also does away with the need for soldiers to carry large amounts of cash as they work and live in deployed areas.
There are other operational benefits for Army leaders, Seward said. “Looking at it from a battalion commander’s perspective, in the finance program we have … the cash holding authority, which is the amount of cash that the dispersing agent holds, or is allowed to hold,” he said. “By reducing the amount of cash required, that reduces the amount that that person is fiscally liable for.” The cash that finance soldiers must sign for has decreased because of the EagleCash initiative, Seward said. “It’s dropped a tremendous amount, in the order of millions of dollars in the past year.”
Despite the benefits EagleCash representatives have been touting, there have been some suspicions about the program. For example, Seward said soldiers wanted to know why they should use the new card. “The biggest one was winning the argument of why soldiers should not use their own card and use cash because that’s what they were most comfortable with,” Seward said. Bare agreed that some soldiers have been hesitant to embrace the card. “I’ve heard everything in terms of ‘who gets paid for this,’” he said. “The answer is no one. It’s a program for the soldiers, and that’s why we’re here.”
Seward explained that skeptics should know that the benefits of the EagleCash program and a near cashless battlefield include taxpayer savings. “This will benefit the American taxpayers. Sending large amounts of U.S. cash over here, especially coinage, due to the weight, costs in and of itself a lot of money. So, by reducing the shipment of large, bulk cash and coinage, it saves the tax payer [money].” To get a sense of the savings, Bare said it costs “an estimated $600,000 to ship $1 billion of currency.”
Seward said the Near in Near Cashless, refers to the end goal of the program. “I don’t think it will ever be zero, but the goal is to reduce the level,” he said. Bare added that, in Kuwait, “we’re at a good point as far as reducing the cash we have already.”
Keeping Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan near cashless and restructuring the kiosks from Iraq requires work of leaders at the top as well as the efforts of soldiers on the ground. “This is such a huge team effort,” Bare said. “Everybody communicates. That’s how we accomplish the ultimate goal.”
This work, The EagleCash Nest: Soldiers and Civilians in Kuwait Work to Keep Cash out of Combat, by Natalie Cole, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.