News: New Technology Supports Finance Soldiers, Near Cashless Campaign
Story by Natalie Cole
CAMP ARIFJAN, Kuwait - The Central Funding site on Camp Arifjan, Kuwait is now home to five little machines that represent an imposing hurdle for counterfeit bills introduced into the Army’s cash flow in deployed areas.
Soldiers with the 326th Financial Management Company, a California reserve unit working under the 1st Theater Sustainment Command, will use the Universal JetScan Note Scanner machines to count and verify millions of dollars worth of bills in 12 different currencies.
“These machines will be used here in Kuwait for purposes of drawing back large amounts of low demand, high denomination monies, basically $100 bills,” said Capt. Edward Wandrick, 326th officer in charge of Central Funding. “We’re working in concert with the Near Cashless Campaign to pull that money back from Afghanistan and Iraq.”
The goal of the Near Cashless Campaign is to reduce the amount of U.S. currency in deployed areas by instituting Eagle Cash Card electronic transactions, using local currency and shipping bundles of cash back to the United States, said Director Col. Arthur Turnier, with the 326th.
The new machines, each only slightly bigger than a toaster, use ultraviolet and infrared technology to detect the density and denomination of bills. When the bills flip through the light grey machine, they wisp by like the flipping pages of a book.
Wandrick said the machines chime and stop flipping through the bills if they identify either a counterfeit bill or a stranger, the term for a bill of a lower denomination placed – accidentally or intentionally – in a stack of higher-denomination bills (for example, a $10 bill in a stack of $100 bills).
Because they can be programmed for different currencies, the machines address a new reality for soldiers handling more foreign bills in support of the Near Cashless Campaign, according to Turnier. “The reduction of the use of U.S. currency and the increase in the use of local currency presented the financial management units with a unique situation,” he said. Now, Soldiers must count, verify and disburse foreign currency in addition to U.S. bills. “The currency counters that the 326th FMC received allow us to do both,” Turnier said.
While counterfeit bills abound in the local economies of Iraq and Afghanistan, the number of copycat U.S. bills that make it into Army cash circulation is relatively small in comparison to the total amount of money coming out of theater, according to Wandrick.
“Since we’ve been here in theater we’ve brought our cash holdings down from $527 million to $309 million,” he said. In one counting instance, the team identified 11 counterfeit hundred dollar bills in a shipment of $17 million, Wandrick said. In general, Central Funding estimates that on average the presence of counterfeit bills is equal to about $100 for every $1 million. Thus, the new machines are more of a preventative measure to filter out counterfeit bills before they become a more costly problem.
Staff Sgt. Matthew Mach, from Los Angeles, is the non-commissioned officer in charge of cash management and the deputy dispersing officer for the 326th. He and his team of two soldiers have been using the older counting machines to total the money they receive. However, for counterfeit detection, Mach and his team have been looking over $100 bills by hand for specific, hard-to-mimic features.
“We scanned every single bill,” he said, adding that the new machine’s counterfeit detection capabilities are a meaningful tool for his team. “Accuracy is the best because, like I said, you don’t want to get pinged with counterfeit cash, and it’s out there.”
Because the machines work so quickly, 326th Soldiers at Central Funding will be able to keep pace with the demand to count and filter the cash brought in by Financial Management Companies spread throughout Iraq, Afghanistan and Kuwait.
“When a team comes down basically, you’re looking at anywhere [from] 10 million on up in the amounts of monies that you’re going to be counting in a particular day,” said Wandrick, from Los Angeles. “At one time, for the two machines that we had, it took us close to 23 hours to count $17 million, straight. … It’s a lot of money, and that’s just in hundreds.” With more machines, counting and filtering millions can now be done in an eight-hour work day, Wandrick pointed out.
The savings in time will benefit soldiers “because you have to keep people as fresh as you can. Once you start a cash verification, you can’t stop it. That means no eating, any of that stuff. It has to be a sterile environment, so if you have to leave the premises, everyone would have to leave at the same time,” Mach said.
Wandrick said he first saw the value of the machines when dealing with the Bank of America in Germany, where money goes after it passes through Central Funding and before it makes it to the United States. “We followed suit by looking at what they had and then also what the Kuwait FEMCO had ordered for themselves. It became pretty much the standard decision to say ‘hey you know what, we need to have these at Central Funding as well,’” he said.
Having the latest technology will make operations “more fluid, much more efficient and then much more definitive to where … we’re much more sure that – not guaranteed – but much more assured in our [efforts] to take monies back that will not be subject to Central Funding’s accountability,” Wandrick said.
Mach said working with millions of dollars in cash and the responsibilities that come with it take time to get used to. “Well, at first it’s like nerve racking. …Once I first got there, I was pretty intimidated and scared that I was going to lose almost everything,” he said. “You’re basically in charge of all the money and … anything can happen so you’re basically sleeping there the whole time …The first time I was there, I pulled CQ [charge of quarters] almost every other night just to make sure nobody came by and stole anything.”
With time and experience – and now the latest in counting machines – Mach has become confident. “It’s not too bad now, just as long as you know what you’re doing.”
Turnier said the machines are an example of how the Army finance system has evolved with technology. "The implementation of electronic commerce into theater has been well under way, and the purchase of the new currency counters is helping with that effort,” he said. “Using e-commerce systems to conduct financial transactions has enabled financial management Soldiers to work more effectively and efficiently throughout the theater."
Wandrick agreed that innovations such as the new counters have changed the mission and the way soldiers work. “We’ve gone a long way from showing up with a war chest full of money” and the days of standing in line for paychecks, he said. Now, transactions are done in “real-time” and are equivalent to civilian banking “to ensure public monies are being properly maintained and accounted for.”
The new counting machines will be put into use in November when the next cash verification will take place. As Wandrick unpacked one of the new machines out of its box, he said with a smile, “This bad boy is no joke. It’s a great machine.”