News: Task Force Durable finance unit enables Afghan economy
Story by Sgt. V. Michelle Woods
AFGHANISTAN - Soldiers deployed across Afghanistan will notice, if not already, an abrupt change when attempting to withdraw cash from the ATM: U.S. currency is no longer an option.
Financial management units have implemented a variety of proposals to reduce the availability and flow of U.S. dollars on the battlefield, in an effort to assist the Afghan economy and banking system. One proposal that has already taken effect is ATMs located at military bases will now only dispense Afghani currency. Prior to October 2012, patrons had the option to withdraw U.S or Afghani cash.
"There are several purposes we're trying to assist the Afghan economy and their banking system," said Capt. Jennifer Lashbrook, financial management support detachment commander, 33rd Financial Management Company, Special Troops Battalion, 1st Sustainment Brigade. "That's where a lot of our initiatives are driven."
The whole purpose is for them to establish their own banking system, said Master Sgt. Kenneth Law, financial management support operations non-commissioned officer in charge, Special Troops Battalion, 1st Sustainment Brigade. It's to help them become more self-sufficient on their own economy. We're trying to reduce the U.S. cash and increase the Afghani cash so they can establish their banking system to improve it.
Service members deployed to Afghanistan have the option of using the Eagle Cash card, a cash-management tool which acts similar to a debit card. Service members can link their bank account directly to the card and upload money to the card from an Eagle Cash kiosk. Once money is uploaded on the card, it can be used at places like the Post Exchange and restaurants on military bases.
Bazaars, a token of the Middle East, are markets consisting of multiple shops. Afghan vendors own and operate the bazaars where military personnel often shop. Typically, these bazaars only accept cash or credit card; however finance units are promoting the use of point-of-sale machines which are used to swipe the ECC.
"We have memorandums of agreement between the U.S. government and the vendors who work at the bazaar," explained Lashbrook, an Indiana native.
"We set up the Eagle Cash point-of-sale devices for the vendors and that way when Soldiers go there, they're no longer spending U.S. currency. Instead they're swiping their card."
Lashbrook added that vendors bring in their point-of-sale devices and the finance unit determines how much Eagle Cash was swiped on that device. The amount on the point-of-sale device is paid to the vendors in Afghani currency.
"Once we get those point-of-sale devices set up at the bazaar, there's really no reason for Soldiers to need U.S. currency," said Lashbrook. "They can use the ECC everywhere they go and that can really speed up this process of getting U.S. currency off the battlefield."
"I feel safer using the ECC because it prevents my checking account information from being compromised," said Spc. Nadia Pedican, information technology specialist, STB, 1st Sustainment Brigade.
Pedican, who is serving on her first combat deployment, said she recently learned the importance of removing U.S. currency from the battlefield. She said it motivates her to want to use Afghani currency and her ECC because she knows this move will help boost the Afghan economy.
"It's important for us all to help support the Afghans and if using the ECC and Afghani cash can help, then I hope all soldiers do it," added Pedican. "The Eagle Cash kiosks are easily accessible and convenient too so I can upload money without a hassle. We have one here in our office; they're everywhere."
The vendors are excited about getting these point-of-sale machines because a lot of soldiers will go over to the bazaar to buy merchandise but they only have the ECC, said Lashbrook. That happens so often that the vendors express interest in the ECC card and want to know how to get it.
Service members also have the option to withdraw up to $300 from the finance office per month.
When we got here, soldiers were allowed to withdraw $500 U.S. currency and now it's been reduced to $300.
"Once this move takes place, we'll be spending Afghani currency and filtering that currency back into their economy," said Lashbrook. "It will be phenomenal for the Afghani International Bank and the Afghan population because the value of their dollar is going to rise."