Transforming Finance

by Colonel Michael A. Shalak and Major Leo M. Impavido

    The 13th Finance Group at Fort Hood, Texas, has embarked on a transformation effort to become a more deployable and relevant unit. The group's objective is to develop the most effective finance force in the world—lean, light, technically and tactically expert, and ready at all times to support the Phantom Warriors of III Corps and other units as directed. Central to the group's transformation has been the implementation of the finance support team (FST) concept.

    An FST is a modular, deployable modification table of organization and equipment unit composed of four to six finance soldiers. A sergeant or staff sergeant leads the team. FST members are soldiers first—warriors with expertise in finance operations. The FSTs live, train, eat, maintain, and work together.

    Each team is an integrated, cross-trained unit, able to survive and accomplish its mission under uncertain and austere conditions. It is trained in critical financial management functions, including vendor pay support, disbursing, military pay, resource management, personal financial readiness, and some travel functions. It also has the tactical competence needed to accomplish the mission. The team is trained in combat lifesaver skills, field sanitation, communications, and maintenance.

    Each FST has an organic high-mobility, multipurpose, wheeled vehicle; trailer; and containerized, deployable equipment set, including ruggedized laptop computers with reach-back capability. The self-contained equipment set includes only what the team needs to survive and accomplish its mission. The FST has a very small footprint, providing the operational commander with a big bang for the buck. This low signature is a guiding principle of a deployed FST.

    FSTs are not broken up after a mission. The members of an FST constitute a true team, akin to a tank crew or a Special Forces A team. Within the constraints of normal personnel rotations, finance battalions make every effort to keep FST personnel together for as long as possible. FSTs are broken up only when approved by the battalion commander, in conjunction with the battalion command sergeant major.

    Certification of FSTs is conferred in formal ceremonies upon the teams' graduation from the Phantom Finance Warrior Center (PFWC). The PFWC is an inhouse academy operated by the 13th Finance Group. The PFWC trains soldiers in relevant topics, trains FSTs to operate in austere environments, instills basic skills so the teams can operate in an uncertain world, and inculcates situational awareness to protect the force against all threats, including asymmetrical ones. PFWC graduation ceremonies are critical rites of passage. For FST leaders, obtaining and maintaining PFWC certification is a fundamental performance objective.

    FSTs in the group are guided by four principles—

    · Responsibility. The FST leader has full responsibility for the team. To ensure consistent support throughout the customer base, each leader synchronizes with other FST leaders and higher headquarters on the latest systems changes and entitlements.

    · Multifunctionality. Relevant tactical and technical training ensure that the FSTs are cross trained and that each team member is capable of performing each of the team's battlefield functions.

    · Stand-alone capability. The FSTs are trained on systems, communications, software, and hardware, which gives them the self-confidence and technical knowledge to operate down range.

    · Ownership. Each FST leader signs for all of the team's equipment, including vehicles, trailers, field equipment, laptops, printers, and other relevant items.

    An FST has "ownership" of its supported units. For one FST, this may mean one line brigade; for another, several brigade-, battalion-, and company-sized units. The point is that an FST's bond with its supported unit is so tight that the supported unit always knows who to call to resolve finance-related issues. The brigade commander or sergeant major knows that the FST leader is the person in charge of his brigade's finance support. FSTs take the service mission on the road, providing finance support with deployable "toughbook" computers equipped with wireless connectivity. This service-to-the-soldier practice greatly reduces the number of soldiers who have to take time away from duty to come to the finance customer service counter.

    Although the 13th Finance Group's transformation has been successful thus far, there have been some growing pains as the finance battalions at Fort Hood have transitioned to the FST concept. Organizational reshuffling and the decentralization of many functions have generated some turbulence. However, the units are meeting those challenges head on, and they are realizing the benefits and payoffs of the FST concept with each passing day.

    The terrorist attacks of 11 September have added an extra sense of urgency to the group's transformation. FSTs that have deployed, or are preparing to deploy, are capitalizing on the positive effects of the FST concept. These empowered and trained soldiers are confident that they can accomplish any mission.  ALOG

    Colonel Michael A. Shalak is the commander of the 13th Finance Group at Fort Hood, Texas.

    Major Leo M. Impavido is the executive officer of the 215th Finance Battalion at Fort Hood.