In November 2010—officially the final month of the hurricane season—Tropical Storm Tomas took a 90-degree turn in the Caribbean Sea, gained momentum, grew to hurricane strength, and sideswiped the northwest edge of Haiti. As the potential disaster loomed for the small nation that was still recovering from a devastating earthquake, the U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) prepared to respond by alerting the U.S. Army South (USARSO) joint task force (JTF) to prepare for deployment to Haiti. In conjunction with USARSO, my unit, the 469th Financial Management Center (FMC), put into action a contingency operations (CONOPS) plan for early-entry financial management (FM) support.
The following chronological events depict the 469th FMC's response to this potential disaster. The lessons learned from the execution of this mission reveal how thorough CONOPS planning and teamwork can establish quick FM response to and sustainment of contingency operations.
|The 469th Financial Management Center S–3 uses a money counter to count cash to be sent to Haiti in support of the U.S Army South Joint Task Force.
Preparing to Support the CONOPS
As I sat at my desk in the 469th FMC operations office and tracked the storm on the Internet, an email caught my attention. It said that the commander of SOUTHCOM had determined that Tropical Storm Tomas would likely cause damage resulting in urgent, life-threatening circumstances affecting the population of Haiti. Subsequently, USARSO was authorized to commence humanitarian assistance operations by pre-positioning forces in advance of the storm.
The deploying force would be a USARSO JTF. It needed FM support to pay for goods and services to sustain itself while in Haiti, and it needed the support immediately. The JTF called the 469th FMC, which maintains a theater-committed relationship with SOUTHCOM. In this technical planning capacity, the FMC ensures that SOUTHCOM has the critical FM support for any contingency in its area of responsibility (AOR).
As Tropical Storm Tomas moved closer to Haiti, SOUTHCOM took action. On 1 November, the 469th FMC was alerted. SOUTHCOM wanted us to very quickly set up disbursing operations in Haiti to pay local vendors for critical requirements to establish and sustain its JTF.
We were ready. I had already been appointed as a deputy disbursing officer to Disbursing Station Symbol Number 5570, and we had acquired blank U.S. Treasury checks to be used in such a contingency. Sergeant First Class Troy Tillman, the other half of my team, could also function as a deputy dispersing officer if needed. Tillman and I responded within 48 hours of the alert and flew to USARSO headquarters in San Antonio, Texas, to join the other JTF members who were preparing to deploy.
Meanwhile, Colonel Stanley Brown, the commander of the U.S. Army Financial Management Command (USAFMCOM), initiated daily teleconferences to ensure that all parties were updated on the ongoing operation. The agenda included such topics as operations, banking procedures, potential replacements from a global response force for the 469th FMC's FM team after the initial 2 weeks of the operation, and details of the overall FM plan.
We had initiated our planning for such a potentially catastrophic contingency in June 2010 during SOUTHCOM's “Haiti: Lessons Learned” meeting, which I attended as the 469th FMC operations officer. Instrumental in planning the meeting was the then commander of USAFMCOM, Colonel Troy Clay. Other participants included the director and sergeant major of the 469th FMC, the USAFMCOM e-commerce director, the deputy G–8 of SOUTHCOM, the USAFMCOM banking officer, and the USARSO G–8. All participants agreed that timely FM support to the USARSO JTF was not provided after the earthquake in Haiti on 12 January 2010 and could not be provided fast enough through the “request for forces” process.
Because the 469th FMC is theater committed to SOUTHCOM, USARSO asked that it fill the void. Colonel Matthew Sims, the director of the 469th FMC, agreed and sent a CONOPS plan for approval to his headquarters, the 143d Sustainment Command (Expeditionary).
Basically, the CONOPS plan called for a qualified 469th FMC disbursing team to be ready to deploy within 72 hours of notification to the SOUTHCOM AOR as part of an advance party to support a JTF. The team would be responsible for paying local vendors for goods and services required for the mission, obtaining and safeguarding the required cash, and ensuring that the disbursement mission is sustained by a cash flow until the mission is complete. Finally, the team had to ensure that all disbursements and cash handling met the Department of Defense Financial Management Regulation 7000.14–R requirements.
Additional planning meetings and teleconferences conducted by 469th FMC leaders facilitated development of the CONOPS plan to ensure mission success. Meetings were held with representatives from the USARSO G–8, Defense Finance and Accounting Service central disbursing, the DDS (deployable dispersing system) help desk, and the USAFMCOM banking team.
Change of Plans
Shortly after we responded to Hurricane Tomas, mission changes by USARSO and SOUTHCOM required us to deviate from our plan. We arrived at USARSO headquarters and discovered that the JTF would deploy only after the storm had passed and an assessment had been made of the extent of the storm's impact on Haiti.
The decision was made to send Sergeant First Class Tillman and two contracting officers as an advance party, flying commercially through Miami to Haiti where they would set up operations in the U.S. Embassy. There, they would lay the groundwork to acquire crucial goods and services to support the JTF if it deployed. The safe identified for this mission would remain in the rear with the JTF, and military air would not be used as planned, which created some concerns for safeguarding the funds. To mitigate risk, the $200,000 in cash that USARSO had originally requested for the AOR was reduced to $9,500. (An armed escort is required for $10,000 or more.)
The USARSO G–8 made arrangements with the Fort Sam Houston Broadway Bank to cash one Treasury check for $9,500. In addition to the cash, I signed $200,000 in Treasury checks over to Tillman, who secured all of the checks and cash on his person.
As another source of funding, the USAFMCOM banking team arranged for $25,000 to be wired to the local bank (Citibank) in Haiti for pickup when the team arrived. This would allow the FM team to maintain its check stock and not require any cash initially from other sources such as the U.S. Embassy. We would discover that the funding process of having money wired is easier than printing, processing, and depositing unused U.S. Treasury checks.
Advance Party Deployment
Tillman deployed to Haiti on 7 November with the USARSO advance party. Communication with the advance party became critical since status reporting was required twice daily. The first report was not good. Tillman's checked luggage containing his weapon and other equipment did not arrive on the plane with him. It did finally show up a few hours later on another flight. Immediately upon arrival in Haiti, Tillman established disbursing operations and made a payment to a local vendor for rental car services.
On 10 November, SOUTHCOM determined that the population of Haiti, fortunately, had been spared substantial harm from Hurricane Tomas, and the advance party was ordered to redeploy to their home station and resume normal duties. The 469th FMC's FM team returned home having successfully completed the disbursing mission with no losses.
The 469th FMC's after-action review of the Hurricane Tomas CONOPS revealed a number of accomplishments. The team met its reporting requirements by responding within 48 hours with Treasury checks to pay for JTF operational requirements. FM personnel deployed ahead of the main body with $209,500 in cash and checks on hand and established disbursement operations at the U.S. Embassy in Haiti. Wiring $25,000 to the local bank (Citibank) in Haiti proved to be an efficient way to get cash into the country. The team recommended that the advance party increase the use of the International Treasury Services website (its.gov) to have cash wired to a local institution and use Treasury checks as a backup. The CONOPS plan was effective, allowing the advance party to redeploy and clear with no loss of funds.
|A financial management team member loads up cash, checks, and equipment in front of the U.S. Army South Headquarters at San Antonio, Texas.
The after-action review also revealed a number of problems encountered with the CONOPS. First, Soldier readiness processing slowed FM preparations while at USARSO. This indicated a need to improve our readiness processing at our home station by updating and obtaining all requirements for the USARSO AOR.
Second, sending a weapon and other equipment through baggage on a commercial airline proved troublesome when the baggage did not arrive in country with the Soldier. When transporting weapons, military air travel should be used if possible so that weapons are not entrusted to commercial airlines.
Third, our CACs (common access cards) would not work on USARSO computers, and some of our regulation disks could not be accessed. Our load plan should be improved to conduct disbursing operations independent of the Internet and to safeguard funds with a field safe until a larger safe reaches the contingency operating site.
Fourth, the request for us to take at least $200,000 in cash and checks into Haiti never changed from the alert notice, even though it became obvious after the storm passed that the money would not be needed. After arriving at home station, coordination was needed to locate a U.S. Treasury depository and establish an account to deposit the more than $200,000 in unused cash and checks.
Fifth, the 469th FMC expected a global response team to be positioned to deploy and relieve the initial 469th FM team; however, that plan has yet to be addressed. Planning must include FM personnel replacement and reinforcement procedures and plans for overseeing operations if replacements do not materialize. Also, official passports were not required, but they may allow for easier movement of personnel.
Although the mission lasted only 10 days, it demonstrated the progress made since the last contingency operation. With teamwork, coordination, and prior planning using lessons learned from the Haiti earthquake response, the 469th FM team responded within 48 hours with cash and the ability to resupply cash to sustain recovery operations. With another hurricane season upon us, the 469th FMC remains ready to do it again.