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ASMC Visits...: The US Army Finance School, Fort Jackson, South Carolina.

I knew I was back with my beloved Army one recent Monday morning as I pulled into the line of traffic at Gate 1 at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, and the MP at the gate told me I had to get on the post through Gate 2. Fortunately, Gate 2 was only a mile away on Strom Thurmond Boulevard and was easy to find. After a quick sign-in, I was on my way to Gates-Lord Hall, home of the US Army Finance School. My assignment was to observe and report all the good things going on there, and I looked forward to the three days with anticipation.

Gates-Lord Hall (building no. 10000) is a beautiful and very large modern brick-and-glass schoolhouse that is home for the Soldier Support Institute, which includes the Army's Recruiting and Retention School, the Finance School, and the Adjutant General School. Each school has its own wing of the building that contains classrooms on one side and administrative and technical offices on the other side.

For those of you who remember the old Gates-Lord Hall at Fort Benjamin Harrison, Indiana (building no. 400), you may recall that the building is named after the first Adjutant General, Lt. Horatio Gates, and the first Chief of the Finance Corps, Brigadier General Herbert M. Lord.

I soon found the office of Ms. Mary Wagner, Deputy Commandant of the Finance School, and was given a warm welcome and an introductory briefing. The briefing began with a mission statement for the Finance Corps, as follows: "To fund Army, joint and combined operations; and provide timely commercial vendor and contract payments, pay and disbursing services, banking and currency services and limited accounting on an area basis."

This translates to me as "deploy with the fighting Army and provide it with all the fiscal support it needs, including paying the troops and paying for things we buy from the local economy." This is a pretty ambitious mission and translates to a need to develop some unique training and equipment. More later.

The Army Finance School must prepare soldiers of the Finance Corps to accomplish that mission, both by providing training in the present and by planning and developing training and equipment for the future. The Finance School mission is fourfold:

* Provide doctrine, proponency, and combat development support for the Finance Corps

* Develop and provide finance, accounting, and resource management training and education

* Act as both the Branch and Personnel Proponent for the Finance Corps

* Serve as the home of the Finance Corps Regiment

To accomplish its mission, the school has a staff of 60 people who are organized into the Finance Training Department; the Doctrine, Proponency and Combat Development Department; and the Finance Museum, located near the post's Gate 2 entrance.

The Table of Distribution and Allowances (TDA) recognizes 110 people, so one can see the effects of the Army drawdown and realize just how busy the assigned personnel are on a day-to-day basis. Each is doing the work of two people!

The Army Finance Corps has units located worldwide, in both the Active Army and Reserve Components (that is, the Army Reserve and Army National Guard), a structure that totals 6,155 officer and enlisted personnel. Eight hundred forty- three are officers. Occupational specialties in the Corps ate changing with an eye to fewer separate specialties for both officer and enlisted personnel. This will require broader training for both.

Technology, too, is changing as the hardware that is brought to the field (Future Finance System-FFS) becomes smaller (more mobile), more reliable, and more powerful, and as the software becomes one DoD-wide system: the Defense Integrated Military Human Resources System (DIMHRS), which the Army plans to implement in September 2003.

The school is responsible both for fielding the FFS and for training Finance Corps personnel in its use. The FFS is laptop-based and comes in a ruggedized trunk with its own server, printers, and modems. The laptops can also be operated in a wireless mode, and the system can accommodate over 200 laptops from distances as great as 400 meters (about four football fields). With this hardware, a finance specialist can do anything in a field environment that he or she could do back in a brick-and-mortar office in the continental United States.

The Army Finance School conducts over 100 classes each year and trains nearly 2,400 students (fiscal year 2000 data). Many of the courses are purely military and include advanced individual training for enlisted finance and accounting specialists; Finance Officer Basic Course; Finance Officer Branch Qualification Course; the technical portion Finance Captains Career Course (formerly the Advanced Course), the leadership portion of which still is taught at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas; Finance Pre-Command Course; and both Basic and Advanced Non-commissioned Officer(NCO) courses at the Fort Jackson NCO Academy (which also trains NCOs for the Chaplains Corps and the Adjutant General Corps).

The remainder of the courses taught are open to civilians and include Advance of Management Accounting and Analysis; Accounts Payable; Disbursing Operations; Military Accounting, Planning, Programming, Budgeting and Execution System; Resource Management Budget-Phase 2; and Travel Administration and Entitlements.

Civilians who are interested in this training need to apply to the US Army Training and Doctrine Command by contacting Ms. Susan Pabalat at pabalats@monroe.army.mil or at (787) 788-4309. The Web site for correspondence courses is www.atsc.army.mil/accp/aipd.htm. Detailed course descriptions are available at www.finance.army.mil/.

One of the most popular courses for civilians taught at the school--and one of the most necessary for civilian employees to understand the resource allocation process in the Department--is the 9-day Planning, Programming, Budgeting and Execution System course (PPBES, course code 805AD2). This course is offered about 30 times a year. About three-fourths of the projected 1,000 students each year are civilians, the majority in grades GS-9 through GS-15.

I was delighted to meet with the two instructors responsible for reaching the course: Captain Betty Ann McGunigal, Soldier Support Institute Instructor of the Year (congratulations, CPT McGunigal!), and Captain Tracy Foster. To make the course accessible to the workforce, instructors go on the road (22 times last year) to various posts, camps, and stations.

While the course gives sufficient general information about the parts of PPBES that occur in the congressional authorization and appropriation processes and at the Department of Defense (DoD) level, it concentrates on what goes on within the Army, particularly at the major command and installation levels.

Recently, the Army has mandated that all Department of the Army interns take the PPBES course, so demand likely will continue to outstrip supply. This is an area that probably will grow exponentially in terms of course offerings ... and the Finance School has recognized this. Even as I write, contractors are working on a distance-learning version of the course that will make all or part of the course available to students on a nonresident basis. Coming soon!

Following my initial briefing, I was picked up by Sergeant First Class (SFC) Darryl Morgan, who took me out to observe a field training exercise (FTX) being conducted to train AIT students in preparation for their first Army assignment. The temperature and humidity were both nearly 100 that afternoon. Under the close supervision of the drill sergeants and outfitted in battle dress uniforms, kevlar helmets, web gear, and weapons, the soldiers were in the process of digging firing positions. Despite the extreme heat, these young people were in good humor and obviously enjoying the day. I talked with two young men who were in on the buddy system, Private Reggie Umphrey of Fuquayvarina, NC, and Wayne Solomon of Garner, NC. Both said "Hooah" many times and smiled broadly as they worked.

I asked about an odd-looking device on one of the barrels of the rifles and was told that when a blank round is fired, the device sends out a laser beam. If the beam hit its target (a person on the enemy force), the technology would declare the enemy dead by turning off his weapon, which then could be opened only by a key carried by an umpire. Wow! Things have really changed since I was a soldier!

The FTX is used not only to get young soldiers used to the rigors of the field, but also to ensure that customer transactions can be processed under field conditions, including the dispatch of customer assistance teams to make payments. It was very impressive.

Equally impressive is the training that AIT students receive in the classroom. Not only are classes conducted in the traditional lecture format but also in a model office as well. The office is a unique instructional setting that allows students to practice all the transactions that they will eventually be performing in their actual jobs. Students practice disbursing cash (using surrogate currency, of course) and also must explain finance records to customers at their workstations. This excellent and innovative training gets finance soldiers ready to "hit the ground running" when they reach their first assignments.

SFC Morgan said something that really caught my attention. First he said, "We don't just teach skills here; we teach values." He went on to explain the Seven Army Values, which, he said, will build soldiers ethically and morally as well as technically. Second, he said that the soldiers he was getting to train were the best he has ever had and included many well-educated professional people. I heard and observed this throughout my visit. These are very smart, very sharp, dedicated people and we are lucky to have them.

That afternoon, I was again very lucky. The Captains Career Course was in session and I got to listen to a lecture by Lieutenant Colonel Eldon Mullis, Chief of the Finance Branch at the Total Army Personnel Command (PERSCOM). He spoke on the Task Force Falcon Deployment, addressing lessons learned during the deployment to Kosovo. The captains listening to this lecture were given invaluable real-world information on how to prepare for, conduct, and "stand down" from a deployment. This even included information on equipment procurement, maintenance, and storage in preparation for the next deployment. Lots of career-saving and career-enhancing advice was provided in those few hours!

That evening, I was privileged to attend the commanding general's (CG's) reception for the officer students at the Soldier Support Institute. All the soldiers were in dress blue uniforms, and it was a very nice affair. International students from 23 countries were introduced, all attending the institute.

These international programs are really wonderful in that the students sent to this country usually are the best and the brightest and, over time, likely will rise to positions of high leadership in their respective countries. And, as a result of this training, many of them will make lifelong friends in our Armed Forces--truly a way to build international understanding.

The welcoming message from Brigadier General Rochelle, CG of the institute, reinforced the feeling that the young people embarking on their careers in all of the schools were indeed outstanding, and our future as a nation would be in good hands.

During the reception, I met with Blake Daniels of the Columbia, SC, Chamber of Commerce (which sponsors the receptions), and I was treated to a list of all of the museums, cultural events, and outdoor recreation to be found in the area. I also looked over some of the local real estate offerings. Nice-looking modern apartments with many amenities are available for $500 to $700 a month, and new single-family homes begin at $120,000 to $160,000. It seems like a wonderful location for an assignment (although a trifle warm and humid in late summer). The town certainly is growing and welcomes the Arm/s presence and holds it members in high regard.

Tuesday at 0550 (that's a.m., readers), I showed up for physical training (PT) with the Officer Basic Course students. PT was led by Captain Arroyo, who I later learned was a Ranger as well as a Finance Officer. He assured me he would run slowly so I could keep up. I had a great time and even met an ASMC member on the run, who told me she had completed the first module of her certification. Unfortunately, by that point, I was breathing so hard and huffing and puffing so much that I didn't get her name. Somehow I survived the run and went on to the Financial Leaders' Conference underway at the Finance School.

Many of the key leaders in the Finance Corps were present, and school personnel gave briefings. These included the status of the school, its training, personnel initiatives, the Future Finance System, and the coming Defense Integrated Military Human Relations System, which is to be implemented DoD-wide.

The DIMHRS is radical in that it will handle both personnel and finance data on one set of integrated standard software. This will require the personnel and finance communities in the Miiitary Services to work more closely than ever before and will probably require a number of changes in the way business is conducted. The Army is moving fast on this, and lots of work is required for the projected implementation in September 2003.

That afternoon, I went to the Fort Jackson NCO Academy and observed a class at the Advanced Non-Commissioned Officer Education System (NCOES) course for finance NCOs (mostly at the SFC rank) on proper audit procedures for monthly reporting to the Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS). It was both complex in character and impressive in that one of the soldier/students was presenting the entire block of instruction. At the end of the class, the instructor announced that exams would begin at 0600 hours the following morning. Nobody wastes any time in these classes!

After the NCO Academy visit, I went to the Army Education Center. My visit there was triggered by comments I had heard at the reception by young officers eager to get a master's degree while stationed at Fort Jackson. I met with the enthusiastic and highly regarded education director, Ms. Suzy Weisman. She told me that she was negotiating with a number of universities to put such a program in place; one was offering credit up to 15 semester hours for the Finance Captains Career Course. This would make degree completion during the school assignment very possible, and a program to do this will be selected very soon. This is an excellent example of how education resources on a military installation can be managed effectively in support of the training establishment.

I also visited the library in the Soldier Support Institute. The library is conveniently located at one end of the main building and houses (in addition to its 51,000 volumes in hard copy) all of the Internet periodicals, literature research tools, and a full line of interlibrary loan support. The chief librarian is Ms. Geneva Murphy, who is very dedicated to providing the best service possible to the soldier/students.

One amusing note: There is a system of gates at the library entrance and, when I asked what it was for, I learned that if a student walks out with a piece of material not properly checked out, an alarm will sound and the gates (both in and out) will lock. That library is secure!

Unfortunately, the library hours are somewhat curtailed because of funding constraints. The facility does nor open until 1100, closes many evenings by 1800, and has only limited weekend hours.

Finally, I visited the Finance Museum. Its curator is the very talented and capable Mr. William Carnes. He promises to give you 200 years of history in 2 hours ... and he does! All of the AIT students and the Officer Basic Course students go through the museum, which traces the history of the Finance Corps from the early days of the American Revolution through a number of wars up to the present.

There are some really excellent exhibits, including a perfectly restored WWII Jeep, a Vietnam-era Mule, and a Russian anti-aircraft gun from a more recent conflict. Most impressive, however, was the check-mailing machine, a Rube Goldberg piece of mechanical wizardry that ran constantly at finance centers, stuffing thousands of checks an hour into envelopes and even sealing the envelopes. The machine is the size of a wood lathe and is a maze of belts, chains, motors, water bottles, and vacuum lines--and Mr. Carnes keeps it working! All this so the students and visitors can get a glimpse of the past. When visiting Fort Jackson, don't miss the Finance Museum. It's a real treat.

Saving the best for last, I outbriefed Wednesday afternoon with Colonel Charles Walker, Commandant of the US Army Finance School and Chief of the Finance Corps. Colonel Walker is a visionary with extensive, in-depth experience and education, including command assignments, Army Command and General Staff College, and The Industrial College of the Armed Forces (ICAF). He has earned two master's degrees (one in public administration and one from ICAF).

He shares my passion for education and professional development and has put in place the basis for all of the future training, technology, and professional development of the Finance Corps. He also feels that we need to increase the levels of formal education required for many of the civilian finance and accounting positions, not to remove people from jobs they have done well over the years, but to prepare the next generation, as it comes on board, to do even more to meet the very increasing challenges faced daily in this specialty. He believes that the time to implement these changes is right, considering the aging of the workforce and the large number of projected retirements. I have heard it said that the stars are all in line for such a change! In the long run, it will benefit the Army and the nation.

The short visit to the US Army Finance School was all I had hoped it would be. The great energy; the professionalism, the future planning, the curriculum development, the hardware and software development, the instruction, and the spirit of the young people are all one could expect of the very best. Thank you, Colonel Walker, for inviting ASMC to visit! It was time well spent.

On a Personal Note

I have been fortunate for more than 10 years to have been able to write AFC columns at least on a more or less fulltime basis. I always try to put in some professional development advice or personal thoughts. Last month, I was able to spend 3 days visiting the US Army Finance School at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. I was very heartened and delighted by the superb young people whom I saw both in the classrooms and on the podium. You would be hard pressed to find a sharper, more enthusiastic group of people anywhere. And seeing them, I felt reassured for our future as a nation and a society.

Then, on September 11, as I was driving to ASMC's Headquarters office in Alexandria, Virginia, I saw the huge columns of black smoke reaching skyward from the attack on the Pentagon. I read later of colleagues and personal friends who had died in that inferno and was angry and saddened at the same time. The same young people that I met at Fort Jackson, and thousands of their counterparts, will the ones we call on to put the world right. The training and education they have received in the classrooms at Fort Jackson and all of the other DoD teaching institutions will undergird their future service.

They will be the best in the world!

Mr. Raines received a bachelor's degree from the University of Connecticut, a master's from the College of William and Mary in Virginia and has done doctoral study at the Virginia Tech Graduate Center in Northern Virginia. He is currently serving as the Associate Director for Professional Development far ASMC. He is a member of the Association for Government Accountants, and has twice been President of the Virginia Tech Graduate Center Phi Delta Kappa chapter, on education association. He is a Certified Government Financial Manager (CGFM). His awards include the Army Humanitarian Service Award, the Army Staff Badge, and the Army Superior Civilian Service Award. He is a runner, outdoorsman, and avoid motorcyclist in his spare time.

RELATED ARTICLE: Army Values

Loyalty

Bear true faith and allegiance to the U.S. Constitution, the Army, your unit, and other soldiers.

Duty

Fulfill your obligations.

Respect

Treat people as they should be treated.

Selfless Service

Put the welfare of the nation, the Army, and your subordinates before your own.

Honor

Live up to all the Army Values.

Integrity

Do what's right, legally and morally.

Personal Courage

Face fear, danger or adversity (Physical or Moral).
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Author:Raines, John
Publication:Armed Forces Comptroller
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 22, 2001
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