Comptrollers pay the way to mission success
When the discussion turns to the Air Force and our warfighters, accountants blazing away on calculators don't spring to mind. But make no mistake, money and those who see that it reaches those who need it are as critical as ammunition in war time.
"We're behind the scenes for most people," said 1st Lt. David Adams, financial services officer with the 6th Comptroller Squadron. "But we're over here busting our butts just like everyone else, sometimes putting in 12 to 16-hour days."
The Squadron has 65 personnel and serves 12,000 active duty military, Reserves and civilians in the area. In addition, the squadron offers services to some 65,000 retired military members, said Lieutenant Adams. Few realize it but the squadron also serves Central and Special Operations commands. Both have their own financial divisions, but the wing does the heavy lifting, Lieutenant Adams said.
While hard work and dedication to duty are key factors in keeping the base steaming along, it also takes money; and it takes lots of it to a run a base like MacDill, particularly with its unique multi-role mission supporting important commands.
So just how much money?
Try about $750,000 a day. That's around $5 million a week, $20 million a month and eventually you arrive at the annual base budget pushing a quarter of a billion dollars. It's the 6th CPTS that makes sure all those dollars get moved around to the right places, the lights stay on and the water flows. And that's just for the Wing. The office also manages millions more for Central and Special Operations commands.
From paychecks to travel pay, ensuing there is fuel for planes and even making sure the grass is mowed, the comptrollers are a behind-the-scenes force that keeps a world-class operation running.
The intricacies of financing handled by the 6th CPTS likely would boggle the mind of anyone whose biggest financial challenge is balancing the checkbook and ensuring the household bills are paid on time. Even those experienced at bookkeeping in the business world would be intimidated by the activity and volume of financial activity in just a week of operations at MacDill, where in just a matter of hours more dollars can change hands than many people will see in a lifetime.
The squadron is split into three sections: the Financial Services Flight, Customer Support and the Budget Flight. Each performs a distinct role in ensuring the bottom line is where it needs to be 365 days a year.
Most Airmen are familiar with Financial Services and Customer Support, where pay issues are resolved, including travel pay, bonuses, vouchers, etc. Lieutenant Adams said the squadron boats a 98 percent accuracy rate when dealing with pay distribution and resolution issues.
Financial Services personnel deal with Airmen directly in resolving issues, while Customer Support staffers are the ones who pump numbers through the computer systems, getting the answers and information needed to keep things on track.
"If someone is a penny short in their pay, we resolve to make sure they get it," he said. "Pay is really important to everyone and we take a lot of care in making sure everyone gets what they are due."
It's a matter of dogged commitment to working through the twists and turns of paperwork, a job that often is made more difficult at times of high operational tempo. Hurricanes, vouchers for evacuation reimbursements and the pending closeout of the fiscal year Oct. 1 have made the last 30 days particularly stressful, said Lieutenant Adams.
"We've been working around the clock at times and it has been a big load, but it is our job."
For those who think of military accountants as "bean counters" safe from everything but paper cuts, think again. One of the first casualties of Operation Iraqi Freedom was an accountant, who was felled while make a cash run in a war zone.
Members of the 6th CPS often are called to do their job in hot spots around the globe. Staff Sgt. Audrey Atkins knows that well, having returned recently from Iraq, where she and Tech. Sgt. Terry Yates, 6th CPTS, spent 130 days handing a $9 million base budget. They secured funding for food, water, construction supplies and contract services, often dealing in cash only. A pay agent, who traveled with an armed escort, delivered cash to contractors and the warrior accountants of her group often put in 10 and 12 hour days six to seven days a week.
"There was some risk because of where we were and there never really were any set hours, so it was a lot of work," said Sergeant Atkins. "But it's part of the job and finance is an important part of the effort over there."
Looking at the local budget
The Comptroller Budget Flight is responsible for money used to keep MacDill operating and able to focus on its mission. It works closely with base commander Brig. Gen. Tanker Snyder, Air Mobility Command and the squadron commanders on down to the unit resource advisors, who help determine the equipment needs of their individual units.
September is particularly busy for the Budget Flight, as it works to close out the fiscal year, balancing the books and using the last of the budget money available for year-end acquisitions. This year will be a lean one compared to last, said Lieutenant Adams, noting there are more budget constraints this year.
"We got some really nice things last year but that isn't going to be the case this time around," he said.
That means what money is left over will be allocated to the most worthy needs. The process involves unit commanders and resource advisors making their requests via forms, which are reviewed by a Finance Management Board, which in turn makes recommendations to General Snyder.
It's a tough process, and Lieutenant Adams admits much depends on how well board members can relate to the requests.
"We all go to the gym so if the request is for more towels, we all know how that affects us," Lieutenant Adams said. "If Comm. (6th Communications Squadron) is asking for a piece of equipment no one has ever heard of it is harder to determine the need as well as if it is for something that is going to speed up e-mail , which is something anyone can identify with."
That's why the way requests and written and justification is so important, he said. Helping the board and commander understand the importance of the request is essential.
Once the fiscal year is closed out, a new year begins. While no one in the 6th CPTS is quite sure what awaits them in the way of budget changes and adjustments, natural disasters and the war on terrorism, one thing members do know is that whatever happens, they will be key players. Nothing happens without funding.