The 21st Theater Sustainment Command transports troops, equipment and supplies throughout the European Theater, demonstrating U.S. flexibility, agility and ability. When it comes to in-transit visibility of cold, hard cash, 266th Finance Support Center adds ingenuity to that list.
While deployed to Camp Arifjan, Kuwait from June 2021 to February 2022, Maj. Jonathan Evans and Sgt. First Class Willie Cole were part of a Counter Threat Finance Fusion Cell charged with operationalizing the CTF concept. The U.S. Department of Defense defines CTF as “activities and capabilities designed to deny, disrupt, destroy, or defeat finance systems and networks that negatively affect U.S. interests.”
“We had the right group in the right location,” said Cole, who is now 21st Special Troops Battalion’s Headquarters and Headquarters Company First Sergeant. Along with Evans, the Fusion Cell also included Cpt. Devin Cook, now a student at the Captain’s Career Course.
According to Cole, the team had the winning formula of expertise in diverse financial systems, sensitive activity experience, fiscal knowledge, established relationships and necessary clearances needed to identify, gather and analyze information needed to prevent and disrupt adversaries’ ability to raise, use, move and store assets.
Evans said the team looked at how they could operationalize their data. “There was a lot of experimentation with economic analysis, and from that, the term ‘fiscal preparation of the environment’ evolved,” said Evans.
According to Evans, fiscal preparation of the environment examines the economic and financial aspects of the operating environment that are likely to impact military operations. This data can help commanders and staffs make better-informed decisions and prepare for key meetings.
“The CG [in Kuwait] had a number of mil to mil engagements and we did a one slider of just economic data for the countries he was visiting,” said Evans. “And we can contribute that here [at 21st TSC] for various projects.”
1st Lt. Ying Jiang works with Evans at 266th FISC as they continue to refine the work started in Kuwait. She describes another CTF line of effort that prevents assets from flowing to adversaries — vendor vetting.
“Counter threat finance is relevant, because with cash, how do you really trace where the cash is going?” Jiang said. “When we do vendor vetting mitigation the point is really to prevent cash going into our enemy’s hand.”
“That includes identifying if key management personnel are aligned with bad actors, and if companies are truly owned by who they claim they are owned by. If we pump a lot of U.S. dollars into the country…..and if we are paying local vendors, that may have all sorts of effects,” said Jiang.
Cole said one of their first customers was “blown away” by the data they supplied. “We gave them information that they could use as evidence to support the intel side of the house. From an intel perspective, our financial information strengthened their case.”
The CTF team has partnered with U.S. Army fraud investigative units and regularly works with different entities such as Army Counter-Intelligence, Criminal Investigative Division, Military Intelligence and Non-Lethal Effects work groups. They customize the information they package depending on their customers’ needs.
“From a counter intelligence standpoint, they need certain information,” said Cole. “From a straight up combatant commander information [perspective] looking at the intel side of the house, they need certain information. The fraud people need a different package. So trial and error, we were able to develop different packages based on customer needs.”
Evans cited the process of port-selection as an example of how CTF can inform decision-making as 21st TSC conducts business throughout Europe and Africa, efficiently receiving, staging and transporting equipment and personnel throughout the two continents.
“As [21st TSC planners] look at different ports and what we are doing to support rotational units, being able to inform them on the economic status of that area and looking at beneficial ownership of companies we are doing business with now, gives them a better picture of the overall operating environment.”
Cole added that it is also important to follow up after the fact. “We pump millions and millions of dollars into that economy,” said Cole. “We want to be able to follow that money, basically by looking at the contract data. Money always moves with a purpose. It’s our job to inform and advise on the purpose.”
For 266th’FISC, accountability on the battlefield means knowing where the money is moving.
“Defense wins the championship,” said Jiang. “We are stewards of government funds and we want to make sure we are spending taxpayers’ money properly and legally and not paying the enemy.”
The team acknowledges 266th FISC Director Col. Lance Sneed for supporting their continuing efforts to demonstrate the value of finance and comptroller forces and make CTF accessible and easily integrated into command planning.
“Col. Sneed gives us all the freedom we need and the latitude to experiment and explore and see what works,” said Evans.
Jiang agreed, saying working on CTF is like working for a start-up company.
“There’s no guaranteed future,” said Jiang. “You don’t know what tomorrow’s going to look like. It takes a lot of personal interest. To me the challenge is the excitement of the job. That’s why I wanted to join the team.”