Money is important.
This makes managing the finance office of one the biggest Air Force bases outside the United States even more important, but somebody has to do it.
Tech. Sgt. Carl Wheaton is that somebody.
“I treat every customer as if I have that problem that they’re having,” Wheaton said.
Wheaton, recent Airlifter of the Week, takes every challenge his job throws at him in stride.
As the non-commissioned officer of customer service at the 86th Comptroller Squadron, Wheaton takes care of any and all financial issues, whether it’s separation or retirement payments, temporary duty travel pay or debts.
Wheaton earned an accounting degree prior to entering military finance, but admits that education comes second to doing tasks hands-on.
“I feel like a [degree] just lets someone know that I can pay attention to something for four years,” Wheaton said. “But as far as knowledge goes it comes with experience and doing the same thing repetitively.”
Wheaton isn’t only handling spreadsheets, as customer service can make managing finance even more difficult. Wheaton notes that presenting good service to the largest population of Americans outside the U.S. and geographically separated units throughout Europe can be demanding at times.
“It can be overwhelming, especially when you take pride in your job,” Wheaton said. “I get satisfaction from knowing that I helped a customer, no matter how simple or complicated the problem is.”
In February 2020, Wheaton was assigned to his first deployment in Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti. He was tasked with filling a senior non-commissioned officer position where he became a resource advisor managing budgets, handling cash and contract payments.
“It was completely different from customer service and more budgeting than accounting,” Wheaton said. “It was managing millions of dollars versus managing customers.”
COVID-19 added a new layer of challenge for Wheaton as the closure of borders and businesses made it difficult to fulfill his mission. Wheaton and his colleagues were able to prevail with new protocols mandating face coverings, hand sanitizers and gloves.
“We just kept pushing and [talked] with different local nationals out there,” Wheaton said. “We tried to understand the language and make as many transactions as we could while also promoting being an ambassador for the Air Force.”
Wheaton’s dedication was rewarded, as his leadership guided his deployed team to winning Team of the Month twice at their deployed location.
Wheaton’s work would not go unrecognized at home either. On Jan. 14, he was recognized as Airlifter of the Week, an award recognizing outstanding Airmen across the 86th Airlift Wing.
Wheaton has educated about 1,200 newcomers during a total of 42 in-processing briefs since his arrival in September 2019. He has processed military travel entitlements that led to a disbursement of roughly $3 million overall payments for 6,100 customers.
Money isn’t the only important matter in Wheaton’s job, as he also values being a good role model for his subordinates.
“My Airmen are looking up to me and knowing that the future is going to be in their hands, I have to set that example,” Wheaton said. “If I slack, they’ll slack.”
The guidance and mentorship has paid off, with Wheaton leading his team to earning two Senior Airman Below-the-Zone promotions and 11 quarterly or annual awards at the Wing level or higher.
Overall, the title of Airlifter of the Week only inspires Wheaton to aim higher at his job.
“It makes me want to [try] even harder,” Wheaton said. “People are noticing me, what else can I do?”