Wherever, whenever; Disbursing Marines ensure steady cash flow

25 Jul 2000 | Cpl. Derek A. Shoemake

Even though he's only 21 years old, and his most expensive possession is a 4,000-dollar car, Cpl. Merrel Moore is in charge of enough money to buy a minor-league baseball team, five Ferraris and a half dozen homes.

Though the disbursing noncommissioned officer with MEU Service Support Group 26's Dispersing Office does not usually deal with cash, every night Moore ensures the nearly 3.1 million dollars his office keeps on hand is accounted for.

With only six Marines, MSSG-26's Disbursing Office deals with any travel claims, pay problems, and advance pay requests for each of the 2,000 members of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable).

According to LCpl. Xavier Merchan, travel clerk and Queens, N.Y., native, it's not the office's small staff that creates the major challenges.

"Being on ship we lose access to a lot of things you come to depend on (back in the states," he said.

For example, Merchan said the program normally used to process travel claims will not be available during the 26th MEU(SOC)'s deployment to the Mediterranean region, creating more legwork for the office.

Normally, Merchan would access a computer database that would constantly keep him updated on various per diem rates, the amount of money a Marine or Sailor gets per day in a specific area.

"Without access, I have to constantly check the per diem rates by browsing around the Internet and looking up the new rates," he said.

This lack of access to various databases also changes the way Marines and Sailors with the 26th MEU(SOC) get reimbursed.

"In the states, we work on a direct-deposit basis," said Staff Sgt. Terry Hogeland, Sneads, Fla. native and Disbursing Chief. "Since we can't do that here, we'll often pay the Marine or Sailor in cash."

Paying back travel claims is merely the beginning of the cash that flows through the office on a daily basis.

"We'll cash checks aboard ship, which is something we wouldn't do in a regular office," said Hogeland.

This check cashing, especially during a liberty port, makes up a significant portion of the money these Disbursing Marines deal with.

"On an average liberty day, I could deal with anywhere from 15,000 to 30,000 dollars a day," said Moore, a New Orleans, Louis. native.

In addition to cashing checks, on each payday, the Disbursing Office refills the ship's automatic teller machines. The Marines also travel to the other ships in USS Saipan's Amphibious Ready Group, USS Austin and USS Ashland, with payroll checks to re-supply their ATMs.

With the traffic of this much cash, security is a must.

According to Hogeland, the money is "double-secure." The cash is kept inside a safe, which is kept inside another safe. There is a Marine in the office around-the-clock, and the office is armed with a security alarm.

"No matter where we go our what we do, this money's safe," said Hogeland.

This includes when the 26th MEU(SOC) deploys into an area of operation.

"When we deploy, we carry the field safe, security and all the tools we need to do our job," he said. "We have a fully mobile disbursing unit."

Within hours, the MSSG-26 Disbursing Office can be cashing checks and taking care of other monetary needs that could arise.

"Let's say we go ashore and (Battalion Landing Team 2/2) needs lumber, and the contractor will only take that country's currency as payment," said Hogeland. "In no time we'll get our money converted through the nearest financial institution and be able to pay him in whatever currency he wants."

It is this flexibility, said Hogeland, that make's MSSG-26 Disbursing effective.
He cited his office's quick response in ensuring that almost 1,200 Marines and Sailors receive their split pay, amounts earmarked to be taken from a service member's regular pay and placed into their ship account.

"We came on ship a day earlier than everyone else and began working on the issue," he said. "Those first nights we had Marines working until one in the morning getting the system set up."

Hogeland and his Marines ensured that when USS Saipan docked at her first liberty port, all Marines and Sailors who signed up for split pay had access to their money.

Making sure people get their money is what makes the work worth it for Moore.
"I think it's a privilege to do this job," he said. "You're helping people and putting money in their hands. You can't beat that."