By Air Force Staff Sgt. R. Michael Longoria
9th Air and Space Expeditionary Task Force Iraq
MOSUL, Iraq, May 6, 2011 – What is typically a three-hour trip turned into an 11-hour journey for an airman and his teammates when their mine-resistant, armor-protected vehicle broke down in the middle of an Iraqi village.
Air Force Senior Airman Jon-Nicos Walker, a military pay technician experiencing his first deployment to Iraq, and his fellow service members transited to the next available MRAP to continue their mission.
Despite the vehicle breakdown, Walker said he’s glad his job enables him to travel around Iraq.
"This is my first time overseas and I'm glad to be serving in the role that I am," said Walker, who is assigned to the Air Force Financial Management Detachment 2 at Contingency Operating Site Marez near here. "Most people in my career field, when deployed, are usually stuck in an office all day, while I get to travel on a weekly basis."
Walker’s detachment is responsible for 17 locations across northern Iraq. His job is different compared to that of most Air Force pay technicians, he said, because his unit works with the Army and offers all the services of a stateside military finance office.
"From our location here, we travel out to other checkpoints and offer the same services to the soldiers there," Walker explained. "Some places we visit weekly, while others only twice a month. I've been able to travel all over Iraq, via helicopter and ground convoy, to provide support to soldiers out in austere locations."
To date, Walker said he has helped more than 11,000 service members with various pay-related issues, including more than 850 military pay transactions. His detachment, he added, also is a test base for removing U.S. currency from the Iraqi economy. Instead of disbursing U.S. dollars, he said, the pay technicians are giving service members Iraqi money.
"The reason behind [disbursing dinars] is because using the U.S. dollar here isn't giving the Iraqi economy a chance to grow," Walker explained. "This gives [Iraqis] a chance to build up what they have, as opposed to counting on us and our dollar."
While the traveling is fun, Walker said, the interactions with his follow service members are the most rewarding.
"When we go out to those locations, we get a lot more appreciation from the soldiers," he said. "They just enjoy us being there. Even if they don't need anything, they still thank us for coming out. It's an uplifting experience."
Walker said he travels to locations where soldiers don't have base exchanges or post offices.
"They are outside working all day," he said. "So, it's good that we are here so they can bring their stuff directly to us. We are right here so they can come and talk to us if there are any [pay] issues.”
Since he is on a joint expeditionary tasking, Walker said he realizes that he is experiencing a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
"I'm actually rolling outside the wire," Walker said. "I've talked to the senior NCOs back at Grand Forks [Air Force Base, N.D.], and they've never had the chance to do some of the things I'm getting to do here."