The first rule of Fight Club is: you do not talk about Fight Club. The second rule of Fight Club is: you DO NOT talk about Fight Club! - Tyler DurdenIn the interests of writings something people might want to read, sometimes you have to break a rule or two. Though more rules were broken in the doing than the writing, writing about FOO (Field Ordering Officer) funds was something I did not think I would do. After all, our first rule of FOO was we do not talk about FOO.
And why did we laughingly come up with that as our first and only rule? Probably due to all the rule bending and breaking we had to do to make the system work. Let me explain. FOO funds are cash given to units in the field. We use the cash to buy mission essential items. Ostensibly, the funds exist to fill holes in the supply system. However, the money comes with so many strings attached that using it by the book becomes nearly impossible...and for an ETT doubly so since FOO funds are only supposed to "support US forces". Of course, you don't have to be an attorney to see the opportunity latent in a word like "support", but FOO had many other restrictions.
One of the most onerous for us was the requirement that we had to go to a different base (in Jalalabad for us) in order to pick up the money. For people far from the main lines of communication, a trip anywhere means at least a few days gone, as we have to wait for the next round of helicopters to bring us back out. If someone other than the actual FOO or his assistant the Paying Agent (PA) or could have signed for and picked up our money, it would have saved us days and trips. But no such luck.
The more interesting restrictions are on what we can and cannot spend the money on. A sampling of things the money could not be used for would include
- construction materials for permanent building structures
- food and water
- laborers for more than a single day
- phone cards
- intelligence collection
- personal items
- renting or leasing real estate
- medical supplies
in addition to other fun restrictions like how the PA and FOO had to be present for each payment and how the receipts had to be signed by often illiterate "contractors".
Of course, rules exist for a reason, but with something like FOO you wonder how much bureaucracy was in place to support it. I mean, they only gave each FOO/PA $10,000 at a time, which my group only drew 3 times. Our team as a whole maybe drew 200,000, which is certainly not an insignificant amount, but over a nine-month period and in the context of the larger war effort it's nothing. Is there anyone out there doing a cost-benefit analysis on the subject...maybe not, and probably better that they don't in the context of the war in general.
In any case, let's just say the system in practice works quite a bit differently than how the guys in the rear draw it up. Most of the things were spent money on were on that list above, which isn't to say that we were cheating the system. The things we really needed out in the Korengal were things like food for our Afghan soldiers and building materials for permanent structures. So that's how we spent the money for the most part, as well as having to often pay someone to actually deliver our supplies to us. We did not carry around receipt books in our back pockets underneath our body armor.
I was told once recently by my Afghan platoon commander that the platoon would not patrol if I did not buy them some cooking oil. Did I lecture him about using the Afghan supply system? No. I gave him the money and that was that. When the platoon went over a month without eating any meat...we bought them a cow and butchered it. When we needed better lookout posts and force protection...we bought the materials locally and hired locally for things to be built. The receipts got creative, but it all went to support the mission, and that was what was important.