My Last Tour: Frustrating FOO

Photo of SMSgt. Rex Temple and his Afghan interpreter
SMSgt. Rex Temple says his interpreter, pictured here, earns $8,400 a year even though a contractor is paid $100,000 for his services.
TAMPA (2009-12-01) -

A local airman serving in Afghanistan says his supervisors threatened to take thousands of dollars out of his paycheck and delay his mid-tour leave because of a paperwork snafu.

WUSF has been following Senior Master Sergeant Rex Temple during his tour in Afghanistan. Temple said he is frustrated with the bureaucracy he's encountered while serving as an embedded trainer of Afghan National Army troops.

This week, he introduced us to a new term: FOO money. Thats an acronym for Field Ordering Official money which are funds allotted to U.S. troops to pay for small projects that help their Afghan counterparts.

Temple is scheduled for a two-week leave midway through his year-long deployment. But, he can't leave Afghanistan until his FOO account is settled. And the Tampa airman learned of some problems that could delay his leave.

He was told he must provide a letter signed by a lieutenant colonel or a higher-ranking officer who reviewed all of Temple's receipts and the FOO money purchases. This was a new requirement but Temple was never notified about it.

"Then they started questioning some of my purchases dealing with electrical repairs," Temple said. "Which seems to be a real big problem right now because of what happened in Iraq. Several of our soldiers died due to the shoddy workmanship of the subcontractors."

Temple's receipts were for electrical work at an Afghan National Army camp. Two of the ANA barracks were destroyed by rocket-propelled grenades. The displaced soldiers are living in tents during the harsh Afghan winter. So, Temple hired an electrician to run power to heaters to make the tents livable.

But, the electrical contractor didnt have a U.S. National Electric Code Certificate, which Temple learned is now required.

"Nobody in Afghanistan has this certification," Temple added. "It is just one thing after another and it was just driving me nuts."

"We pay hundreds of millions of dollars to these contractors so theyll bring in certified people instead of sub-contracting out to a subcontractor, to a subcontractor," Temple said. "And then, finally you get this guy that you know hooks two wires together and they call him an electrician. It's for the sake of saving money, maximizing peoples profit."

He cited another example that frustrates him. His Afghan interpreter is paid roughly $700 a month for a total of $8,400 a year. Yet, Temple said the company that is contracted to provide interpreters charges the U.S. government $100,000 a year per interpreter.

"I feel like they're ripping off the American public and the taxpayers," Temple said. "There have to be better controls. Theres so much control of this FOO money, for this special project money eight to 10 people have to sign-off and it's only $15,000 a month. And I see the immediate results. It's not like were handing out hundreds of millions of dollars to people and there's no accountability."

If Temple doesnt follow the rules, even ones he's not aware of, he becomes responsible for the sum.

"Today, I got very frustrated and they said, Okay, we'll just take it out of your paycheck, and I said fine," Temple related. "I said, you want me to sign a check today, I will."

Temple said he was prepared to write a personal check for $15,000 because he didn't want any chance the FOO account snafu would delay his leave and reunion with his wife.

"I said nothing is going to stop me from going on leave to see my wife," Temple said. "Yet, I see my government shelling out taxpayers money, millions and billions of dollars and there's no accountability."

Asked if he's concerned his candor will hurt his 26-year career in the Air Force, Temple said no. "This is the truth. You know. This is what is going on."

To hear more stories with SMSgt. Temple go to WUSF's Special News Report page. And, you can read Temples blog Afghanistan My Last Tour.

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