ABOARD USS BONHOMME RICHARD -- The 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit has experimented with a lot of new technology and equipment throughout its history, and now it is about to add another to its list - use of the Navy-Marine Cash Card during its Special Operations Capable Exercise (SOCEX) off the Southern California coast, Oct. 29 to Nov. 9.
"The Fighting 13th" was the first West Coast MEU to earn the SOC designation and deploy with a force reconnaissance platoon. They were also the first to deploy with landing craft, air-cushioned and an entire section of Avenger air defense weapons systems. Earlier this year, they participated in Kernel Blitz Experimental, becoming the first Marines to field various cutting-edge military technologies.
Now, the 13th MEU will be the first Fleet Marine Force (FMF) unit to use the Marine Cash MasterCard for the 1,200 Leathernecks aboard USS Bonhomme Richard.
Emblazoned with a gold Eagle, Globe and Anchor and the Core Values of "Honor, Courage and Commitment," the card uses a computer chip (e-purse) to store value for purchases made onboard the ship and a magnetic strip for debit purchases and Automated Teller Machine (ATM) account access.
Marines and Sailors can use the e-purse feature to buy items at point-of-sale terminals in the ship's store, as well as in recreational areas and at vending and game machines. The card's debit feature allows for cash withdrawals at more than 529,000 ATMs worldwide, or purchases wherever MasterCard is accepted.
The Naval Supply Systems Command introduced the idea and JP Morgan - a worldwide firm specializing in banking and financial services - developed the cards, point-of-sail terminals in the ship's store and tellers. Funds can be transferred from Marines' primary banks to the magnetic strip of the card and then to the chip, or vice versa, without a transaction fee from JP Morgan.
The 13th MEU and USS Bonhomme Richard were chosen to stress-test the system and report the "pros and cons" to JP Morgan with the hopes of streamlining an improved card Navy- and Marine Corps-wide in the near future, said GySgt. Marcos Gomez, the 13th MEU's Disbursing Office chief and a native of Brooklyn, N.Y.
"The 13th MEU and USS Bonhomme Richard are the prototype for this program," said 1stLt. Sean L. Brock, the 13th MEU Disbursing officer who hails from Redondo Beach, Calif. "The Marines on this deployment will directly affect the future of this program in the entire Marine Corps - East Coast, West Coast and overseas."
The ATMs At Sea program, still used on most ships, issues Marines and Sailors an ATM card that is one dimensional, said Gomez, who used the older program during the 13th MEU's last deployment. Marines could only withdraw money from a split-pay account at a few locations on the ship. Payday was the only time money could be put into the account, and funds couldn't be transferred from the card to another account. Also, withdrawals took weeks to post on a Marine's account, making it harder to track and maintain an accurate balance.
When someone transfers money into a Marine Cash Card, it starts accruing interest from JP Morgan - not available for ATMs At Sea. Another major benefit of the card is that is decreases the amount of money needed by the disbursers on the ship exponentially - a security factor, Brock said.
The most secure feature of the card is the four-digit pin number each Marine is given when the card is issued, which can also be changed by the cardholder to match other pin numbers he or she might use, Brock said.
The pin is required for every transaction except vending machines. The chip can hold $1,000, but once a Marine spends $25 on vending purchases, they have to go to a teller to re-enter their pin and put more money on the chip. If the card was stolen, someone could only spend $25 at a vending machine before being required to enter the pin.
"Compared to the old ATMs At Sea, this program allows Marines to keep their money in a home bank account and accrue interest, so they only have to use money on ship when they need it."
Marine Cash Cards should become a way of life during the 13th MEU's upcoming deployment to the Western Pacific and Arabian Gulf region and with some constructive criticism from a few good men and women, it may soon be a hit Corpswide.
And after 13 battle-tested days at sea off the Southern California coast, Marines and Sailors of the 13th MEU and USS Bonhomme Richard will look forward to coming ashore SOC certified and with a little extra money in their bank accounts.