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New Jersey Marine accounts for millions during Afghanistan drawdown

Photo by 1st Lt. Garth Langley

New Jersey Marine accounts for millions during Afghanistan drawdown

22 Aug 2014 | 1st Lt. Garth Langley

Making sense of a military’s budget in a war zone is no easy task. Corporal Jesus O. Maldonado, 30, a native of Perth Amboy, New Jersey, and financial management resource analyst with Regional Command (Southwest), takes these matters seriously. 

Maldonado deployed to Afghanistan during Jan. 2014, with Marine Expeditionary Brigade – Afghanistan, the final Marine command to lead security force assistance operations in RC(SW). By the year’s end, the regional command will close its doors and transfer full security responsibility to the Afghan National Security Forces. 

He said he was thrilled when he heard he would get one of the last deployments to Helmand province.

“Being in Afghanistan gives me the opportunity to serve my country and assist the Afghan forces in the best way possible,” said Maldonado.

Born in Arecibo, Puerto Rico, Maldonado said his childhood was adventuresome, living on the Caribbean island. He spent his childhood playing sports with the neighborhood kids. At the age of 9, his mother relocated him and his two siblings, Xavier and Heidye, to New Jersey. 

Maldonado said he was excited to move to the U.S. He continued to play baseball during his teenage years while attending Perth Amboy High School. 

After graduating, he set his sights set on a career in programming and web design and took courses at a New Jersey-based satellite campus of DeVry University.

Maldonado said despite this, his focus shifted, and he considered enlisting in the military. 

“I wasn’t as focused as I should have been,” said Maldonado. “I always wanted to serve, and I was looking for challenge and didn’t want to take it the easy way.”

The competitive spirit and challenge the Marine Corps offered piqued his interest. 

Maldonado’s brother enlisted in the Marines and influenced his decision, he said. Currently his brother is a sergeant stationed at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, California. 

Maldonado signed his contract and left for 13 weeks of training aboard Marine Corps Recruit Training Parris Island, South Carolina, during April 2011. Initially he signed a contract to become an intelligence analyst. However, during the second month of training, he injured his knee and was placed in a medical holding training company. Once healed, Maldonado completed training and was reassigned to his current occupation. 

For two months, he attended a Department of Defense financial management school aboard Camp Johnson, North Carolina, during 2011. When complete, he headed west to Camp Pendleton and joined the 1st Marine Division comptroller’s office.

Maldonado said from the start the experience was eye opening. 

“You’re coming into this whole new world that you don’t know anything about,” said Maldonado.

His primary job was accounting and reconciling budgetary matters for 1st Marine Division, a force of approximately 25,000 Marines and sailors. He supported major subordinate units and ensured substantial purchases and funding for training exercises were properly accounted.

When he got the word he would get to deploy, he was thrilled. He said his family was shocked about the deployment.

“Everybody was shocked,” said Maldonado. “They didn’t understand why I was so excited to be going away. Nobody wanted me to leave.”

During 2012, his brother deployed to Helmand with Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 466. He gave Maldonado advice before deploying.

“He told me to ‘stay focused and motivated,’” said Maldonado. “Your work will speak for itself.”

After arriving at Camp Leatherneck during January 2014, he said Helmand’s unpredictable weather surprised him. 

“When we arrived it started to snow,” said Maldonado. “I never thought I would be seeing snow while in Afghanistan. You always hear about how hot it is and the sand storms but never anything about snow.”

Throughout 2014, Maldonado and the MEB-A finance team have focused their attention on two mission sets: to provide financial advising and management for RC(SW) as well as to train, advise and assist finance soldiers with the 215th Corps, Afghan National Army at neighboring Camp Shorabak. 

Teams of U.S. and coalition military advisors have partnered with the Afghan security forces during the past five years to invigorate management processes. Later this year, the regional command will close and transition full security responsibility to the Afghan forces.

He said they also have spent a large portion of their time working with the Afghan security forces. Maldonado said he and the finance Marines made weekly trips to Camp Shorabak to train and advise the Afghan soldiers. 

“Our primary focus is to advise and assist,” he said. 

While senior officers advised the ANA shoulder-to-shoulder, Maldonado served as a guardian angel to protect the Marines. He said he enjoyed the added responsibility.

“You never know what the future holds,” said Maldonado. “As Marines, we learned to adapt and overcome.”

Maldonado’s conventional duties included serving as the lead travel clerk for MEB-A and major subordinate units including Marine Aircraft Group – Afghanistan, Combat Logistics Battalion 7, Brigade Headquarters Group - Afghanistan and the Redeployment and Retrograde in support of Reset and Reconstitution Operations Group. In total he has supported more than 4,500 Marines and sailors in Helmand. 

“Anyone that is redeploying, going on emergency leave, or temporary orders, I provide them the funding,” said Maldonado. 

During April 2014, Maldonado also took job-related training courses while deployed, including Fiscal Law Refresher and Budget Execution courses. On Aug. 1, 2014, during a ceremony beneath the flagpoles of the command’s headquarters, Maldonado was awarded a Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal for his efforts.

The award’s citation stated, “Cpl. Maldonado was instrumental in the financial and audit readiness of $45 million in operation and maintenance of Marine Corps funds.”

Although he was surprised he received the award, it was well deserved. 

Maldonado’s officer-in-charge, Capt. Chittakone Sinakone, said he is highly respected and assisted the Financial Advisement Team five days per week with guardian angel security duties while aboard Camp Shorabak.

"Cpl Maldonado’s expertise, dedication, and professionalism proved to be an invaluable asset to the finance shop. His ability to take charge and manage the travel process single-handedly allowed the staff to focus attention elsewhere.”

Maldonado said deploying has been a positive experience. 

“My presence in Afghanistan is like going from the minors to the major leagues,” said Maldonado. “I finally made it to the big show.” 

When he returns to the U.S. later this summer, Maldonado said he is looking forward to spending time with family and friends. 

His immediate plan is to stay in the military and pursue a position as a Marine recruiter on the East Coast. 

“I am good with people and outgoing,” said Maldonado. “Being from Jersey and the New York area, it’s easier to talk to individuals because I know what they are going through and I can relate to them.”

Maldonado’s military awards include the Good Conduct Medal, Global War on Terrorism Medal, National Defense Medal, Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal, and the NATO ISAF - Afghanistan Medal.