When September ends

GOODFELLOW AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- If you have anything to do with financial resources in the federal government, September is a long month. It might only be 30 days long, but it feels like an entire year. The reason for this is simple: on the last day of September, every last penny of the budget must be spent. If not, you can expect to see that much less money in next year's budget. But for me personally, there is a lot more to September than just spending taxpayer's money.

On Sept. 11, 2001, my cell phone rang around 5:50 a.m. I was on a temporary duty assignment to El Centro Naval Air Station in California, and had been asleep for only a few hours. My wife was calling to tell me that a plane had crashed into one of the World Trade Center buildings. I thought she was crazy -- airplanes don't crash into buildings in downtown Manhattan, N.Y. I turned on CNN to confirm that it was just a helicopter so I could tell my wife that everything would be alright. But it wasn't alright. We both watched in horror, her in Florida, I in California, as the second plane hit. At that moment, I knew our world had changed forever.

Once it was determined who was responsible for the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, the first offensive action our nation took had nothing to do with the military; it had everything to do with money. On Sept. 25, 2001, President George W. Bush asked foreign banks to freeze the financial assets of individuals and corporations suspected of funding terrorism.

"Money is the lifeblood of terrorist operations," President Bush said. "Today we're asking the world to stop payment."

Even the simplest improvised explosive devise requires explosives, and explosives cost money. Whether it's a single suicide bomber, or an MQ-9 Reaper taking him out before he reaches his target, someone has to foot the bill.

According to the 2011 DoD Green Book, the Defense Department spent $636.7 billion by Sept 30, 2009. That's a big number to be sure, but it has no meaning unless you can point to something tangible and put a price tag on it. An F-22 Raptor runs about $150 million. A four-ship of MQ-1 Predators and their ground control station will set you back $20 million. And you can expect to drop $65,000 on a single AGM-114 Hellfire missile. But really, at the end of the day, these are still just things. How much does your freedom cost? Can you put a price on that?

When September ends, I will celebrate the end of another budget year with my fellow comptrollers, resource advisors, contracting officers and civil engineers. We'll toast to the money we spent, the things we bought, and the deals we made; but I will also remember that while money buys the things that help protect our freedom, it's ultimately our people who get the job done, and you can't put a price on them.