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Family Matters Blog: Enlisted Leaders Call for Better Financial Education

By Elaine Sanchez
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Dec. 15, 2011 – I attended a financial fitness forum earlier this week that brought together representatives from the military and financial institutions to discuss how they can better financially empower and educate troops and their families.

Senior enlisted leaders from each service were invited to join a panel to speak about what they see as the greatest financial pitfalls for service members and their families and to offer input on how the government and private sectors can help.

As the leaders spoke, it became clear to me that while each service is separate and distinct, the financial issues are not.

Troops and their families, they said, face the same challenges as most Americans: getting by in a tough economy, housing market struggles and personal financial management issues.

Frequent moves and deployments can result in troubling housing issues for service members, noted Army Sgt. Maj. Thomas S. Gills, sergeant major to the Army Deputy Chief of Staff, G1.

If they’re deployed or get orders to move and can’t sell their house, they typically rent it out. But that can be a nightmare, he said, if a troop is deployed or is living too far away to keep an eye on the property. “That’s gnawing away at you and at the same time we have very high standards and expectations for our soldiers, noncommissioned officers and leaders,” he said.

Navy Command Master Chief Scott Fleming, executive assistant to the master chief petty officer of the Navy, noted the proliferation of used car lots, payday lenders and pawn shops outside the gates of many military installations. People assume everyone knows that some of these businesses may be shady, he said, “but does that knowledge really exist?”

Technology now offers questionable lenders a way to also reach inside the gate. It’s all-too easy to find financial deals, as well as outright scams, on the Internet, said Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Robert L. Frank, special assistant to the chief master sergeant of the Air Force.

The leaders all called for better financial education and information that’s tailored to a young generation. “Sitting in an auditorium and getting death by PowerPoint doesn’t work with today’s soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines,” Sgt. Maj. of the Marine Corps Micheal P. Barrett said.

And it’s got to be information that makes sense rather than a flood of overwhelming information, said Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard Michael P. Leavitt. Finding ways to reach troops and their families will require leadership at all levels, he added.

At the same time, the military needs to keep in mind the older service member who isn’t confronting issues such as purchasing a first car or home, said Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Denise Jelinski-Hall, National Guard Bureau’s senior enlisted leader. “We also have to take into consideration that service member that is perhaps providing for an elderly parent or grandparent,” she said. The Guard has instituted programs to help, but there’s “always more that we can do.”

The leaders expressed their gratitude that forums such as this one are spotlighting the importance of financial education and awareness.

The military welcomes all the help it can get regarding financial issues, Gills said. “Our young men and women ... -- deployed, redeployed and deployed again -- shouldn’t have to worry about how they’re going to pay their bills and put food on the table for their families.”

If you’re looking to become more financially fit, contact Military OneSource or your installation financial advisor.


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Related Sites:
AFPS' Family Matters Blog


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