Soldiers headed to Iraq worry about economy

By: AP
By: AP

FORT RILEY, Kan. (AP) -- Soldiers and families who deal with enough stress during 12-month deployment to Iraq say they're now keeping a little closer eye on their finances.

Turmoil in the credit and financial markets has members of the 2nd Brigade of the 1st Infantry watching their money closely and planning for emergencies. They know their paychecks are secure, but it's their investments, however small, that make them worry.

Command Sgt. Maj. Julia Kelly is not amused with the talk of bailing out Wall Street with $700 billion when taxpayers are expected to pay for their own tough times. Kelly is trying to sell a house in Billings, Mont., knowing that some properties in that area have been on the market for as long as three years.

"I'm feeling that pressure right now with that," said Kelly, adding that she didn't want to find a renter because the last one cost her money in repairs.

About 3,700 soldiers will be leaving for Iraq in the next few weeks, some in coming days. While in Iraq, their pay will be tax free and they will receive bonuses for being in a hazardous locale. Soldiers with families will receive an extra $250 per month.

Kelly said she was telling her soldiers to be smart because the extra money won't last. Many soldiers never have balanced a checkbook or see credit cards as easy money, without realizing the consequences until the bills come due, she said.

She's setting an example by putting aside some for herself - maybe for a motorcycle or furniture when she returns - and paying off loans and credit cards with the rest.

"I want to be debt free when I come out of this deployment," Kelly said.

Watching Congress debate a bailout package frustrates Kelly. It's hard to tell soldiers to be responsible when there's an expensive plan to help Wall Street and banks out of their financial quagmire, she said.

"If I am a taxpayer and have to be responsible for what we get into, why are we doing that with our financial institutions?" Kelly asked. "Why not take the money and apply that to the people who have the loans? Pay people two months of their mortgage. You'd be surprised what that would do."

Sgt. Robert Tressider and his wife, Rozine, plan to put money in a savings account while he is gone.

"Something always happens when they leave," Rozine Tressider said.

This will be the sergeant's third deployment. He didn't have a financial plan the first time, but saved money during the second to take a family vacation.

The family will do the same when he returns next year, plus have some money left to buy other things they have wanted. Tressider said the family plans to live the next 12 months as if they don't have the extra money coming in, staying on a regular budget.

Fort Riley provides families with counseling and programs to assist them financially, including emergency funds that can be distributed by a unit's chain of command on a case-by-case basis. Each unit has a family readiness group that holds regular meetings for spouses to discuss issues, including finances.

Maj. Nate Bond, spokesman for the division, watched a TV set as the Dow rose Tuesday morning after falling 778 points on Monday. He viewed the recent string of stock market declines as an opportunity.

"I'm buying now. Sound financial planning keeps people from panicking in a time like this," he said.

Bond said some young soldiers will blow their extra pay on a new car or other high-end items instead of saving it, but a good number will take advantage of Army savings programs.

First Sgt. Anton Hillig and his wife, Sandi, consider themselves in that category. Hillig called deployment his "time to save."

Of course, war's dangers mean the separation is never easy for families, regardless of finances.

"It's not the first thing on my mind. There are things that are more important," Sandi Hillig said.

On the Net:
Fort Riley: http://www.riley.army.mil

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