Financial Readiness Equals Mission Readiness, Official Says

By Sgt. Sara Wood, USA
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 18, 2006 - Servicemembers and their families need to learn the importance of financial management and smart saving practices, so the Defense Department is focusing its efforts to make sure troops are prepared for the future, a senior DoD official said here yesterday.

"One of the most important aspects of our responsibility at DoD is to help military families with their quality of life and with the programs and activities that will help them have a full and successful life that we think the military offers," said Leslye Arsht, deputy undersecretary of defense for military community and family policy. "We've worked hard to put together a comprehensive program of financial assistance and guidance to help military families move toward a culture of saving and planning for the future."

One of the initiatives DoD is pursuing is a program called Military Saves. This program is under America Saves, a nationwide campaign in which a broad coalition of nonprofit, corporate and government groups helps individuals and families save and build wealth.

The idea behind Military Saves is to encourage military families, particularly young families, to start saving early for retirement and to build a financial safety cushion to use in case of emergencies, Arsht said. Having this cushion will prevent families from seeking short-term loans, which often come with high interest rates, she said.

"The military pay system makes it really easy for you to do these allocations in your paycheck," she said. "These small amounts of money - 10, 20 dollars a month - actually adds up to quite a bit when you do it on a regular basis."

Another program DoD recently launched is Moneywise in the Military, a traveling conference done in partnership with the PBS television network that addresses topic such as staying out of debt, bankruptcy, home ownership, saving and insurance. The first of these conferences was held Sept. 30 at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and was hosted by Kelvin Boston, host of the PBS television series, "Moneywise."

Moneywise in the Military proved to be popular in its first conference, drawing 200 people on a Saturday afternoon, Arsht said. Boston is a popular television personality who directs his regular programming to middle- and low-income Americans, but has adapted it for military families, she said.

"We see these as very popular activities for every age group, but we think especially important for our young members and their families," she said.

Moneywise in the Military will travel to five installations around the country, and possibly to more locations as DoD develops its relationship with PBS, Arsht said.

DoD has developed partnerships with nonprofit financial planners and organizations that work through family centers, providing counseling and to help military members in financial trouble, Arsht said. DoD leaders also encourage servicemembers to use financial institutions on military bases, which offer short-term loans with low interest rates, she said.

"Financial readiness is equivalent to mission readiness," she said. "We have records and history that show if you are worried about your finances, you're not going to be as ready or as focused on the mission. So we want to help families address these issues before they become a crisis and to really encourage them to make these sounder financial choices."

Most military families get into trouble when small emergencies come along and they're already stretched thin financially, Arsht said. DoD's financial readiness campaign aims to teach servicemembers how to save and plan for these emergencies, so they're prepared and ready to do their job, she said.

"Because we see financial stability and financial readiness as equating with mission readiness, it's really important to DoD to be able to help our families make good choices, and to start this culture of saving that will keep them from getting into the cycle of debt," she said.

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