Archive for March, 2013

FINRA Foundation Military Spouse Fellowship Application Period Open From March 1 – 31

Posted by Jason Van Steenwyk

National Military Family Association logoThe Association for Financial Counseling and Planning Education® (AFCPE®) in association with the National Military Family Association and the FINRA Investor Education Foundation is pleased to announce the FINRA Foundation Military Spouse Accredited Financial Counselor® Fellowship. Military spouses can apply to become a member of the 2013 class of fellows until March 31, 2013. This program provides military spouses with the education necessary to enter the financial counseling career field.

The fellowship covers the costs associated with completing the Accredited Financial Counselor® (AFC®) training and the first two attempts at both exams. Upon successful completion of the program and required practicum, the participant will be awarded the Accredited Financial Counselor® designation from AFCPE®.

Many employers such as credit unions, financial aid offices, and community housing agencies need well-trained, ethical and caring financial counselors to meet the increasing demand for financial counseling services. Military spouses can fill this need while building a rewarding career that is flexible enough to meet the demands of the military family lifestyle. Applications are accepted online and are due by midnight ET March 31, 2012.

 

(Press Release, Reprinted from the Military Family Association, http://www.militaryfamily.org.)

Fundamentalist Christians in Military are “Fascistic Tsunami” and “Internal National Security Risk”, says Huffington Post Blogger

Posted by Jason Van Steenwyk

Fundamentalist influence in the military?The Huffington Post video feature, “Bombing for Jesus,” says that “a new report by a national security expert says that fundamentalist Christianity is rampant in the U.S. military, and that military leaders actively promote evangelical beliefs.”

Among the HuffPo panel of experts: Blake Page, a former military cadet who resigned from West Point because of his objections to improper endorsement of Christianity by West Point officials. Another expert – the author of the study – is retired Lt. Col. Jim Parco, a professor of economics at Colorado College. Parco also taught for years at the Air Force Academy, which did have some problems in recent years with the improper influence of officers on religious beliefs and practices of cadets. Parco’s survey, however, came up with some pretty trivial instances of the imposition of beliefs:

  1. Some national security Powerpoint presentations to the President contained motivational imagery combined with Bible verses.
  2. A bus driver taking some Air Force cadets to the range had a Christian radio station playing on the bus.
  3. Former Cadet Blake objected to the presence of a cross on an emblematic shield in use at West Point, among a series of other perceived slights to secular, agnostic, atheists or otherwise non-Christian cadets.

Mikey Weinstein, the president of the Military Religious Freedom Association and one of the panelists on the discussion – along with a former West Point cadet who quit the Academy because of what he believed was a pattern of undue influence on the religious practices of cadets – posed the issue thus:

When you mix this version… of dominion Christianity, of this fundamentalist Christianity, with our weapons of mass destruction…and the very nature of the draconian spectre of command influence which grants complete access to these weapons of mass destruction… it’s an internal national security threat.”

Weinstein, in part, objects to a DoD contract held by an organization called “Club Beyond,” which has a contract to recruit and evangelize military schoolchildren. (He expands on this here.)

Amusingly, Weinstein also refers approvingly to the “late, great Howard Zinn,” the communist historian and author of The Peoples’ History of the United States.

And that’s where Weinstein comes off the rails. Right around the 24 minute mark and following, Weinstein states:

We deal with with a fascistic tsunami of fundamentalist Christian exceptionalism and supremacy… It’s our way or the highway… It’s nuclear war. It’s using our weapons of mass destruction as an accelerant, a lubricant to bring a fundamentalist Christian version of a weaponized Jesus back here. They are promised, I kid you not, literally promised a 200 mile river, four and a half feet deep, filled with nothing but the human blood, their version of Jesus’s slaughter at the Battle of Armageddon, and they thirst for that…

Dominion Christianity. We’re fighting the Christian version of the Taliban. Not Christianity…Most of our members and supporters are Protestant and Roman Catholic. We’re dealing with a virulent version of this that wants bring about the end of the earth and use nuclear weapons because that’s what their version of the Bible says must be done.

The characterization is clearly a paranoid, fever-swamp fantasy of the reality of Evangelical and fundamentalist Christian belief patterns, and even if it were accurate, it would have nothing to do with the superficial incidents of inappropriate establishment or endorsement of religion cited by Page and Parco above.

 

The Actual Track Record of Religious Extremist Violence in the Military

Nidal Hassan (I won’t call him “Major”) killed 13 people and wounded 29 others in a radical Islam inspired mass shooting at Fort Hood in 2009.

Former sergeant Hasan Akbar killed two officers in a grenade and shooting attack at Camp Pennsylvania, Kuwait in 2003. Upon his arrest, he is reported to have stated, “You guys are coming into our countries, and you’re going to rape our women and kill our children.” Akbar also attempted to kill an MP with a pair of scissors.

Pfc. Naser Jason Abdo was convicted of attempted murder of federal employees and attempted use of weapons of mass destruction. He plotted to conduct a mass casualty-producing attack at a Fort Hood area restaurant popular with troops and base employees.

Hassan Abu-Jihaad, a former U.S. Navy sailor, was convicted of spying for Al Qaeda, disclosing the movements of U.S. Navy ships.

In another e-mail exchange with Azzam Publications, Abu-Jihaad described a recent force protection briefing given aboard his ship, voiced enmity toward America, praised Osama bin Laden and the mujahideen, praised the October 2000 attack on the U.S.S. Cole – which Abu-Jihaad described as a “martyrdom operation,” – and advised the members of Azzam Publications that such tactics were working and taking their toll. The e-mail response from Azzam Publications encouraged Abu-Jihaad to “keep up… the psychological warfare.”   

Ryan Gibson Anderson, a tanker and former member of the Washington Army National Guard, was convicted of espionage for attempting to pass secret information to Al Qaeda. He converted to Islam in 1999 and took the name Amir Abdul Rashid. FBI agents caught him on tape saying, “I wish to desert from the U.S. Army. I wish to defect from the United States. I wish to join al-Qaeda, train its members and conduct terrorist attacks.”

TSP Mobile Phone Apps May Cause Security Risks

Posted by Jason Van Steenwyk

TSP app is scam for identity theftDon’t download the new TSP app from the Apple App store. It’s bogus, and may be an effort to steal your account information.

According to a notice posted on the official Thrift Savings Account website, the Thrift Savings Plan has no official connection with any third party mobile or Web application.

These apps typically ask you to input confidential account information. While there are some legitimate applications out there, it is also possible for criminals to create a cell phone app, use it to lure individuals into giving up account numbers and passcodes, and then use the information to steal from your accounts. Any use of a third-party app may jeopardize the security of your Thrift Savings Plan accounts, warn TSP officials.

 

Other fraud and identity theft protection tips

Bogus apps aren’t the only security threat out there. There are a number of ways criminals could potentially target the money in your thrift savings plan. It behooves plan participants to understand the ways that TSP officials communicate, so you can more reliably identify any attempt at fraud.

1.)  Don’t give up your passcode, account number, PIN, Social Security number, or any other sensitive information to any contact from email, telephone or direct mail. Some scammers will try to convince you that they are doing a ‘security update’ of TSP accounts and email or call you, and direct you to a convincing-looking Web site to ‘verify’ your account information. You will never see any such request from the TSP. 

2.)  Never follow a link from an email account. The official TSP Web site is www.tsp.gov. If it doesn’t have a ‘.gov’ domain, it’s not the TSP. 

3.)  You will get mail from the TSP from time to time. All TSP mail comes postmarked Birmingham, Alabama. Also, all correspondence you receive from the TSP will already have your account number on it. Any correspondence from the TSP that doesn’t include your account number should be viewed with caution.

4.)  No one at the TSP needs to know your password and PIN. Never give it out to someone contacting you claiming to be with the TSP.

5.)  Know the official TSP contact info.

  • ThriftLine (1-TSP-YOU-FRST, 1-877-968-3778)
  • Fax number (1-866-817-5023)
  • TDD (1-TSP-THRIFT5, 1-877-847-4385)
  • TSP website, www.tsp.gov or By writing to the TSP at P.O. Box 385021, Birmingham, Alabama, 35238

6.)  Never call the TSP directly from a number provided to you in an email. Always go to the TSP Website (or bookmark this article) and get the phone numbers from there.

7.)  Don’t worry about threats to your account status. You will never hear legitimate TSP officials tell you your account will be closed if you don’t provide sensitive information to a Web site or telephone representative.

8.)  Use a secure browser. Per the TSP:

The TSP website is secured with an “extended validation certificate.” This simply means that if you visit www.tsp.gov and attempt to access your account using a high-security browser, the color green will appear in one of the following forms (depending on the type of browser you are using):

  • The address bar may turn green.
  • An icon from the Web server may appear with a green background.
  • “Thrift Savings Plan” may appear with a green background.
  • The appearance of the green color is a sure indication that you are NOT on a bogus TSP website. If the green does not appear, it could indicate a bogus website or it may simply mean that your browser cannot use the extended validation feature. In this case, stay suspicious and move on to the following verification steps.
  • The address bar at the top left on your browser should display www.tsp.gov.
  • When you enter account access to input your account number (or user ID) and password, the address bar on your browser should change from “http://” to “https://” and the security lock padlock icon should appear. If the padlock icon appears somewhere else on the page (such as at the bottom) but it does not also appear in the address bar at the top of your browser page, you are not on the TSP website. 

Overlooked Military Tax Deductions

Posted by Jason Van Steenwyk

Military tax deductionsIt’s that time of year again! Military members, as W-2 employees, don’t have all that many options when it comes to sidestepping a tax bite. Uncle Sam knows everything you make from the military, and except for certain pay earned in a combat zone and some special allowances like BAH, it’s nearly all taxable.

But there are some deductions and exemptions available to you – some applicable to routine work-related expenses that any employee can claim, and some only available to the military. 

Unreimbursed Employee Expenses

First of all, get familiar with this concept. Unreimbursed employee expenses are any ordinary and necessary expenses that are incurred for the convenience of an employer, for which you are not reimbursed. For it to be classified as ‘ordinary,’ it means that the expense is routine and commonly accepted in your profession, trade or business – whether formally required by an employer or not.

Generally, you can deduct these expenses to the extent they exceed 2 percent of your adjusted gross income (AGI).

Some examples:

Trade publications. Do you subscribe to military and defense-related trade journals or professional journals? These deductions are typically deductible if, combined with other unreimbursed employee expenses, they exceed 2 percent of your AGI.

Military uniforms for Guard and Reserve personnel. If you buy uniforms and you do not receive a uniform allowance, you can generally deduct the cost of these uniforms if local regulations restrict you from wearing the uniform off duty. You can’t deduct uniform costs if you are on active duty.

  • Military battle dress uniforms and utility uniforms that you cannot wear when off duty
  • Articles not replacing regular clothing, including insignia of rank, corps devices, epaulets, aiguillettes, and swords
  • Reservists’ uniforms if you can wear the uniform only while performing duties as a reservist

This is a curious rule, because civilian workers whose employers impose a specific uniform can generally deduct the cost of their uniforms. The rules that apply to the military are less favorable than those that apply to civilian employees..

The cost of obtaining a passport for work-related travel – to the extent you are not reimbursed.

Home office and storage. Is there an area of your home used exclusively for a home office and for storing your military gear? Some commanders and first sergeants in the reserve components have to maintain home offices just to keep up with the daily demands of running a unit that may be 50 miles or more from their homes. If you have a home office, or you have a significant amount of your home square footage devoted exclusively to storing gear and planning military activities (and to services provided for other employers, if any), you may be able to claim a deduction for the business use of your home. For example, if you have a 3,000 square foot home, and you have 150 square feet dedicated solely to a home office or storage, that’s 5 percent of your house payment or rent payment, plus a like percentage of utilities, that you may be able to claim. 

Legal expenses. If you have legal expenses that arise wholly out of the exercise of your job, and you pay out of your pocket rather than have a JAG attorney take care of it, that is generally a deductible unreimbursed employee business expense. Personal legal expenses are not normally deductible (unless they are related to preparing and filing income tax returns), but professional expenses are. However, if an attorney advises you on tax planning as part of a divorce, that portion of your lawyer’s fees attributable to tax advice is generally deductible.

Debt Repayments. Did you get a debt letter from DFAS on a Form 705? Did you owe the government money? Keep your records – you can generally deduct the amount you paid back to Uncle Sam. The methodology you can use depends on the amount of debt repaid: If it was $3,000 or less, you deduct the amount repaid from your income in the year in which you repaid it. It’s a miscellaneous itemized deduction, so it’s still subject to the 2 percent of AGI threshold. Use Schedule A to IRS Form 1040. You can’t use 1040EZ.

If the amount repaid is more than $3,000, on the other hand, you have a choice: You can choose to deduct the amount repaid in the year in which you paid it back, or you can have the loss deducted from your earnings in the tax year in which the loss occurred, and take a tax credit against this year’s liability. For best results, calculate your net taxes under both methods, and pick the method that works best for you. Note: You probably won’t find this functionality in the cheap, over-the-counter tax prep forms and free services. You may want to see a tax professional and explain the situation. For more information, see IRS Publication 525.

Unreimbursed Travel Expenses. If you have work-related travel expenses that require you to be away from home for more than a day or so, you can generally deduct the cost of lodging expenses, transportation and half of your meals. If you take your own car, you can either deduct the standard federal mileage rate (55½ cents per mile, as of this writing in March of 2013), or you can deduct actual expenses. You can also deduct rental car fees. However, if the military reimburses you for the use of your POV or provides or reimburses you for the rental car, you can’t take this deduction. You can also deduct for parking fees and tolls. 

Note: If you live more than 100 miles away from your armory or duty station and you are traveling to attend Guard or Reserve drills, you can deduct the cost of your hotel. These hotel costs are ‘above the line’ deductions, so you don’t need to meet the 2 percent of AGI threshold that normally applies to miscellaneous itemized deductions, including unreimbursed employee business expenses. 

Reporting: If you have reserve-related travel that takes you more than 100 miles from home, you should first complete Form 2106 or Form 2106-EZ. Then include your expenses for reserve travel over 100 miles from home, up to the federal rate, from Form 2106, line 10, or Form 2106-EZ, line 6, in the total on Form 1040, line 24. Subtract this amount from the total on Form 2106, line 10, or Form 2106-EZ, line 6, and deduct the balance as an itemized deduction on Schedule A (Form 1040), line 21.

You cannot deduct expenses of travel that does not take you more than 100 miles from home as an adjustment to gross income. Instead, you must complete Form 2106 or 2106-EZ and deduct those expenses as an itemized deduction on Schedule A (Form 1040), line 21.

Meals. Meals are deductible if you have to get them away from your home in order to do your job, or if they are a business-related entertainment expense. You can deduct half of the cost of your meals, or if you don’t want to keep a lot of records, you can base your deduction on the standard meal allowance for federal workers, which is $46 per day, as of tax year 2012. Special rates may apply for exceptionally expensive areas. For days you travel on, and days you return, you can base a pro-rated deduction on 3/4ths of the federal rate.

Trade Association Meetings and Conventions. Per IRS Publication 525, you can deduct entertainment expenses that are directly related to, and necessary for, attending business meetings or conventions of certain exempt organizations if the expenses of your attendance are related to your active trade or business. These organizations include business leagues, chambers of commerce, real estate boards, trade associations, and professional associations. 

Trips to the Armory. Ok, this can be an important one – especially for reserve unit commanders and first sergeants and other key personnel who have day jobs but are constantly going back and forth to the armory or duty station to take care of business. If you have a regular place of business during the week, and you have to go to the armory for whatever work-related reason on a day on which you are working your regular job, the IRS considers the armory a second place of business. So you can deduct miles going from one work place to another. But you can’t deduct those miles if you aren’t working your regular job that day.

You can also deduct travel expenses to meetings if they occur somewhere other than your main duty station.

Normally, for non-military, non-PCS moves, your new principal workplace must be at least 50 miles farther from your old home than your old workplace was. For example, if your old workplace was 3 miles from your old home, your new workplace must be at least 53 miles from that home. If you did not have an old workplace, your new workplace must be at least 50 miles from your old home. The distance between the two points is the shortest of the more commonly traveled routes between them.

However, members of the military who are moving on PCS orders do not have to meet the distance and time tests listed above.

Unreimbursed Moving Expenses. If you have to relocate because of a PCS, nearly any ordinary and necessary moving out-of-pocket expense that is not reimbursed by the government is deductible. File a Form 3903 to claim moving expenses. See IRS Publication 521 – Moving Expenses.

IRA Contributions – if you meet the income requirements for deductible contributions to a traditional IRA, you can claim these contributions as an adjustment to income. If you are active duty, or if you are a reservist on orders for more than 90 days, you are considered to be covered by a workplace retirement plan for the purpose of calculating your allowable deduction. Otherwise, your individual work arrangements or those of your spouse govern which table to use.

Dues. You can deduct professional dues, such as dues to the Reserve Officers Association, Military Officers Association of America, or Association of the United States Army. You can also deduct dues paid to medical, legal, engineering or other associations as long as your membership is work related. You can’t deduct officers’ club or NCO club dues, alas. 

Educational Expenses. You can usually deduct educational expenses if they do not qualify you for a new career or job, but can be reasonably construed to help you improve your performance in your current job. For example, if you are assigned as a forward ordering officer or you are in charge of planning and executing post maintenance and construction activities, you might take some classes in project management. However, this expense is not deductible if it provides you with a license or certificate that qualifies you to launch a new career. Education must be for THIS career, and not for future careers.

Selective Service System Going Away?

Posted by S.E. Davidson Parker

selective serviceUnder the loud roar of sequestration and the thundering of the withdrawal of United States troops from Afghanistan, Congress is quietly talking about the possibility of dismantling the Selective Service System. Representative Peter DeFazio (D-Oregon) and Representative Mike Coffman (R-Colorado) are in the process of creating a bill that would eradicate the Selective Service System and consequently, the possibility of a modern conscription. As of mid-March, 2013, the potential bill had not been introduced to the floor of the House.

The Selective Training and Service Act of 1940 created the Selective Service System and peacetime draft. The draft ended in 1973 but the registration requirement remained. Young men between the ages of 18 and 25 years are required to register for possible conscription under penalty of law. With 17 million men in its database, the Selective Service System, an independent agency under the Executive branch, has a 2013 budget of $24 million and 130 employees.

In January 2013 then Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta announced that the ban on female soldiers in combat positions was going to be lifted. Critics have questioned the timing and motive of this bill coming rather quickly after the lifting of the combat ban.

In addition, critics question the bill in terms of national security. While the armed forces have been an all-volunteer service since 1973, Selective Service Director Lawrence Romo calls the agency “an inexpensive insurance policy.” Others counter with the fact that the registration requirement was not in effect from 1975 until 1980 (when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan). Through the Soviet Afghan invasion and two Gulf Wars the U.S. military has maintained its health, strength, and viability. They also counter by pointing out the record numbers of voluntary enlistments immediately following the events of 9-11.

Until the formal presentation of the bill and adoption into law, all young men between the ages of 18 and 25 years old living in the United States must register with the Selective Services. U.S. male citizens living outside of the United States must also register. Online registration is quick and easy. Not registering limits your ability to receive student financial aid, get a federal job, participate in federal job training, or become a United States citizen. Prosecution and jail time is also a possibility, although it has not occurred since 1986.

 

Pass The Bill or the Troops Get It: Army Abruptly Suspends Tuition Assistance Program

Posted by Jason Van Steenwyk

Tuition Assistance cutsThe Army abruptly suspended its popular Tuition Assistance Program, effective Friday, March 8th, citing the combined budgetary constraints of sequestration and the looming potential expiration of the continuing resolution that funds Department of Defense operations and activities only through March 27th. Troops currently in school could finish out their terms, stated Army sources. But no new applicants would be accepted after 1700 Eastern Time on March 8th. (UPDATE: Even if you got in a registration prior to 1700 ET on the 8th, don’t expect it to be funded. An Army spokesperson informed us that funding had already been cut off. – Ed.)

The news came out with less than 24 hours to go before the deadline, and the notice and sent soldiers around the world flocking to computer terminals, trying to get in their applications. 

(UPDATE: Even if you got in a registration prior to 1700 ET on the 8th, don’t expect it to be funded. An Army spokesperson informed us that funding had already been cut off. Why the confusion over the deadline? According to the spokesperson, the Army intended to give no notice, specifically to avoid confusion. But Military Times got wind of the impending decision, forcing the Army to go public with the news sooner than they intended, and were forced to rush some of the communications. Hence you had soldiers standing in line trying to get their applications in on Friday. – JVS.)

The news affects all components of the U.S. Army, including the Reserve and National Guard.

The news only affects the federal Tuition Assistance program itself. Other popular veterans and military education programs are not affected at this time. Soldiers continue to pursue their educational goals with VA education benefits, if applicable, that include the Montgomery GI Bill-Active Duty, (Chapter 30), Montgomery GI Bill-Selected Reserve (Chapter 1606, Reserve Education Assistance Program (Chapter 1607), The Post 9/11 GI Bill, federal grants and federal financial aid. National Guard soldiers may also be eligible for state Tuition Assistance benefits.

Last fiscal year, some 201,000 soldiers in the Army alone enrolled in the Tuition Assistance program. The program provided $373 million to soldiers pursuing their educational goals. Using the program, 2,831 soldiers earned associate’s degrees, 4,495 earned bachelor’s degrees, and 1,946 completed graduate degrees. On average, that equates to about $40,229 per degree earned.

The U.S. Marine Corps has also suspended its tuition assistance program, and also announced that the cuts would also interrupt benefits for those already enrolled. The Air Force and Navy have not yet decided to do so, though the Defense Department has urged the service chiefs to consider slashing their funding for the program.

Sailors and airmen interested in participating in the program should enroll now, as the other services will likely follow suit in the next few days.

While troops putting their lives on the line are having their benefits cut, the Government continues to provide for the Lifetime Learning Credit and the American Opportunity Credit – both of which provide a dollar-for-dollar tax credit for attending college to those who meet the strict income thresholds.

Enlisted Ranks Hardest Hit

Nearly all officers already have bachelors’ degrees, though some enroll in the Tuition Assistance program to pursue graduate degrees. Officers who do so incur an additional service obligation, in exchange.

The program has a flat cap of $4,500 per enrollee for all ranks. That $4,500 value is a much greater percentage of compensation for a junior enlisted soldier or NCO than it is for officers. They are less likely to be able to afford to pay out of pocket for their educational expenses than officers. Lower-ranking troops will likely feel more pain from the decision than the officer corps.

Alternative Resources

The American Opportunity Tax Credit provides up to $2,500 per student each year for up to four years of college, while the Lifetime Learning Credit provides a tax credit of up to $2,000 annually. There is no cap on the number of years a taxpayer can claim the Lifetime Learning Credit. The income threshold for the full American Opportunity tax credit is an adjusted gross income of $80,000 ($160,000 for married couples filing jointly). Your credit amount is reduced for any amount you earn over those thresholds, and disappears entirely for those with incomes of $90,000 for singles and $180,000 for married couples filing jointly.

Most troops can qualify for the American Opportunity Tax Credit (though if all your income is tax-free combat zone income it might not do you much good).

The Lifetime Learning credit is a credit equal to 20 percent of the first 10,000 of qualified tuition. Credit eligibility begins to go away at an income of $47,000 per year for single individuals, and phases out completely at $57,000. For married couples, the thresholds are $94,000 and $114,000, respectively.

GI Bill

Soldiers can also use the GI Bill to pay for higher education courses, rather than tap into TA. However, as the Veterans of Foreign Wars points out, though, Tuition Assistance and the GI Bill have different missions. The Tuition Assistance program was developed to make it easier for discharged servicemembers to integrate into the civilian work force. Congress intended for the GI Bill education funding to benefit troops themselves, personally. The Tuition Assistance Program, on the other hand, was developed to benefit the military – under the assumption that the military would benefit from a more educated force.

In other news, the Obama Administration has announced that it intends to give some $450 million in foreign aid to Egypt. The Department of Defense is also providing matching contributions to civilian DoD employees who make contributions to their Thrift Savings Program. And the State of Colorado is all set to grant illegal immigrants in-state tuition while denying it to out-of-state American citizens and legal residents.

Happy Birthday, Captain Geisel

Posted by Kelli McKinney

Dr Seuss's Private SnafuThis week, kids across America read books and had parades to celebrate the birthday of one of the most beloved children’s authors of all time, Theodor Geisel a.k.a. Dr. Seuss, who would have turned a young 108 last Saturday. But before he became Dr. Seuss, Theo Geisel fought communism and encouraged troops using the weapon he was best suited for: his pen.

Geisel was an outspoken supporter of US intervention against Germany, and made his opinions known through political cartoons published in a magazine called PM. Wanting to make a more direct contribution to the war effort, Captain Theodor Geisel reported to the Animation Department of the U.S. Military’s First Motion Picture Unit in 1943. 

Under director Frank Capra, he animated training films, produced booklets and created documentaries. Two other later-to-be-famous animators, Chuck Jones and Friz Freleng (you might recognize them from Warner Bros’ Bugs Bunny), worked with Capt. Geisel to create a series called Private Snafu, about an enlisted man whose many screwups offered important lessons to the viewers.  Here’s a sampling of one of Private Snafu’s adventures.

Twenty-six Private Snafu short films were produced by Geisel and team, although a few others were produced by a different studio. They were produced in secret, intended for viewing only by Army service members, and after the war they were pretty much forgotten. 

After the war, Geisel and his wife moved to California, and he penned classics such as “Horton Hears a Who” and “The Cat in the Hat.”

For his contributions as a member of the US Armed Forces, for standing up against oppression and tyranny, and for encouraging literacy and creativity, we offer this humble poem:

 

When the tanks they did roll

They grumbled and growled

O’er a country with people

This man, he cried “foul”

 

He didn’t have brawn

Or muscle or gun

He put pen to paper

Stirring ‘most every one

 

He called on our companies

Our factories, our banks

On men and on women

To build armies and tanks

 

To stand up to Hitler

And do what is right

He helped rally the public

And prepare for the fight

 

When the war ended

Freedom he preserved

By teaching our children

The power of words

 

Happy birthday to you

Our friend Dr. Seuss

We thank you for sharing

Your wonderful voice.

Financing a Degree in Tough Economic Times

Posted by Christine Shelly

financing a college degreeWhen I first joined Grantham College of Engineering, now Grantham University, almost 13 years ago, the median annual tuition rate to attend an in-state four-year college or university was about $3,200/year. Out-of-state college tuition, also at a public four-year university, was about $9,300/year. Now, just over a decade later, the median annual tuition in-state is about $8,500/year. Out of state tuition is out of sight at about $20,000/year. That’s a lot of money to fork over – or in most cases, a lot of money to finance. According to the US Consumer Financial Protection Board, at the end of first quarter 2012, outstanding student debt totaled an estimated $1 trillion.

Another area that has changed quite a bit over the past decade is the job market. The unemployment rate in 2003 was 6 percent. At the end of 2012, the unemployment rate was hovering at around 8.1 percent – for veterans, that rate for 18-24 year olds is just over 20 percent. Think about that for a moment: one in every five veterans ages 18-24 is unemployed. The total unemployment rate for all veterans over the age of 18 is 7 percent. In January of 2013, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics reported 1,328 mass layoff actions (more than 50 employees were laid off at once), involving more than 134,000 workers. With federal furloughs looming and a number of employers making or considering reductions in workforce, competition for good jobs is fierce.

This picture may seem bleak, especially if you’re a prospective student or the parent of a prospective student. It may appear that the prospect of graduating with significant student loan debt is more likely than the prospect of graduating and securing a well paying job. But there are a number of ways for students to earn a degree without taking on significant financial debt at the same time. It may be even more important now, during tough economic times, to ensure your student is competitive by having a solid educational foundation.

The nonprofit group College Board authored a study in 2010 that compared median hourly wages of high school graduates with college graduates over time. For example, in 1982, the median hourly wage for high school graduates was about 50% lower than that of college graduates. Twenty-six years later, college graduates made more than double what high school graduates earned. This study is very similar to one completed by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. In that study, the results demonstrated that each additional year of education completed beyond high school results in increased hourly wages between 8%-13%. So what does this mean? Recent high school graduates and recent college graduates might be competing for some of the same jobs today – but in ten years, the college grad will be more likely to have a higher salary.

So how do we make college education less of a financial burden and more of a wise investment? Start by getting the facts. If you’re interested in a path of study at a particular school, ask for a line item cost estimate. Schools – especially those who participate in Department of Defense tuition assistance, Yellow Ribbon and GI Bill programs – are required to fully disclose costs. College cost calculators, like the one provided by Grantham University, are very useful tools. The best way to be prepared and build a financial plan is to know the facts.

If you’re a working adult considering college, your current employer may have a tuition assistance program or offer grants or scholarship money that would help offset your costs. Letting your employer know that you plan to attend school on your own time, at least in some cases, can demonstrate commitment to the company’s ongoing success. This is true especially if you plan to obtain a degree that will help you progress in your current field. If you aren’t sure whether or not your employer offers tuition reimbursement or other financial assistance, check with your HR department.

Another good resource for uncovering funding sources is your city or county public library. These places are often repositories for all kinds of civic information, including lists of local businesses and organizations who contribute to local scholarship and charitable funds. You can also do a simple Internet search using the search terms “scholarship funds” and your city or state’s name. Just use caution – no reputable, legitimate scholarship fund is going to ask you for bank information, a deposit, or social security number in order to apply for a scholarship.

If you are a member of the US Armed Forces, then you may have earned military education benefits that you, your spouse or your children can apply toward an education program. There are a number of ways to reduce the cost of education: CLEP testing, applying military training and service toward college credit, Tuition Assistance and the Post 9/11 G.I. Bill are just a few. Veterans’ education benefits, by and large, expire ten years after leaving the service, so it’s worthwhile to explore your options sooner rather than later.

Finally, when looking at potential colleges, take a good look at online education offerings through accredited institutions. Many online programs offer quality courses, certificates and programs of study, just like those offered at more traditional state schools. But many online programs come without the traditional fees and overhead costs, so the bill you receive is typically much smaller than what you’ll find at brick-and-mortar institutions. Plus, you can attend class and study on your own schedule – rather than adjusting your world to school, school fits into your world.

Despite the current uncertain economic environment, an online education is a solid choice to bolster your future prospects. Education benefits — military, local, and federal — plus the high quality and reduced cost of online programs will allow you to make the most of all available resources.

 

Ms. Shelly has spent more than a decade working in higher education. She currently serves as executive vice president for Grantham Education Corporation. Ms. Shelly is passionate about changing lives – about making college education accessible and affordable to more people and preparing students and graduates for success.

Operation Purple Camp Provides Free Summer Experience for Children of Deployed or Deploying Troops

Posted by Jason Van Steenwyk

Operation Purple CampApplications are now being accepted for Operation Purple Camp, a one-weekend long summer adventure especially for children of uniformed service members who have been, are currently, or will be deployed. 

Camp is free. You just have to spring for travel costs. 

These camps will enable your child or children between the ages of 7 and 17 (depending on the camp and dates) to experience a number of outdoor adventures with other children from all the services going through the same experience: The deployment of a parent or guardian.

The program is occurring at 14 different sites around the country. Specific activities vary by campsite, but frequently include things like rock climbing, archery, arts & crafts, swimming, hiking and ropes courses.

Check the link above to learn the dates at each site and what ages the camp will accept.

Specific activities vary by campsite and age cohort, but frequently include things like rock climbing, archery, arts & crafts, swimming, hiking and ropes courses.

These activities are incidental, however: The main purpose of the Operation Purple Camp is to help children develop some tools to help them cope with the stress of having a family member deployed.

They are open to children of servicemembers of all ranks, and in all the services, including the Coast Guard, National Health Service and National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), provided they have a family member who has been, is or will be deployed during this year’s “window” of September 2012 to December 2013.

Operation Purple Camp is affiliated with the Military Family Association – which just announced earlier this month that they received the sought-after four-star rating – the top possible score from CharityNavigator.com for efficiency and good stewardship of charitable donations – for the 10th year in a row. 

For more information about Operation Purple Camp, to fill out an application for your child, to volunteer or to make a much-needed contribution, visit the Military Family Association Website.

In addition to the camps for children, Operation Purple also sponsors family retreats and Healing Adventures – a special program for families of wounded servicemembers and their families. 

As Sequester Takes Hold, Military Schoolchildren Take it on the Chin

Posted by Jason Van Steenwyk

Military schools cut with sequestrationThere are two levels to the impact of sequestration on military schoolchildren. The first is the direct impact of the payroll cuts and mandatory furloughs to the Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA), the federal bureaucracy within the Department of Defense that runs schools located on military posts around the world. But military families send their children to off-post schools as well – and these schools are bracing for a sharp reduction in federal “impact” aid, which they rely upon to offset the expenses of educating military children.

This impact aid is important because military people who live on post do not typically pay property taxes and while these families have children that have to be educated, these families do not directly contribute to the property tax base that traditionally funds local schools.

To qualify for federal impact aid, schools must meet one of two criteria:

  • Either 400 students or 3% of the student body are children of military personnel; or
  • 1000 students or 10% of the student body are children of military (both active duty
  • and activated Guard and Reservist), DA, DoD, DOJ Civilians, or Government Contractors that work at federal locations/properties.

Schools can also qualify for federal funding if federal lands exempt from property tax make up more than 10 percent of the district.

Thus, sequestration will soon be affecting not just the children educated on military installations, but all schools with significant concentrations of military dependents in their student bodies. All told, schools across the country will probably lose some $60 million in sequestration cuts.  It is the Department of Education, not the Department of Defense, that administers Impact aid. But this impact aid is subject to the same sequestration cuts that affect nearly every ‘discretionary program’ in the budget.

Military Children Shortchanged – Even Before the Sequester

As disruptive as the cuts to Impact Aid may be under the sequestration, they are trivial compared to the ongoing impact of neglect and chronic underfunding. According to reporting by USAToday.

The program has distributed $896 million in Federal Impact Aid for the 2010-11 school year, according to the Department of Education — $1 billion less than what those school districts were entitled to receive under the funding formula. The amount actually distributed by Congress has steadily decreased. Since fiscal year 2005-06, it has dropped from $995 million to the current $896 million.

“When the federal government doesn’t keep its end of the bargain, teachers, students, and parents all suffer,” Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., says via e-mail. More than 200 school districts in his state depend on the aid, he says.”

The precise effects of the cuts are unknown and will vary from district to district and from school to school. Broadly, military families can expect a reduction in paid teaching staff, resulting in turn in bigger class sizes and more crowded rooms.

Since the local school district workers are not federal employees, they are not subject to mandatory furloughs. Instead, administrators at each district or school affected have more freedom to decide how to allocate the expected cuts in school funding. Funding for nonessential programs and extracurricular activities such as music and athletics could be cut back or eliminated.  We could also see rollbacks in funding after school day care or other district-funded programs and services.

Schools are already cutting back in anticipation of the cuts. One school eliminated math and science teaching positions and cut back baseball, cross-country and swimming.

If the cuts continue into the next fiscal year, some districts warn that some schools could close altogether, since they will not have funding to staff or maintain them.  

Categories