BAGHDAD - Guard members from the Florida Army National Guard's 1153rd Financial Management Detachment have been working hard to resolve military pay issues for Soldiers at Victory Base Complex and Forward Operating Base Union III.
Many of these Guard members feel proud of the responsibilities they have to their fellow service members in Iraq.
"I feel like I'm a part of history," said Army Staff Sgt. Kimberly Stevenson, chief of military pay for the 1153rd FMD at the Camp Liberty Finance Office on VBC. "We're National Guard, and so there's something very deep in your heart that you feel privileged to be a part of something like this."
As Guard members who share the same deployed environment and personal concerns as their customers, 1153rd FMD personnel are well aware of the stress that financial difficulties can create.
"You almost take it personally when they're having a pay problem, because you really do want to help," Stevenson said.
This understanding is evident to many who visit the finance office here, where pay personnel strive for timely responses to their customers.
"From the time a Soldier comes in with a pay issue, we make every attempt to resolve that within 72 hours," she said. "However, the goal is to try to answer pay questions immediately, when possible."
For some military pay staff, that means occasionally sacrificing down time to get the job done.
"We do get stressed out when we don't know how to help a Soldier or resolve it quickly enough," Stevenson said. "But, I know every one of my Soldiers feels the same way. At 6 o'clock at night you don't want to talk about work because you just want to relax for a few minutes, but you go back and work it till 10 o'clock, trying to fix it."
To better assist with finance issues, Guard members are encouraged to address pay concerns as soon as they surface.
"You can put it off so much, but it adds up," she said. "Pay, to me, is the most important thing. That keeps the mortgage going and the family happy."
Many of the major finance issues that bring Soldiers in for assistance come from them not properly addressing problems early on, she said.
"We see a lot of that here, such as, people not getting [their basic allowance for housing], that's due to them, because they didn't turn in the appropriate paperwork," she said. "Some of these are taking a long time to resolve, but it does feel good once you complete that for the Soldier."
Stevenson recommends that Soldiers stay informed of their basic pay by reviewing their leaves and earnings statements by logging on regularly to MyPay, the online self-service tool from the Defense Finance and Accounting Service.
"I had one Soldier come in [and] he hadn't looked on MyPay for a couple of months ... one day he looked, and he hadn't been paid for two months," Stevenson said. "What he thought was a simple problem, was a really big problem because his expiration term of service hadn't been put into the system."
Even with the convenience of direct deposit, Soldiers are advised to still check their pay regularly to ensure it is accurate.
"We always tell people [to] look at your LES's," said Army Spc. Cayce Hickey, the customer service noncommissioned officer in charge for military pay. "I go into my bank account twice a month and make sure that pay is there. I know what [the amount] should be. If it's not that, then that's when I go and I start asking questions."
If there is a pay issue, resolving it means tracking down paperwork and contacting various unit personnel offices. That keeps the military pay staff of the 1153rd FMD the busiest, Stevenson said.
Being personally prepared at the beginning of a deployment helps streamline the process of addressing issues later, should they arise.
During pre-deployment, Soldiers should have their affairs in order by reviewing any associated paperwork and bringing copies of important documents, said Army Sgt. Jason Johnson, a certifier in the disbursing section in the finance office.
"[Before deployment] a lot of units are really distracted with pay issues and also other personnel stuff," Johnson said. "We're finding out they don't have their stuff together, and [some] Soldiers have had issues since 2008."
Ongoing communication with the finance office helps servicemembers avoid many pay issues altogether.
"If you have a child, come let us know," Hickey said. "If you move duty stations, come let us know. If you have any significant life changes, come in and let finance know, even if we just tell you that we don't need to know that, at least you're not putting yourself in debt or missing out on money that you're eligible to get."
Many of the finance Soldiers are aware of the impact of their daily duties on deployed servicemembers.
"It's very important because no one [works] for free," Johnson said. "If we're taking care of their needs, or they have a problem, and they perceive that we are working hard to resolve it and get them some answers, they're going to be more focused on their mission."