News: Fort Carson program educates soldiers on money
Story by Andrea Stone
FORT CARSON, Colo. - With the holidays around the corner, the temptation to spend beyond a budget grows, whether it’s gift giving, travel home or big-money purchases. It’s a time when the command financial noncommissioned officers are busy.
“It’s that time of year where we tend to see a lot of things that shouldn’t happen,” said Staff Sgt. James Fowler, CFNCO, 1st Battalion, 68th Armor Regiment, 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division. “Instead of paying rent, someone will fly home for the holidays and then, of course, they’ll be in our office.”
The purpose of the program is to help soldiers and families who are in need and provide them the tools to improve their situations.
“We have a lot of young soldiers. The military is their first paycheck. What we share with leadership is this: We teach our soldiers how to march. We teach them how to shoot. And now we need to teach them how to manage their personal finances,” said Fred Lewis, CFNCO trainer/coordinator for Army Community Service.
“If soldiers are financially sound, they can be more mission focused,” he said. “It takes out the stress from their everyday life if they have a solid budget, if they have someone to come alongside them to guide them in financial issues.”
The CFNCO is the first stop for soldiers needing Army Emergency Relief, Santa’s Workshop or other emergency financial services, but the help doesn’t stop after the initial need is met.
“We’re going to set up a counseling session and explain what a budget is, how a budget works and then give you some of the tools to work it out on your own, but when kids are involved, we’re going to help the kids,” said Staff Sgt. Paxton Wefenstette, CFNCO, 1st Special Troops Battalion, 1st ABCT, 4th Infantry Division.
When soldiers are looking for help from AER, their financial NCOs don’t determine whether or not they receive the help, but they do assist the soldier in navigating the process.
“(We) set people up for success, make sure the paperwork is complete, so when they show up (at ACS), all they’re doing is signing a piece of paperwork,” he said.
Not just anyone can become a CFNCO.
“The soldier has to be interviewed because that soldier has to be financially responsible themselves in order to give advice on financial issues,” Fowler said.
The noncommissioned officers chosen for the program go through a weeklong training session to help them learn how to counsel others on financial issues, Wefenstette said. They also are required to train directly with more experienced CFNCOs.
The program has been at Fort Carson for almost 20 years. Some other installations also have CFNCOs, but it’s not an Army-wide program.
“The concept is, if the soldier sees someone who looks like them, maybe they’ll be more open to talking about their financial issues,” Lewis said.
Even those who aren’t in debt can benefit from the services the program offers.
“There are some people who are out of debt, who are well-off, and what we can do for them is set them up with an appointment with a representative to go over investing,” Fowler said. “We do a lot of referrals.”
The role of the CFNCO is broader than just financial, though. They are a liaison between soldiers and the services ACS offers.
“There are so many people out here that don’t know what ACS even is, never even been here, and it’s our job to educate them about that,” Wefenstette said.
“What I encourage the CFNCOs to do is do a holistic interview and not just focus on the financial piece, but capture what the soldier really needs,” said Lewis.
The program provides education, but CFNCOs are also a liaison to leadership, helping commanders understand the issues in the unit.
“The CFNCO provides classes on how to read a Leave and Earnings Statement, how to prepare a budget, how to eliminate debt,” Lewis said.
Heading into the holidays, Fowler and Wefenstette encourage soldiers to live within their means.
“If you don’t have it, don’t spend it,” Fowler said. “Even if you think you’re OK with finances, put a budget in place. A lot of soldiers don’t know where their money goes, so they just spend it. The majority of them have the money to get by, they just don’t know how to manage it.”