Fort Lewis Tax Center 'new experience' for NCO
February 20, 2009
By Bob Reinert
FORT LEWIS, Wash. - Staff Sergeant Felimon Mogos couldn't have predicted that he would wind up as the NCO in charge of the Fort Lewis Tax Center.
After all, his wife, Diseree, had always handled all of their family finances, and Mogos had never even filed his own federal tax return before this year.
"This is all a new experience to me," said Mogos, a trained cook.
When he got to Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 555th Engineer Brigade, last fall from Fort Hood, Mogos discovered there was no available slot in his MOS. Then he was assigned to Capt. Steve Silver of the Staff Judge Advocate. Silver, a mobilized reservist, was to run the Tax Center and needed Mogos as his NCOIC.
Mogos, 30, admitted that he was a bit intimidated at first, but he's a good Soldier and no stranger to transitions. He came to the U.S. from his native Eritrea in 1987, joined the Army after graduating from high school in 1997 and has served in supply and as a mechanic during two deployments.
"I realized it's mostly soldiering that I have to mainly concern myself with," Mogos said. "And once the Soldiers are trained, as far as doing taxes, then everything else fell into place."
Watch the man they call "Sergeant Mo" move around the Tax Center answering questions and calls, and you'd guess he's been at this type of work for a long time.
"He's an outstanding Soldier," Silver said. "We would have had a Tax Center even if he wasn't assigned to us, but it wouldn't have been anywhere near as good as it is. He's really made it all possible."
Silver, who also came in with no tax experience, relied pretty heavily on Mogos at the outset.
"He got assigned to me pretty early on and (has) been right there with me the whole time and helped me figure out stuff," Silver said. "A lot of times, I would just think something and somehow he'd read my mind and make it happen."
The Tax Center inherited the former Enlisted Spouses Club building near the main gate. It was empty when Mogos got there.
"Sergeant Mo, he figured out where all the furniture was, how to get it here," Silver said.
Mogos is in charge of 15 Soldiers borrowed from various units on post to serve as tax preparers. The center also has two civilian employees and two civilian volunteers.
"He creates an atmosphere where it's good camaraderie for the Soldiers. They enjoy the work," said Silver of Mogos.
"Most important, of course, they get the job done, and they're doing a great job with it. I credit Sergeant Mo with a lot of that."
The Tax Center staff had recorded some impressive numbers through Feb.. 9. They had filed 1,470 federal returns worth nearly $4.7 million. Their free services had saved filers about $306,000 in fees they would have paid on the outside.
"We're saving the Soldiers here, and their families, a lot of money, and we're getting them the refunds they're entitled to," Silver said. "Our Soldiers are doing a great job."
Less than seven percent of the center's returns had been rejected by the IRS. Silver said most of those were because the filer's name didn't match his or her Social Security number. That's why filers are strongly encouraged to bring their Social Security cards with them when they come to the center.
"Every return is reviewed before it's submitted to the IRS," Silver said.
Mogos said the center is running much more smoothly than at the beginning.
"When we first opened up, everybody was a little nervous actually doing taxes of people rather than the practicing that we've done," said Mogos of the staff. "I have full confidence in all of them to prepare taxes on their own."
And judging by the daily turnout at the Tax Center, so do Soldiers and their families.
"We're constantly busy," Mogos said. "Even before we open up every morning, our line stretches around ... the building."
Bob Reinert is a reporter with Fort Lewis' Northwest Guardian.