FORT SILL, Okla. (Dec. 19, 2013) -- The holiday seasons is upon us and after the first of the year, comes another season -- tax season.

Yes, the income tax filing season is just around the corner and the Fort Sill Legal Assistance Office is busy training tax preparers to help eligible military personnel, their family members and military retirees file their tax returns.

Sixteen Soldiers are participating in a two-week initial training program which will prepare them to take the IRS exams to be certified tax preparers, according to Capt. Joseph Levin, the Fort Sill Income Tax Assistance Center (ITAC) officer in charge.

"The Soldiers are completing two weeks of training led by Barbara Schreckengost, a tax professional. That training will get them ready to take the advanced level military-specific exams. Today they are studying the tax credits section, which covers earned income credit, education credits and anything of that sort," Levin said. "These Soldiers are from individual units around post, and they are assigned to the tax center for the duration of the tax season. Most of them either volunteered or were volunteered by their units. Once they take the IRS exam they will receive their certification by the end of December. Between their certification time and when the tax center officially opens they will receive additional training in tax scenarios. We basically take returns we have seen in the past, remove the personal information from them and put fake names in. Then the Soldiers prepare them as if they were real tax returns," he said.

Schreckengost, or "Miss Barb" to her students, is no stranger to the ITAC program at Fort Sill. She is a trained tax professional and ran the program here for four years before following her husband, Maj. Keith Schreckengost, to Fort Hood, Texas. She came back to help train a new group of tax preparers to work in the center.

"This program is dear to me because it helps military personnel. People know me in the community and that helps them have confidence that these Soldiers are being trained to help the military families. I specifically focus on all things that are military-related that they may not find out about otherwise," said Schreckengost. "It's a wonderful service because it is free to military personnel, their families and military retirees - people who may not have a lot of income to go out and pay a professional to prepare their taxes for them. It saves them money and it is such a benefit. We try to make them aware that they can have these deductions."

One of the Soldier students in the class is Pfc. Joshua Ritchie, a wheeled vehicle mechanic serving with 3rd Battalion, 13th Field Artillery. He volunteered to work at the tax center because it sounded interesting, even though he has only done his own taxes a couple times before.

"I have always wanted to learn more about doing the full-length tax forms. It will help me and my family, and let me help other Soldiers as well. This is my first year to do this and the training is great.

'Miss Barb' is a fantastic instructor. She has taught me so much, especially since I came in here not knowing anything about taxes," said Ritchie.

"A lot of people are misinformed as to what they can and cannot claim. I've actually learned a lot with regard to what I can claim doing this training. For example, Soldiers buy a lot of uniforms. In this class we learned that uniforms are not deductible on your taxes. It doesn't matter how many you buy, you can't claim them.

"Overall, I am learning it pretty easy and I would like to extend my learning [of taxes] because we are only able to learn so much here," he said.

Levin said the center will have a grand opening ceremony Jan. 16, and will begin regular hours Jan. 21 and be open through April 15. The tax center is on the fourth floor of the Welcome Center, Building 4700 in the Legal Assistance Office. The center is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

"The tax services is free for all eligible members. They need to bring their Social Security card, the Social Security card of anyone they are claiming as a dependent, their military ID card and any documentation that are relevant for tax preparation. We will be happy to look through their documents to make sure they have everything they need," Levin said.

Most returns are submitted through electronic filing, except for certain states that still require paper returns to be filed. The vast majority are E-filed, he said.

Levin also emphasized that if a Soldier, family member or military retirees is claiming a family member, especially an adult family member, who cannot come to the tax center, they will need a power of attorney to include that person on their return.

"If a person's spouse is deployed, the IRS has a power of attorney form that is strongly recommended for military personnel. But if you have a different power of attorney form, we can help you complete the military power of attorney, too," he said. "We're doing a lot of training to be ready to help our Fort Sill folks. We'll be here, ready to go when they need us."