For the next four months, 26 IRS-trained and certified Soldiers, Marines and civilian volunteers will be busy helping people prepare and file their 2015 tax returns.

The staff are part of the Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall Consolidated Tax Center, which opened for business during a formal grand opening Jan. 20 on the Fort Myer portion of the joint base. The center provides cost-free federal and state income tax return preparation and e-filing for military personnel and families during the 2016 tax season.

"We have a lot of quality personnel and expertise here," said U.S. Army Capt. Christopher Donlin, tax center officer-in-charge. "And even our beginners [new tax preparers] will build confidence with every tax return that they do."

The center is located on the second floor of Bldg. 205 at 101 Bloxon Street on Fort Myer.

The grand opening was not short on leader attendance: U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Bradley A. Becker, commanding general, Joint Force Headquarters National Capital Region and the U.S. Army Military District of Washington and JFHQ-NCR/MDW Command Sgt. Maj. Timothy A. Guden both attended. JBM-HH Commander Col. Mike Henderson and Henderson Hall's Headquarters and Service Battalion Commander Marine Corps Col. Andrew Regan both attended along with their staffs.

During the ceremony, Becker thanked tax center volunteer staff for notable preparations made to assist military-affiliated personnel during the entire 2016 tax season, to include increased engagement online with military-affiliated customers, including consistent updates and photos on Facebook.

Increased online engagement for 2016 tax season

"This office ran a Facebook page last year, but my idea was to not only inform customers about our opening and closing times, but [to post] pictures of the waiting area to suggest 'This is what your wait time will look like right now,'" said Donlin.

He says by leveraging social media, his team is able to "give people who are busy some predictability of how long they could be here," he said.

Pictures of the tax center waiting area will be posted on Facebook "several times" during the average business day between 8:30 a.m. and 4 p.m. The social media site will also allow volunteer staff to inform customers about changes to hours in case of inclement weather.

"I think using this tool will allow us to assist more people, because everything is being handled on a walk-in basis," Donlin said.

But in lieu of spending time in long lines of customers, which could likely spike in March, Donlin said he encourages people with simple tax returns to visit the tax center immediately.

"The only potential customers who probably have everything they need to get their taxes done are [those] with very simple tax returns," he said. "A lot of other people are still waiting on documents for retirement income, investment income, student loans, mortgage interest write-offs--banks have different times when they send those documents out--a lot of these documents will be released over the next few weeks, and so March is when a lot of people will make getting their taxes done a priority."

Change in service for the 2016 tax season

The tax center will not be able to provide some services that it did last year, according to Philip Jussel, senior paralegal for JFHQ-NCR/MDW.

Only individual tax returns, not business tax returns, can be prepared due to regulations that prohibit government assistance to most business interests, and because the IRS considers tax preparation part of the cost of running a business, he said.

Additionally, three categories of personnel will not be able to use the tax center's services: people earning more than $300,000 per year, retired reservists who are not yet drawing their pensions and reserve component members who are not on active duty for more than 29 days.

Activated reserve component members will need to bring a copy of their active duty orders to the CTC as proof.

The tax center is open Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.

For more information on the JBM-HH Consolidated Tax Center, call 703-696-1040 or visit their Facebook page at www.facebook.com/MYERTAXCENTER.

Pentagram Staff Writer Arthur Mondale can be reached at awright@dcmilitary.com.