FORT LEE, Va. – The Department of Defense is arming military members to fight battles of a different kind – those that involve them falling prey to predatory lending, credit card debt and a host of other financial-related issues affecting mission performance.
The weapons being used? Policies, advocacy and training provided throughout the course of military careers to help troops navigate a maze of common and complicated financial matters.
Bob Trull, a certified personal financial counselor, is among those on the frontlines. Assigned to the Marine Corps Detachment and functionally aligned with the Army Community Service Financial Readiness Program here, he is primarily charged with helping Team Lee members advance their money management skills.
“My role is really educating service members and their families, equipping them with information and talking through those details to help them make decisions,” he said.
Trull works out of the Marine Corps barracks adjacent to the MCD headquarters building at the corner of Mahone Avenue and Battle Drive. Much of his time is spent providing basic instruction to new Marines on topics such as purchasing vehicles, developing budgets, and building credit and savings.
“A lot of the Marines come in with a blank slate from a financial standpoint,” he said. “Maybe this is their first steady paycheck, and so, the learning centers on fundamentals.”
Trull’s physical location provides an easily accessible portal to the “fundamentals.” His office – located a few feet from a busy dayroom – is often used for counseling sessions through formal request, but much of the advice he doles out is at whatever spaces Marines feel comfortable.
“A lot of the counseling is done by ‘walking around,’” said Trull. “Part of my role is to be out and about where the service members are. And so, I will hang out at their dayrooms and their schools and work with their command to see how I can access them.”
Trull said he attends numerous installation events to market the program, provide face familiarity and be available as needed.
“I have to be (consistently) present so people get comfortable with me being around,” he said. “It’s all about that personal connection – being there to talk to folks, asking them what’s going on with their lives, asking them what’s going on with their financial situation.”
Those financial lives include that of Marine cadre who present a different set of challenges, he noted.
“They are older and have typically been in (the military) longer,” he said, “and they typically have more complex financial issues going on like estate planning, debt management, investing and retirement planning beyond TSP.”
The Thrift Savings Plan is the government version of a 401K in the civilian world.
Trull said his duties as a personal financial counselor differ from that of an “advisor” who offers investment recommendations and stock market strategies.
“We can discuss concepts,” he said, “but in terms of specific financial advice, we’re not licensed financial advisors.”
Trull, the son of a Navy veteran, said he is optimistic that his reputation will grow as a valuable resource for community members.
“One, I’m familiar with military programs and issues, and I’m not trying to sell you anything,” he said. “I’m not coming with any bias other than helping you make the best decision possible.”
Along with his stated objectivity, Trull said troops can feel confident the contents of their discussions with him are not shared.
“The expectation of confidentiality is really to try and create a comfortable space where troops can become informed to make the best decisions possible,” he said.
Trull is among those supporting the installation FRP. It includes three other counselors. Last year, the program provided financial literacy instruction to more than 7,200 troops at the Sustainment Center of Excellence.
DOD’s Office of Financial Readiness primarily funds FRPs. The organization’s website – finred.usalearning.gov – offers advice and tips on a myriad of financial issues such as buying a new or used car, saving money on taxes and successful investing. It even boasts a section for kids and teens.
To contact Trull, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or call 571- 422-8357. Sessions can be conducted in-person, telephonically or via Zoom. Community members also can contact the FRP office for assistance at 804-734-6388. Visit lee.armymwr.com to see the list of classes they offer every month.