FORT HOOD, Texas — While inflation has been hitting everyone’s pocketbook this year, Karen Bradshaw, branch manager of the Army Community Services Financial Readiness Branch here, said her office didn’t see a spike in those requesting services until recently.
“There was a bit of a lag. I would say that in the last month, we’ve seen people who we probably wouldn’t have seen before. We’ve been hearing people saying, ‘I’ve used my savings and I’ve been doing OK, but now I’ve pretty much exhausted my savings and I need some help,’” she explained. “We are seeing it more on the Army Emergency Relief side. They come in because they’ve hit a rough patch.”
Bradshaw said her branch consists of four personal financial readiness specialists and four Army Emergency relief specialists and a technician. On the average, she said AER specialists provide assistance to more than 200 people monthly, though that number has risen recently. The personal financial readiness specialists see roughly three times that number each month, though, as they also conduct regular face-to-face training sessions at the People First Center, with the 1st Cavalry Division’s Pegasus Troop and at the unit level.
Melody Squires has been working in the Financial Readiness Branch for more than two decades. She said while she loves seeing troops in training sessions, it’s the one-on-one sessions that really make an impact and it’s the most rewarding aspect of her job.
“When we sit down with the individual Soldiers and their families … and they see the plan, the 12-month plan, the budget, and they see that they can get out of debt and achieve their goals,” Squires said, “I really enjoy that.”
Some of the clients Bradshaw’s team sees come by way of command referrals, from command financial specialists. Other times, AER specialists refer struggling Soldiers and families to see a personal financial readiness specialist.
“Sometimes, it’s an NCO (noncommissioned officer), which is good, who says ‘I’ve got a Soldier who needs some help,’” Bradshaw said.
But those seeking help do not have to wait for a referral to begin the process of getting their finances under control.
Master Sgt. Tiera Sprauve recently joined Bradshaw’s team as an intern as she prepares for her retirement. She completed her assignment as first sergeant of Company B, 15th Military Intelligence Battalion and joined the Financial Readiness Branch as she had previously worked as a command financial specialist at III Armored Corps.
She said she initially became interested in becoming a command financial specialist because when she arrived at Fort Hood in 2015, and was facing foreclosure on a property, it was a command financial specialist with the 1st Cavalry Division who helped her set things right.
“I had never heard of that,” she recalled. “I did not know it was a thing. I was a sergeant first class with a lot of pride who was very broke, in-processing with a staff sergeant who was extremely professional. It was so refreshing. It was something that I needed a few years prior that probably would have kept me from being in the position I was in (then).”
Sprauve said she was able to not only get out of debt, her financial health improved dramatically.
“I could have lost my (security) clearance, but it all worked out. I still have this home,” she said. “I now have three homes.”
Bradshaw said command financial specialists at the unit level are “where the rubber meets the road” when dealing with financial hardships, and her team is available to help Soldiers and their families before those hardships hit.
“We are here to meet their needs. Whatever their needs are, we’re going to customize our services to them. Our whole mission, and vision, is to have financially fit Soldiers and families. I think the biggest thing is, we’re here,” Bradshaw stressed, “and if it (the problem) has to finances, we can help them.”
The ACS Financial Readiness Branch is located on the second floor of the Shoemaker Center, Building 36000, and are open weekdays from 7:30 a.m. - 4:30 p.m. Call (254) 287-2489 to make an appointment to see a personal financial readiness specialist.