Northwest Military Blogs: McChord Flightline Chatter

February 11, 2016 at 10:27am

Service forced into tough decisions

Courtesy U.S. Air Force

The Air Force presented its fiscal year 2017 president's budget request Feb. 9 following the Defense Department and sister services' budget briefings.

Maj. Gen. Jim Martin, the Air Force budget director, presented the service's budget request and said the fiscal 2017 budget request supports the defense strategy, resources combatant commander requirements, continues readiness recovery from fiscal 2016, but still reflects the many tough choices the service had to make to live within the limits of the 2015 Bipartisan Budget Act.

The Air Force requested a top-line budget of $120.4 billion in Air Force-controlled funding that continues to take care of people, strike the right balance between readiness and modernization, and make every dollar count.

Martin said the temporary relief provided by the BBA allows the service to restore end-strength to recover some critical skill sets; continue the top three modernization programs, but at reduced rates for the F-35; sustain capacity to meet combatant commanders' most urgent needs and readiness for today's fight; and resource strategic assets in nuclear, space, and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance mission areas.

The budget supports a total force end strength of 492,000 personnel and that the service will continue to assess capability gaps and grow end-strength to meet that demand where they exist, he said.

To help with that effort, this budget supports a 1.6 percent pay raise for active-duty and civilian personnel; adds approximately 100 basic training and tech training instructors, and supports approximately 2,100 accessions above fiscal 2016 levels; increases Officer Training School accessions to a maximum capacity of approximately 1,100 candidates; implements the training and integration of enlisted remotely piloted aircraft pilots into the RQ-4 Global Hawk community; and offers a skills retention bonus for critical career fields such as intelligence, cyber, maintenance and battlefield airmen.

For readiness, this budget request funds flying hours to executable levels and weapons system sustainment to near capacity. It ensures advance weapons schools and combat exercises like Red Flag and Green Flag are fully funded to help in a long-term effort to restore full-spectrum readiness; supports 60 RPA combat lines while sustaining critical space programs; and continues to establish 39 cyber teams and trains these cyber airmen to meet today's and tomorrow's threats.

The fiscal 2017 procurement budget preserves top modernization programs, sustains our space procurement strategy, invests in the nuclear enterprise, and funds munitions to near capacity to support ongoing operations and to start replenishing current inventories, Martin said.

"Unfortunately, in this budget, we had to sacrifice modernization for current readiness, and, as a result, were forced to delay five F-35s, some fourth-generation modifications, and delay completion of the recapitalization effort of the C-130H in fiscal 2017," he said.

The budget supports the goal of maintaining assured access to space and viability in contested and increasingly congested environments by continuing the block buys of the Advanced Extremely High Frequency System satellite vehicles 5 and 6 and Space Based Infrared System 5 and 6; and funding five Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle launch services, three of which are competitive launch opportunities.

"We appreciate the relief BBA gives, but tough choices remained, leaving critical capability, capacity and readiness gaps," Martin said. "Budget stability and the repeal of BCA limits are necessary for the Air Force to remain true to its long-term strategy and to meet all the demands we are being asked to meet, both today and in the future."
For more information about the Air Force's fiscal 2017 budget request, visit http://www.saffm.hq.af.mil/budget/.

February 5, 2016 at 11:45am

Performance-based promotions

Incorporating various observations and assessments from the first year under the new enlisted evaluation and promotion systems, the Air Force is making several adjustments for year two to ease execution and strengthen processes.

In 2015, the Air Force began execution of the new enlisted evaluation and promotion systems with the goal of ensuring performance as the main factor when promoting or evaluating airmen. The new systems also increased a commander's opportunities to identify top performers and clearly indicate an airman's promotion potential to the boards.

Enlisted performance reports available for review by senior NCO evaluation boards will decrease from the previous 10 to five years beginning with the calendar year 2016 master sergeant evaluation board. This change allows an increased focus on recent performance and complements implementation of restricted stratification and forced distribution rules that also emphasize recent performance.

With the change from reviewing 10 years of reports decreased to five years, the Air Force is also transitioning to a single-phase process for the upcoming master sergeant evaluation board.

Starting with the 2016 promotion cycle, the master sergeant evaluation board will be condensed into a single-phase process in which all weighted factors and board scores are combined into one score for each airman. Accordingly, this single-phase approach will eliminate the EPR points as a separate weighted factor similar to senior and chief master sergeant evaluation boards.

"After going through the first master sergeant evaluation board in 2015, we were able to assess our capacity to review all eligible airmen. We now know our systems; facility and annual board schedule can support boarding all eligible technical sergeants," said Brig. Gen. Brian Kelly, the director of military force management policy. "This adjustment allows every technical sergeant a chance to have their performance reviewed on its own merit directly by the board."

Under these adjustments, the master sergeant evaluation board will review all eligible technical sergeant selection folders containing each airman's evaluation brief, EPRs closing out within five years of the promotion eligibility cutoff date (PECD), and all decorations received over the airman's entire career. Any Article 15 received within two years of the PECD and recommended for placement in the selection folder by a commander will also be visible.

Another announced adjustment for 2016 is the continuation of the previously-planned reduction in points associated with time-in-service and time-in-grade. For calendar 2016, the multipliers for calculating total TIS and TIG points will be reduced again by another one-third, impacting the 2016 E-5, E-6, E-7, E-9, and 2017 E-8 promotion cycles. The Air Force will again conduct analysis on the impact of this change and determine if future reductions to completely eliminate the TIG and TIS weighted points from the Weighted Airman Promotion System will continue in calendar 2017.

Finally, beginning in calendar 2016, EPR point calculations for promotion to grades E-5 and E-6 will be based solely on an airman's last three forced distributed reports in their current grade. This adjustment provides an equitable method for transitioning from the legacy to the new system. Accounting for legacy EPRs, if in current grade, is accomplished by considering and factoring them into an airman's promotion recommendation. This allows a clean break under the new Forced Distribution system where no points are awarded for legacy EPRs.

For more information about senior NCO evaluation board processes or other adjustments related to enlisted evaluation and promotions, visit the myPers website. 

February 5, 2016 at 11:42am

AF awards contract for next Air Force One

The Boeing Company was awarded a contract Jan. 29 for risk reduction activities for the Presidential Aircraft Recapitalization program, which will field the next Air Force One.

This is the first contract the Air Force has awarded for this program. Additional modifications will be made to this contract in the future to purchase the commercial 747-8 aircraft, as well as to design, modify and test those aircraft to meet the Presidential mission.

These efforts are the first step in a deliberate process to control program risks and life-cycle costs. These activities will include the definition of detailed requirements and design trade-offs required to support informed decisions that will lead to a lower risk Engineering and Manufacturing Development program and lower life-cycle costs.

"This is the start of our contractual relationship with Boeing. It will allow Boeing to begin working on what will be the next Air Force One," said Col. Amy McCain, the Presidential Aircraft Recapitalization program manager. "This initial effort is about reducing risk, really understanding where the tough work will be, finding affordability opportunities, and getting the best value for the taxpayer, while continuing to meet the needs of our Commander in Chief."

The secretary of the Air Force has made it clear that affordability will be a key element of the Presidential Aircraft Recapitalization program.

February 5, 2016 at 11:28am

Have you tried MyVector yet?

National Mentoring Month is coming to a close, but there are still opportunities for airmen at all levels to invest in their development and the advancement of others through MyVector.

In 2015, the Air Force launched MyVector to provide members seeking mentoring an opportunity for personal and professional development to help airmen achieve their goals and ultimately strengthen the overall mission of the Air Force.

"I've recently discovered the MyVector tool through an announcement by the (secretary of the Air Force)," said Staff Sgt. Joseph Romero, an Air Force Operations Group emergency actions controller. "It was a bit of a relief to see this tool come out because I'd been looking for a strong mentor, and now had a resource full of volunteers who were able and willing to assist me in my career."

For Romero (last name withheld), throwing his name out there and asking someone to be his mentor was a little intimidating, but said he felt it was necessary for his career. The good news for Romero was the system not only matches by using a by-name method, it also provides a mentor-matching capability based on weighted characteristics identified by the airman searching for a mentor.

"As command post controllers, we are generally in a controlled area, which makes it a bit difficult to run into new people from different career fields," Romero said. "Having this resource available will allow us to literally find the perfect mentor by refining attributes such as marital and dependent status, education level, duty location, and even private sector experience."

MyVector can also benefit already established mentoring relationships. With a web-based mentoring plan - as well as a dashboard that includes a career plan, discussion board and bullet tracker system - the mentor/mentee experience is greatly enhanced.

"I used MyVector to formalize a mentoring relationship I had with a senior leader. I had met with the SES once before and the second time I asked if we could connect on MyVector," said Stephanie Haferbier, of the Secretary of the Air Force Directorate of Public Affairs, Strategy and Assessment Division, Integrated Plans and Strategy Branch. "MyVector made it easier to move from a one-time meeting to a mentoring relationship. I've found that formalizing the connection makes it easier to ask for time on their calendar. Having a regular meeting makes the mentoring more productive too because if you have a dilemma, you know you can bring it up next time you see your mentor. "

By sharing knowledge, experience and wisdom, mentors become a force multiplier enhancing not only mentee, but team performance.

"MyVector provides a way to be challenged by those who have taken pride in challenging themselves, while also having the opportunity to lend a hand to others," Romero said. "I'd imagine it is an honor receiving a request from other airmen to be their mentor."

However, for any program to be truly successful, it requires dedicated mentors. Mentoring assists airmen in developing required leadership and technical competencies to achieve the mission.

"One of the things I learned from my (mentor), is once you've progressed to a certain point in your career it is your obligation to pay it forward and do the same for others and I've always tried to take that to heart," said Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James. "Mentors can open doors, they can help airmen maximize their strength, and they play an important role in shaping leaders of character, discipline and vision."

Romero agreed.

"Mentoring is unbiased, heartfelt advice from one experienced member to another with the sole purpose of helping the mentee reach their maximum potential," Romero said.

"Mentoring has no career field boundaries or rank requirements. It is simply our duty as servicemembers to ensure we are passing on the torch of excellence to those that will walk in our footsteps."

February 5, 2016 at 10:46am

Local vet wins

Jerome D. Witt, of Roy, Wash. (middle), is awarded a Schwinn 170 upright bicycle at the Joint Base Lewis-McChord Exchange after winning third place in the Exchange’s My Battle Buddy Essay contest, Dec. 23. Courtesy photo

Shoulder-to-shoulder they fought, steeled against the chaos and violence that threatened their lives on a daily basis.

Decades after the end of the Vietnam War, many veterans have lost contact with their "Battle Buddies." But few have forgotten them.

That's why last fall, as part of the Exchange's participation in the 50th Anniversary Vietnam War Commemorative Partner Program, the Exchange asked veterans to submit essays detailing their time fighting alongside their favorite "Battle Buddy" for a chance to win $1,600 in prizes. This month, the writers of the top three essays were awarded $1,600 in prizes.

The grand prize winner, Elbert E. Clayton of O'Fallon, Illinois, won a $500 Exchange gift card for his essay on "Pete," with whom he served in February 1962 at Tan Son Nhut Air Base. Clayton was awarded his prize during a ceremony held Jan. 20 at the Scott Air Force Base Exchange.

Second-place winner Nicholas W. Leopoldus, of Biloxi, Mississippi, was awarded a Schwinn 270 recumbent bicycle during a ceremony held Dec. 21, 2015, at the Keesler Air Force Base Exchange. Leopoldus wrote of 2nd Lt. Ronald Osborne, whom Leopoldus served with during a search-and-destroy mission a few miles from Cambodia in Vietnam. Osborne was killed in action by a claymore mine while outside the perimeter preparing for an anticipated nighttime attack by North Vietnamese forces.

Third-place winner Jerome D. Witt, of Roy, Washington, won a Schwinn 170 upright bicycle for detailing his time with Ernie Sapp, with whom he lost contact after a year of "living on the edge" together as part of a four-man recon team. Witt was awarded his prize Dec. 23, 2015, at the Joint Base Lewis-McChord Exchange.

"The Exchange honors the great sacrifice all of our veterans made in defending American freedoms abroad," said Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Sean Applegate, Exchange senior enlisted advisor. "Their stories - especially of the support they provided one another to survive - should live on as a testament to the selfless and enduring spirit of the American warfighter."

The 50th Anniversary Vietnam War Commemorative Partner Program was designed for federal, state and local agencies to thank and honor Vietnam veterans and their families.

February 5, 2016 at 10:42am

A rare guest

Brig. Gen. Steve Ritchie. Photo credit: jusoonpatrol.org

Attendees at the Washington Air National Guard Awards Banquet held Jan. 30 were treated to a rare guest - the U.S. Air Force's only ace pilot from the Vietnam War, Brig. Gen. Steve Ritchie, retired.

The banquet, held at American Lake Conference Center, was the perfect opportunity to invite the hero, according to Brig. Gen. John Tuohy, assistant adjutant general of the Washington Air National Guard.

"Having Brig. Gen. Ritchie join us was a treat. His experiences with combating communism in Vietnam combined with those of his wife's as a Romanian under communism brought a rich historical perspective to the evening," said Tuohy.

Ritchie volunteered for a second tour in Southeast Asia in 1972, and was assigned to the 555th "Triple Nickel" Tactical Fighter Squadron at Udorn Air Base, Thailand. On May 10, 1972 Ritchie was flying with his weapon system officer, Capt. Chuck DeBellevue, when they destroyed their first MiG-21 with a radar-guided Sparrow missile. All told, Ritchie would down five MiG-21s and after returning from Southeast Asia, he received the MacKay Trophy for the Most Meritorious Flight of 1972.

Ritchie accumulated 800 hours of combat time during 339 missions and was awarded the Air Force Cross, four Silver Stars, 10 Distinguished Flying Crosses, and 25 Air Medals. He continued military service with the Colorado Air National Guard. He was promoted to brigadier general in 1994 becoming mobilization assistant to the commander, Air Force Recruiting Service. In this capacity, his inspiring words to more than 2,500 audiences bolstered recruiting efforts.

Ritchie retired from the Air Force Reserves in 1999. He is currently president of Steve Ritchie Associates, Inc., Motivational Speaking.

February 4, 2016 at 10:57am

CE enables air power worldwide

Staff Sgt. Alan Wall (right), an electrical systems craftsman, and Airman 1st Class Patrick Wright, electrical systems journeyman deployed to the 407th Expeditionary, install high voltage cables December, 2015. U.S. Air Force courtesy photo

"The mission does not happen without us."

These were some of the first words Lt. Col. Michael Francis, 627th Civil Engineer Squadron commander, had for the returning members of the 627th CES Jan. 27 at Joint Base Lewis-McChord Field.

From Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar, to Ethopia, Jordan and Ahmed Al Jabar Air Base in Kuwait, 37 airmen from the 627th CES deployed in 2015 to varying environments, enabling the U.S. Air Force to have global impact.

Master Sgt. Jason Norberg, 627th CES water fuels systems maintenance section chief, was one of nine members deployed to the Al Udeid Air Base.

According to Norberg, the water fuels maintenance shop and electricians made some pretty vast improvements on the existing infrastructure there.

They installed new pumps and controllers that supplied water to the entire base.

"Without those water pump houses, there is roughly 10,500 people that would go without water," said Norberg. "That would shut down everything from laundry, to food preparations, to bathing."

Because a lot of the airmen, who deployed, were deployed in different roles than at home station - their skills were put to the test and exceeded.

"We saw a lot of people grow professionally and technically," Norberg said. "We challenged them and really got to see what they were good at."

Maintaining a base infrastructure requires more than one section of a squadron, though.

Senior Airman Anthony Deang, Heating Ventilation and Air Conditioning journeyman, who also deployed to Al Udeid, played just as much of an essential role as anybody else.

The weather in Qatar has temperatures regularly exceeding 116 degrees Fahrenheit, so cooling is a must.

"We provided cooling for the Combined Air Operations Center system so they could work on their computer cells," said Deang.

The CAOC commands and controls the broad spectrum of what air power brings to the fight including global vigilance, global reach and global power.

"The CAOC is very important," Deang said. "But it's so hot out there sometimes the equipment overheats. My job was to rebuild the equipment, fix it or replace it."

Senior Airman Edward Crowell, 627th CES pavements and equipment operator, was also deployed at Al Udeid Air Base.

"Some of our major accomplishments were, we designed and constructed 20,000 feet of airfield vehicle parking area," said Crowell. "With our job, it's easy to see the impact. It gives me a sense of fulfillment."

At 340 miles away from Al Udeid Air Base was Master Sgt. George Phinn, 627th CES superintendent of interior, at Al Jabar Air Base in Kuwait.

He said this deployment marks his eighth, but the experience was refreshing for him.

"This deployment took me back to the basics," said Phinn. "Because it was a bare base we were building it from the ground up."

Phinn's team put in a six-megawatt power plant, consisting of eight generators, which supplied energy to the entire base.

It took a month to get the power plant up and running.

Phinn said a lot of the equipment out there has been around a while.

"The average generator out there was thirty years old," Phinn said. "So in order to do repairs, we had to strip old generators and use the parts to fix the ones we could."

One of the challenges they faced was extreme weather.

"One day it was 135 degrees Fahrenheit," said Phinn. " The generators go into overheat mode when it gets that hot and we have to shut them down."

Phinn and his team of CE members from across the world worked hard to keep them running.

"The best thing about CE is the team work," he said. "Just like a football team, we have different positions and CE is the offensive line. We all have to work together to get our mission accomplished."

And Phinn said he learned an invaluable lesson regarding being a good leader as well.

He was referring to an instance where a senior airman and staff sergeant approached him about a generator that had been down for four years.

"I didn't even think about the equipment because it had been in a fire," said Phinn. "They came to me and started showing me ideas on how to fix it, and it worked."

The piece of equipment they saved was valued at $145,000.

"We always have to encourage our airmen to voice their opinions because they do have some great ideas," Phinn said.

In total, the 627th CES deployed 37 airmen in 2015 to four countries for 180 days.

January 28, 2016 at 10:45am

The Terminator Conundrum

Air Force Gen. Paul J. Selva, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, answers a question at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., Jan. 21. Photo credit: Army Staff Sgt. Sean K. Harp

The military, the people of the United States and the people of the world need to understand the profound impacts of technologies on the horizon today, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said at the Brookings Institution here last Thursday morning.

Air Force Gen. Paul J. Selva told a packed room that the world will be facing the "Terminator Conundrum" sooner rather than later, and that now is the time to discuss the affects new technologies will have on the Nation and on warfare. Michael O'Hanlon of Brookings moderated the talk.

"You and I are on the cusp of being able to own cars that will drive themselves," Selva said. "The technology exists today. Some of us in this room own cars that park themselves, and they do a substantially better job than we do."

The military has proven it can build and field unmanned underwater, aerial and ground vehicles, Selva noted. Still, he said, there is always a human in the loop - a remotely piloted vehicle still has a human pushing the buttons to fly the vehicle somewhere. "We can actually build autonomous vehicles in every one of those categories," the general said, "and that brings us to the cusp of questions about whether we are willing to have unmanned, autonomous systems that can launch on an enemy."

Selva called this a huge technology question that all people will wrestle with. There are huge ethical implications, implications for the laws of war and implications that the vice chairman said he calls the "Terminator Conundrum."

"What happens when that ‘thing' can inflict mortal harm and is powered by artificial intelligence?" he asked the audience. "How are we going deal with that? How are we going to know what is in that vehicle's mind?"

These are the problems that must be addressed in the technology sector, Selva said.

O'Hanlon noted that certain sea mines or submunitions are already there. Selva pointed out that the sea mine that detonates when it hears a certain signature still has humans who write the code and tell the mine when it is permitted to detonate.

"Deep learning" is a concept that is bandied about in technology companies, and it is also being looked at within the Defense Department, Selva said. "We both have a requirement to sort some of the largest databases in the world," he added.

The intelligence database for the United States is incredibly large, the vice chairman said. "How one might direct an analyst to look at part of that data to make human decisions?" he asked. "If we can build a set of algorithms that allows a machine to learn what's going on in that space and then highlight what is different, it could change the way we predict the weather, it could change the way we plant crops, and it could most certainly change the way we do change-detection in a lethal battlespace. What has changed? What is different? What do we need to address?"

Building these learning algorithms is a place the United States has to go in the future, the vice chairman said.

"The data sets we deal with have gotten so large and so complex that if we don't have something to sort them, we're just going to be buried," he said. "The deep learning concept of teaching coherent machines ... to advise humans and making them our partners has huge consequences."

January 22, 2016 at 10:23am

AMC - 24 years later

For more than two decades, the U.S. Air Force's Air Mobility Command (AMC) has been the logistical powerhouse that allows American troops to respond to crises around the world.

"The mission of Air Mobility Command pretty simply is to provide global reach for America" explained Col. Michael Zick, deputy director of operations at AMC's headquarters on Scott Air Force Base, Illinois.

Terry Johnson, a civilian and Gulf War veteran who works as AMC's director of staff for operations, called AMC "the world's largest airline."

The Air Force's experience during the first Persian Gulf War in 1991 was a major factor that led to AMC's creation just a year later. This year marks the 25th anniversary of Operation Desert Storm. Today, as U.S. troops once again operate in Iraq, many are looking back at how that conflict changed how we fight.

Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait shocked the world and prompted a swift - and massive - international reaction. The U.S. Air Force was critical to the initial response.

"Our expertise is to get over there as quickly as possible, so we basically brought the initial forces over there to actually hold while we brought the preponderance of the heavy force over by sealift," said Zick.

"(Air mobility) allowed us to put enough stopping power on the ground to hold the Iraqi forces at bay until the remainder of U.S. and coalition forces arrived," added Johnson.

"Back then, we probably were thinking we had a little bit more time to react to certain events," Zick said. "What we learned from that was ‘no, we need to be ready anywhere' to actually bring America's forces to the point of need."

Experiences in Desert Storm led to several changes in the way airmen approach these logistical operations.

"We've expanded the use of night vision goggles, airdrop, we're more effectively able to integrate with other combatant commands, (and) we've looked to increase our battlespace awareness through the use of more secure communications, tactical data links, etc.," Johnson explained.

Air Mobility Command was established on June 1, 1992. It melded a worldwide airlift system from elements of the inactivated Military Airlift Command with a tanker force Strategic Air Command that had been freed from its strategic nuclear strike commitments by the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

Though the Cold War was over, the demands on the Air Force were far from reduced. Between operations in Somalia, the Balkans and other conflict flashpoints, as well as humanitarian disasters and day-to-day business, the new command has rarely had a shortage of responsibilities since its formation.

"I think it all rolls around to ops tempo," Zick observed. "If you think about it, from ‘91 to now, the mobility air forces have been engaged around the world, so the ops tempo hasn't really gone down for us."

While the tempo of operations remains high, AMC is frequently finding that it has to do more with less and find creative solutions.

"As budgets have reduced, we have to be smarter about how we utilize our resources and that's both manpower and equipment," Zick explained. "(The C-17) is doing great, but we're also looking for ways to recapitalize our older tanker fleet, so as we modernize the tanker fleet, we're looking at how to send it into denied environments."

A "denied environment" is one in which the enemy has enough anti-aircraft equipment and capabilities to seriously disrupt or endanger U.S. air operations.

AMC also tries to take advantage of the military's "total force" - which includes its Guard and Reserve components.

"Whatever we're (going) to go do, it's going to be a total force effort. Our Reserve and National Guard components are coming with us," Zick said. "With (more than) half of all mobility aircraft assigned to Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve Command units, we lead the Air Force in operating as a total force."

Since 9/11, many of those operations have once again centered on the Persian Gulf and Iraq in particular. While President Barack Obama declared the official end of Operation Iraqi Freedom in Iraq and Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan and thousands of troops from both countries have been withdrawn, operations continue in the region. In particular, Operation Inherent Resolve - the U.S.-led effort to battle ISIS militants in Iraq and Syria - has presented a new host of challenges.

"Really, it comes down to three things that have changed as a result to changes in our national security landscape and guidance from our senior leaders: time, distance and forward basing," explained Johnson. "As the United States draws down forward basing around the world, there's an increasing dependence on what we do. That makes us more reliant with partner nations or allies as well.

January 21, 2016 at 10:23am

Free tax services available to military members, families

File photo

With the holidays now over, servicemembers and their families might start looking toward another annual event, albeit one that generally garners far less excitement: filing taxes.

The Defense Department wants servicemembers and their families to know they can get free tax consultations and tax-filing software through Military OneSource, according to Erika Slaton, program analyst for Military OneSource.

"The financial environment in which we live is very complex," Slaton said. "When you combine that with the realities of military life that includes frequent moves and deployments, it can present some special challenges for servicemembers and their families."

The Defense Department, through Military OneSource, has teamed up, as it has in previous years, with H&R Block to offer the free tax services.

The services could save members and families hundreds of dollars, Slaton said. She encourages all those who are eligible to consider using the services.  

"It's extremely important because of those challenges (including) frequent moves and deployments, and because tax laws change every year," she said.

Military OneSource tax consultants are available January through April 15, seven days a week from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. eastern time at 1.800.342.9647. After April 15, the consultants can be reached Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. eastern time.

While Military OneSource tax experts are available only via the phone, Slaton points out that other tax experts are available in person at military installations with a Volunteer Income Tax Assistance, or VITA, location.

The Military OneSource free tax software, which can be found at www.militaryonesource.mil, is available at VITA locations as well.

File Electronically

The software is self-paced and walks users through a series of questions to help them to prepare their return. It allows individuals to electronically file a federal return and up to three state tax returns.

"If at any time during the course of completing their return, the user has any questions about their own tax situation, they can call Military OneSource," Slaton said.

Those eligible for the Military OneSource tax services include National Guard members, and active-duty and Reserve members of the Army, Air Force, Marines and Navy.

Immediate family members of those eligible and non-remarried survivors from any era can also use the services. Military members who retired or were discharged honorably are eligible up to 180 days after leaving the service.

Other groups are eligible, Slaton explained. She encourages people to check the website for further information or call Military OneSource to find out about eligibility.

Available Through June

The free tax preparation and filing software is available through the end of June.

The Military OneSource tax software is secure, as the vendor uses industry-recognized security safeguards, she said. The vendor stands by the filer in the event of an audit or mistake.

Military OneSource, which is a confidential DoD-funded program, offers many other resources, Slaton said, including counseling and services related to family and relationships, finances, health and wellness, education and employment.

"We encourage servicemembers and their families to call Military OneSource and just explore everything that Military OneSource has to offer," she said. "They can call, click and connect with Military OneSource today."

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