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To all who read this I present greetings....

I am a military reservist, who was mobilized and deployed to the middle east. I have been here a little over 7 months now and plan to be here another 10 months. I have been on active duty now since October 2005.

When I first enlisted into the US Army (Regular Army) in 1988-1990, I was 21 years old and with little guidance, other than I needed to get out of my current situation with a meaningless retail job and had just graduated from high school 2 years later than I should have (dropped out in my senior year with only needing 1 credit to graduate, was a lessions learned experience). Once in the Army and at the time only making about $700 a month. I was told upon entering active duty, to voluntarily sign a form and $100 a month would be taken from my measly check for the first 12 months. This was for the Montgomery GI bill.

My barely graduating high school, I wasn't one at the time to be thinking of college. I went into the Army to just get away from my life and perhaps use the experience to help me get a government job when I finished my enlistment. around 2 years later, I found myself talking to a buddy, whom had gotten off active duty for a period of time and then returned back into the Army as he still found the career better than anything he could find as a civilian. He talked to me in length about his going to college during the time he was out and what was available to him to help pay his tuition and books (pell grant, state grants), which in turn allowed him to use his GI Bill benefits to help with his indirect college expenses (fuel, food, living) as the VA sends the check directly to one's house every month, providing the school reports that one attended all classes.

So I came off active duty in 1990, had my Pell Grant already approved I was able to enter college with nothing out of pocket. My GI Bill at the time was $400/month for full-time attendance. But it was better thand nothing, as well. I got my initial investment of $1200 back in the first quarter of attendance. the rest was basically a "gain" as I now know it. At the time, I never considered that as an "investment". But it was, an investment in me!!

I used that GI Bill to obtain a degree as a Registered Nurse. Upon graduating, I still had about 9 months of full-time benefits under CH30 remaining. I had joined the US Army reserves under a program that gave me an additional 4 years of time to use my initial CH30 benefits, extending my time to 14 years. Later, this would be proved useful, as in October 2003, the City Public Safety Department (Police/Fire) had sent me to attend the Fire Academy. The agency paid for my tuition and was recieving my hourly wage to attend it. But had also applied to use my GI bill benefits as it was my last year to use them or lose it. In that year, I recieved $1200 a month for the 6 months I attended the Fire Academy, Tax free and direct deposited into my bank account. Not to shabbly for that initial $1200 investment 15 years prior. How many stocks yield that return!!

I had changed from the US Army to the US Coast Guard reserves in 2000. Mainly because I had moved to Florida and thought it would be cool to play on boats in Florida. I never was assigned to a coast guard station and went to a US Navy reserve Expeditionary unit as a detachment. In 2005, my unit's turn was up and we were mobilized back onto active duty for a assignment in the middle east. Hence, where I am now.

For many, being here is a hardship, there is nowhere to go, very little choices to occupy one's time on a very basic military base (although I don't complain too much, as I could be sleeping on the ground again in the desert!). We are restricted to base unless we have official business to travel. So what to do with my time?

I have the internet, and I have free time. I decided to take this and make something positive out of my time here, which I could benefit from when I am back as a civilian next year (or should I be saying drilling reservist?). Seeing being in a Combat tax exclusion zone presents some financial incentives. I decided to look into how this is actually a benefit for the average service member.

Indeed, the mere having a 18-25% more in earnings in one's military paycheck can be view in itself as a great thing. But I began to wonder as well, this is a time where I have little or no taxable income. How could that work for me if I were to invest into something that would yield a capital gain of a few thousand dollars over the next year? What would be the tax on this when I already have a low tax bracket?(well under 15%).

Another thing, not that it applied to me as I have already recieved my CH 30 (although I am eligible for what's called REAP for 12 months full-time, pay is similar to CH30). But I was asking reservist's who are being placed on active duty for the first time, if they knew what was afforded to them for the time they were mobilized? None of them were aware of their being eligible for CH30 active duty benefits if they served 2 years or more on active duty. That all they needed to do was write a check to the VA with the supporting documentation and this would get them 80% of a regular entitlements for 36 months of full-time college or vocational attendance (about $1000/month).

Also, I have been enrolled in the Thrift Savings Plan since it was afforded to military service members for the past few years. Not many know that members are allowed to invest 100% of thier pay up to the $15,000 cap every year. For those who don't have a tax deferred retirement account in thier civilian job. This could balance the recommended 10-15%/ year of gross earnings into a long term savings account. As well, one which you could borrow on currently at 5.1% if needed in a serious hardship, or looking for a down payment for a house. This without getting into a high interest loan.

One of the recent things I have learned by accident, was that while I am in a combat tax exclusion zone. My contributions into the TSP are listed into a separate item, which if there were some need to withdrawl pre-maturely. Those contributions during that time (excluding gains and dividends) will not be penalized or withheld taxes as it was money earned while excluded from taxes. Something for members to think about when deciding if they can afford to actually start a fund and hold it. As it mimimizes risk if you find you can't afford it (which I doubt many will not).

Now I know that there is currently a board specific to the Thrift Savings Plan, as well, there is a discussion board for "Military Fools". This board I requested to create, in the hopes to open discussion on the different ways Military service members can better thier future and utilize all the resources at thier disposal to achieve a healthy financial picture. I wish I had something like this in the 1980s as I would have had a different perspective on what to do with my savings...

My goal currently, is to have a sound long-term portfolio in place before I return next year. I hope to work with others on here to spark ideas in making this useful for all on the Fool and in the military currently, this whether here in the middle east. or the drilling reservist just starting his/her enlistment this year in a small town reserve center in Wyoming. There is much to gain from all who enter here.

I look forward to meeting you all on here. Feel free to look for me on helping to find answers on anything discussed here..


Gary Michalosky (sandpockets)
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