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Saving Service Members Bundles of Money

Spc. Kiyoshi Freeman, 3rd Sustainment Command (Expeditionary)

A sign points visitors to the Joint Base Balad Volunteer Tax Center at Joint Base Balad, Iraq, April 30. Over a period of three months, 1,300 tax returns were filed out of this office. Spc. Kiyoshi Freeman

JOINT BASE BALAD, 05.13.2009

Iraq Volunteer income tax assistants received certificates of appreciation from Brig. Gen. Michael J. Lally, commanding general, 3d Sustainment Command (Expeditionary), and Air Force Brig. Gen. Brian T. Bishop, commanding general, 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing, here April 29.

Volunteers at the tax center here helped service members and civilian contractors save approximately $1.7 million this tax season.

"This was a resource that's truly appreciated by all the Soldiers," said Lally, whose own tax return was filed at the volunteer tax center. "Each of you [volunteers] is a credit to your own organization and to yourselves."

From Feb. 2 to April 30, 36 volunteers at the tax center processed more than 1,300 tax returns free of charge, saving service members another $140,000 in estimated service and filing fees.

Wearing a shirt with "I survived tax season 2008" emblazoned on the front, Spc. Jaclyn M. Mims, a paralegal specialist from Palmer, Mass., and Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jerol Boyce were the driving force behind the program.

Mims said the pair started in October, taking certification classes and contacting the Internal Revenue Service, which had to approve the program. They scrounged up computers, supplies, even a building to establish operations.

Mims' only previous experience was her volunteer work at a tax center last year. Spc. Jacyln M. Mims, a paralegal specialist, helps a Soldier file his tax return at a tax center at Joint Base Balad, Iraq, April 30. Service members were able to save over $140,000 in service and filing fees by using the center, which was staffed entirely with volunteers. Spc. Kiyoshi Freeman

"I think we topped ourselves," she said. "I think we did a lot more than we thought we could do."

A greater challenge was finding and training volunteers as military tax preparers, and then figuring out how to work around their schedules, Mims said. Some volunteered for the recognition, she admitted, while others did it for the simple satisfaction of helping someone else. One volunteer, a flight surgeon, she said spent two hours a week at the tax center for no other reason than he liked doing taxes.

Even with full-time jobs, Lally said most volunteers worked 12-20 hours a week at the tax center. It was a level of devotion he said impressed him and everyone involved.

"I've made really good friends working here," Mims said, adding that two volunteers were already invited to her wedding this September when they return to the United States.

After Boyce redeployed back to the United States, Mims said she essentially ran the tax center on her own. It was hectic, she said, trying to juggle her job as a paralegal specialist and her responsibilities at the tax center. She received phone calls all day long from volunteers with questions and did the record-keeping on her own.

"It was a little crazy at times, and I ended up getting some anxiety issues in the middle of it," she said with a smile.

Still, between the one-star general and the service members who walked in with boxes of receipts, wondering what they could deduct, Mims said the entire effort was worth it.

"I would do it a million times over if they asked me," she said. "The recognition is cool, but it's the satisfaction in knowing I was a part of something really great here."

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