[ Triad Online Home ]                                                                                           Nov. 26, 2004

Soldiers banking on McCoy's finance training

By Karin Mast, Triad Contributor

      A Soldier's morale can be significantly affected by paycheck errors. That's why  Soldiers and civilians are receiving pay training from the U.S. Army Reserve Pay Center (UPC) at Fort McCoy: to ensure the correct amount appears on the paycheck of each reserve-component Soldier at the right time.

Susan M. Bjorkman, a Military Pay technician at the U.S. Army Reserve Pay Center, briefs a class of Soldiers from the 3rd Detachment of the 374th Finance Battalion. (Photo by Karin Mast)
Susan M. Bjorkman, a Military Pay technician at the U.S. Army Reserve Pay Center, briefs a class of Soldiers from the 3rd Detachment of the 374th Finance Battalion. (Photo by Karin Mast)  

      The UPC at Fort McCoy began providing reserve-component pay training in 1996 in response to the mobilization of units for Bosnia rotations.  With the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF), UPC started providing increased pre-deployment reserve-component pay training to select Active Army, Army Reserve and Army National Guard units.

      "The training was our way of providing a proactive versus reactive approach to pay problems," said Maj. Mario Beckles, deputy Reserve Ray officer at the UPC. "We visited and provided training at the Defense Military Pay Offices on each installation and have hit all 15 power-projection platforms since Sept. 11, 2001."

      Pay issues during early OIF rotations prompted U.S. Army Forces Command to require each mobilizing Army Reserve and National Guard finance unit to receive reserve-component pay training from the UPC at Fort McCoy.

       For OIF III, the UPC will train approximately 20 finance units, totaling nearly 150 Army Reserve Soldiers and more than 250 Army National Guard Soldiers. 

      One such unit is the 3rd Detachment of the 374th Finance Battalion, an Army Reserve unit based at Fort Lee, Va. The unit arrived at Fort McCoy in early November for one week of pay training with the UPC; two weeks of finance training from the Army Finance School, Army Finance Command, and the Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS) on disbursing, vendor pay and additional finance software; and several weeks of general training for mobilization in support of OIF.

      "This training is incredibly valuable - some answers aren't available in a textbook," said 1st Lt. Patience Brown, unit commander for the 3rd of the 374th.  "The trainers have been able to provide us information, prepare us for common in-theater mistakes and how to fix them, and answer our own questions.  In addition, we have a much better understanding of how an incorrect paycheck can impact a Soldier's morale."

      Chief among the causes for Reserve Pay issues is a computer software system originally designed to pay Soldiers for weekend drills and short periods of active duty. While good for paying weekend drills, it did not include automated options for payments of low-density entitlements or new entitlements authorized by Congress in recent years - all requiring manual, time-consuming workarounds, said Eric Reid in a recent Army News Service article.  Reid is the DFAS liaison and chief of Finance & Accounting Oversight and Field Operations Division, Army Finance Command.

      To combat the outdated pay system and ensure that each Soldier receives the correct entitlements, UPC training at Fort McCoy includes classes on the Defense Military Pay Office - Reserve Component software, reserve-component pay entitlements, and soon will include training on the new pay software, Forward Compatible Pay System, which is scheduled to go online in March 2005.

      "We're looking forward to training on the new pay system because it will help us avoid a lot of our current pay issues," said Beckles. "The new system has a lot of promise."

      In the meantime, Fort McCoy will continue to provide Reserve pay training to finance units and other Defense Military Pay Offices. Nearly 600 Soldiers and civilians received training from the UPC during FY 04, a significant increase over previous years.  Citing competent staff and prompt initiative, Beckles believes this increased role in training for units and offices nationwide is a triumph for Fort McCoy.  "We are, after all, the experts when it comes to Reserve Pay."

(Mast is a Public Affairs specialist for VT Griffin Services Inc., contractor for Base Augmentation Support Services.)

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