FORT LEE, Va. (Dec. 1, 2011) -- Staff Sgt. Shawnette Pryor has proudly served in the Army for 19 years as a petroleum supply specialist. She has been stationed in Europe, Asia and multiple stateside locations. She now resides in post housing with her three children – Keayondra, 18, Jalen, 7, and Kendric, 4.

Conceptually, Pryor should be on the easy path to military retirement. After nearly 20 years in the service where she received a guaranteed paycheck and all the perks of military life, one would expect a comfortable financial road ahead for anyone in her shoes. 

But life isn’t always that predictable. After her marriage ended a few years ago, Pryor took on the responsibility of raising her three children alone. She receives no child support from her ex-husband. Her budget struggle grew much worse when she became a victim of identity theft and lost about $5,000 worth of assets. Pryor’s total debts now hover around $30,000.

“Having one income while maintaining a family with three children is pretty difficult for anyone these days,” said Pryor. “There were many sacrifices my children had to make such as not going to their favorite fast food restaurants or not being able to have birthday parties every year.”

Fortunately, Pryor’s mother has stepped forward to assist with the children when needed.

“Sometimes my kids would suggest that they could get jobs to help me out,” said Pryor. “That’s one of those moments when you realize how much of an impact it’s having on your family.”

Pryor is not alone. Many military families share similar hardships with a variety of contributing circumstances. The average median income of junior enlisted troops is $32,095 per year, excluding Basic Housing Allowance and Basic Allowance for Subsistence. The nation’s current poverty line is $27,000 per year, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

As Pryor’s debts mounted and bill collectors continued to demand their due, she realized that the situation and stress from it was becoming detrimental to her career and family. She turned to Army Community Service for financial assistance. 

ACS is the hub that provides assistance like financial planning, employment referrals and a array of resources that are available to military families.

“A lot of folks who come to ACS do not know how to budget for a family,” said Victor Estrada, an ACS information and referral specialist. “A majority of these families are in need of financial assistance. The current economy adds difficulty, not just with Soldiers, but the population in general.”

The situation becomes more complicated when a family refuses to ask for help. Troops are worried about taboos – those persistent beliefs that the inability to maintain a stable budget at home could result in a permanent black stain on one’s military records, thus affecting job opportunities  and promotion. Troops should ignore the false stigmas of asking for help, according to ACS officials.

Gladis Stevens is an Army Emergency Relief information specialist at ACS who helps families get assistance through the program.

“AER is a resource for families who need financial assistance” said Stevens. “ACS overall has many programs to help with emergency needs and to help build a financial plan.”

While AER focuses on emergency financial assistance for Soldiers and their families, similar programs exist for all services and ACS can assist with those requests as well on most installations. Troops needing help can use their chain of command to start the process to receive assistance through AER. All information is kept confidential and loans are interest-free.

“We want Soldiers and their families to come to ACS knowing that we are looking out for their best interest, rather than seeking assistance outside of the military community where the results may not be helpful at all,” said Stevens.  

Pryor is now following that path of financial recovery and she anticipates being debt free by mid-2013.

“I finally asked for help, and it was one of the best decisions I could have made in that situation,” said Pryor. “I know that my kids will understand the value of a dollar, and I hope they will start saving their money and spend wisely. It’s an important lesson to learn.”

Any member of the Fort Lee military family who is experiencing financial difficulties may contact the ACS Financial Readiness Program coordinator at (804) 734-6388.

A schedule of upcoming financial planning and education classes is listed on Page 19.