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’Tis the season of taxes

Training begins at Sill's ITAC office to provide free assistance

Santa giveth, and Uncle Sam taketh away.

And just as the North Pole has a workshop full of elves to make toys, Fort Sill has its Income Tax Assistance Center, or ITAC, full of tax preparers. Their job is to cheerfully assist active duty military, their spouses and dependents, military retirees, and National Guard and Reserve members who are on active status with their income tax returns.

But as with any other field of endeavor, first they have to be trained.

"We currently have 16 borrowed manpower. They are tasked from the different units on post," said Capt. Laney Comer, who will be the officer in charge of the Fort Sill ITAC this year.

These personnel are on loan to ITAC from Dec. 1, 2017, until April 30. Training began their first day.

"They have five exams that they're required to pass to be certified to volunteer," Comer said.

They took the last of these exams Tuesday at the Truman Education Center. Now they go over to the ITAC on the fourth floor of Building 4700 on Mow-Way Road to start rehearsing the types of customer interactions they will engage in once the center opens on Jan. 29.

"They'll start learning the office and setting up and getting their desks, and learning how to package the returns and finalize everything," the captain said.

During the six weeks of preliminary training, the first thing they need to learn as tax preparers is the standards of conduct to be a volunteer  what they can and cannot do. After that they start learning how to intake: how to interview a client, what sorts of forms a client may come in with, and so on.

They have to learn how to help people whose family or financial situations may be very different from their own.

"Fort Sill is very unique because we have a lot of retirees who live off post. So they have to learn not just the basic W-2s that come from DFAS (Defense Finance and Accounting System), but they have to learn the 1099-Rs that some of the retirees may have or any other documents that may come in," Comer said.

The preparers learn a lot about how to minimize taxes. When military personnel deploy to a combat zone some of their pays might be excluded, so that's part of their training. Some of the preparers have done their own taxes before, while others are learning how for the first time. Also, two civilian volunteers who already know the drill will be returning this year.

This is the second year that Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) has used the Taxslayer software on all its returns. Its staff tries to file returns electronically if at all possible, but there are exceptions that have to be mailed in. ITAC can also file for extensions.

One of this year's tax preparers will be 27-year-old Spc. Cody Wade from Jasper, Ala. He's a fire direction specialist assigned to Alpha Battery, 2nd Battalion, 20th Field Artillery. Although most of the battalion is getting ready to deploy to South Korea, he won't be going with them, as a permanent change of station (PCS) will take him to Fort Riley, Kan., in July.

Wade said he's done his own taxes several times and has never used an ITAC before. He didn't necessarily like filling out tax returns.

"It's just something you've got to do, you know?" he said.

Although being tasked to do this came as a surprise, Wade said he is always wanting to help other people if they benefit from what he knows.

"It's busy. It's a lot of learning. A lot of new stuff, attention to detail. A lot of discipline, class. It requires a lot when we start opening. It'll be six days a week work. It'll be a change-up working Saturdays," the specialist said.

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