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Finance Group returns from Iraq, Kuwait

By Kafia Hosh

FORT BELVOIR, Va. (Army News Service, March 10, 2005) -- There were smiles and hand shaking all around as members of the Fort Belvoir community said "welcome home" to a group of returning Soldiers March 7.

Over the course of their deployment, these Soldiers were providing one of the most important services to other deployed Soldiers, handling their pay problems.

When Army Reserve Soldiers of the 398th Finance Group, Detachment 2, deployed to the Middle East one year ago, they were given monumental fiscal responsibility.

As they operated the Military Pay Office, the troops were in charge of payroll, making sure service members and their families were taken care of financially.

In addition, the group was also assigned courier duties as they serviced installations in Kuwait, Qatar and Iraq.

The detachment successfully processed more than 400,000 military pay transactions, but not without hitting financial roadblocks along the way.

At one point, there was a big backlog of pay transactions attributed to accounting errors, according to detachment commander Capt. Scott Marihugh.

"We were always working . pay problems," he said.

The detachment consists of Army Reserve Soldiers, many of whom did not have accounting backgrounds as civilians, but were forced to abruptly stop their civilian professions in order to serve overseas.

"I received a phone call on Tuesday, and was gone that Thursday," said Staff Sgt. Tominka Howard, a fifth grade teacher from Elkridge, Md.

When the group mobilized in January 2004, Howard had to break the news to her class, informing them that they would have a substitute teacher for the remainder of the school year.

"It was harder for me to tell my students than to tell my family," she said.

Other Soldiers were forced to put their schooling on hold. Sgt. Frederick Chambers Jr. had one semester left at the University of Maryland when he was given orders for deployment.

Chambers said he plans to return to school this fall, to finally earn a bachelors degree in marketing.

For the Soldiers, answering the call of duty was worth the temporary interruption in their lives.

Many of them, including Howard and Chambers, were promoted during their deployment, as several specialists turned into sergeants.

The 398th Finance Group received a warm reception at their homecoming ceremony in the Sosa Community Center.

The Soldiers beamed as they greeted friends and relatives, clearly excited to return to normality.

Although they were proud to serve their nation, they admitted there was little to relieve boredom on the Arab peninsula.

Marihugh watched more than 200 movies during the deployment.

"DVDs are a life saver," he said with a chuckle.

The time zone difference kept Chambers from catching his favorite sports shows whenever he wished.

"I can't just turn on the TV like I used to," he said. "It was definitely a lot different."

Life became much simpler for Howard, who realized she could do without some of the luxuries she was accustomed to back home.

"As long as I had something to eat, and somewhere to sleep, I was fine," she said.

To get through their time overseas, the Soldiers relied on each other's company, ultimately forming a close bond.

"We became a family - it helped the mission be that much easier," Howard said.

During the ceremony, Col. Thomas W. Williams, Belvoir garrison commander, highlighted the importance of the detachment's mission in preparing Soldiers' pay.

"You want to make sure that all of the folks that you left behind are taken care of," he said.

He also made note of the diversity of the armed forces, a strength within the military that was clearly reflected among the detachment's troops.

Diversity is "evident in any slice of the American service," Williams said.

"There is a common background that we have, and that is, we're Americans."

Williams proceeded to award each Soldier with a commander's coin, as well as a $100 check courtesy of the Fort Belvoir Federal Credit Union.

The returning troops also received a Welcome Home Warrior Citizen Award, an accolade presented to Soldiers who served overseas in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom.

One of the group's Soldiers, who is currently still deployed, was also awarded a Bronze Star.

(Editor's note: Kafia Hosh writes for the Belvoir Eagle newspaper.)

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