Money Matters: JA offers tips for career safety

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- I arrived at Vandenberg just over a week ago. It has already become clear to me that the 30th Space Wing comprises highly professional, motivated, detail-oriented men and women!  As at every base, though, we see our share of folks who end up on the wrong side of their commander's desk during an Article 15 or other disciplinary action due to sheer inattention to a detail over which they have total control: their personal finances.

I am writing now in hopes of encouraging people to focus on a little "career safety". Nothing will stop a fast-burning career quicker than an Article 15 or Court-Martial. After doing this job for many years, and advising countless commanders on their obligations and limitations, I can tell you that virtually none of them "enjoyed" disciplining their folks--they do so because morale and discipline require it, and because it is the right thing to do, and not because it makes them feel good. So, help us to help your commander--and you--by using the road map that follows to remain financially steady and in control of the details.

Bouncing checks
Balance your checkbook every time you write a check. Bouncing checks can be a crime, so if math isn't your forte, buy and use a calculator! Also remember to put any ATM withdrawals into your checkbook as well. Article 123(a), of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, or UCMJ, applies when a member who knows he does not have money to cover the check, or will not have money to cover the check, writes the check anyway! The maximum punishment if found guilty of an Article 123(a) offense is a dishonorable discharge, forfeiture of all pay and allowances, and confinement for 5 years. A steep price to pay for floating bad paper!

Not only is writing a check knowing you don't have the money a crime, but your actions after writing a bounced check could be as well. The gist of Article 134, UCMJ, lies in a member's actions or inaction after she writes the check. Doing nothing, ignoring the bank notifications, or not repaying the money owed will get you in trouble. Don't overspend, but if you do, take responsibility for your actions, and fix the problem!

Government Travel Card
As we are all briefed upon receiving the GTC, there are strict guidelines for its use. Don't use this card to finance summer vacation travel or holiday expenses, or any other non-business related expenses. Those are "unofficial uses" of the card and could see you punished with an Article 15 or court-martial. You may use this credit card for TDY and PCS expenses only. If you are unsure what those are, contact your Government Travel Card Program Manager and they should be able to give you the answers. Do this before you use the card. "I wasn't briefed on the uses or the regulations governing this card" isn't a defense under the UCMJ.

Finally, we all carry debt at some point in our lives, but it is important to remember that these debts need to be paid, and if they aren't, it can also be a crime. Article 134 of the UCMJ is violated if a member owes money, the money becomes due and payable on a certain day, and the member doesn't pay it back. The member's actions must be considered "dishonorable" for the article to apply, but if found guilty of this crime, the maximum punishment is a bad-conduct discharge, forfeiture of all pay and allowances, and confinement for 6 months.

A career is a terrible thing to waste. Spend when necessary, but remember you are held accountable for your actions 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. If you have any questions about these rules, don't hesitate to contact the Vandenberg legal office at 605-6207.