U.S. Army Announces Uniform Redesign

April 1, 2013

WASHINGTON - The Army revealed on Monday a redesigned combat uniform with a more easily recognizable pattern. This marks a major change from the digital camouflage pattern implemented in 2012. 

The new all-green uniforms harken back to the original Army gear worn by the toy soldiers beloved by so many. "We needed to get back to our roots," says Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond T. Odierno. "Looking back at what people think of when someone says "army soldier" the answer was clear: a solid green approach was both recognizable and nostalgic." 

Timothy O’Neill, a former professor of engineering psychology at West Point who spent 37 years concocting and analyzing the now-defunct digital military camouflage approves the change, noting: "The digital camouflage pattern was an improvement from the UCP (Universal Camouflage Pattern) of 2004, but we realized that we could do better and create something transcendently unique." 

The uniform is being produced in a single, universal pattern to replace the two camouflage versions in current use: tan-brown for desert use and green-brown-black for woodland settings. The bright, solid color initially drew criticism from some experts who feared increased visibility in urban and sandy climates such as Iraq and Afghanistan. 

While the Army admits that the new design will be more visible, it contends this saliency is actually a positive. "Initially, the fact that there is hardly any green in the Middle Eastern climes was brought up as a concern, but this quickly turned into a reason in favor of the new design. Iraq and Afghanistan are so monochromatic, with hardly a splash of color in sight. The infusion of beautifully toned uniforms will break up the monotony that I'm sure is a cause of complaint for so many denizens of these desert zones. Plus, the green facepaint offers superb SPF sun protection. It's a win-win!" 

Additionally, the new uniforms have been demonstrated to increase recognition. In a focus group conducted in the Fort Bragg area, 100% of participants identified personnel sporting the new gear as "Army Soldiers" while the old camouflage garnished a mere  65% recognition. "All those different patterns were confusing people," says Major Tom Brookline, who modeled the new look for the press last week, "People didn't know what was what - Army, Air Force, Navy, National Guard, it was chaos. Now, no one will mistake an Army soldier ever again!" 

The new uniforms are made of sturdy coated chambray and include pants, jacket, belt, helmet, and corresponding face paint. Soldiers also will get a new, no-shine, green combat boot complete with green plastic extension platforms. This increased surface area of the foot will allow troops to almost glide over sandy terrain, and prevent sinking in when worn on snow. 

Recruits will be issued the redesigned uniform starting August 2013, and the entire Army will be outfitted by December 2014. 

Why Military Discounts Matter

March 29, 2013

 

Getting a discount is always welcome, but when that percent off, free appetizer, or added service is a military discount, the gesture means more than just saving a few dollars. Businesses that offer military discounts are publicly showing their support for the men and women who bravely defend our country. It's not a political statement, but a sign of gratitude and appreciation for the sacrifices made by Veterans, service members, and the families that must carry on in their absence. We asked the proud military spouses and Veterans here at TroopSwap what getting a military discount means to them. 

 

Here are some of their replies:

 

"I've met some incredible individuals since joining the military community and come to appreciate the day to day struggles they encounter.  Businesses who also appreciate these struggles and honor them by providing military discounts are heroes in their own right.  It can make a difference to hear a merchant say, "Oh, thank you for your service...you know we offer a discount for military."  However large or small, it always reminds me of the sacrifice my husband and I are making and fills me with a sense of pride." —Holly Reilly, proud USMC wife

 

"Military discount means two things to me: recognition and reward. Recognition for what we do (or have done).  So often I hear a merchant say that they didn't serve but like to show their appreciation by offering a military discount.  It's their way of recognizing our efforts.  Whether it's 10% off or a free soda, it's a small token to demonstrate their efforts in appreciating our service. Reward.  A small business owner can't offer much to offset profits; however, they can reward the military and veteran community with anything that says, "thank you."  These owners want to connect with those who are defending their safety and their way of life. Even small things like free shipping from one merchant or a free upgrade from another can certainly help increase morale and decrease the burden for those who serve - or worry about those who serve." —Jason Strickland, proud Army Veteran

 

"I am such a loyal consumer because of military discounts. A business offering a military discount signals to me that they sincerely respect and appreciate all that my husband and I and the rest of our community sacrifice day in and day out for our country. I will gladly drive out of my way to patronize businesses that give military discounts over businesses that do not. For example, I only take my car to get serviced at MasterTech Auto Care now, because Stacy (the owner) offers a military discount. I feel an emotional connection to him and his business, and as a result I drive 30 minutes to his shop when I could easily take my car to one of the 5-10 shops within a 2 mile radius of my house." —Caitlin Horn, proud Navy wife

 

"I applaud companies that offer a discount for the military because it's a wonderful partnership of capitalism and patriotism, nothing more American than that! —Jenn Macris, proud Navy wife 

 

"I feel loyal to a business that offers a military discount. My dog ruby has been very sick recently and I purposely drive to the opposite side of base to go to a veterinary that offers a military discount. Anyone who is willing to offer such support to our community is worth the long drive." —Ashley Marshall, proud USMC wife 

 

 

The bottom line: Military discounts matter. And businesses that offer their appreciation help ease the transition between military and civilian life, boost morale, generate loyalty, and are in turn, greatly appreciated by the military community! 

 

 

 

Newlywed's Guide to Finances: More Than Looking for Military Discounts

March 27, 2013
 
 

Today's TroopSwap is proud to welcome Army spouse and blogger Rachel Tringali for a special guest post

 
Newlywed's Guide to Finances
 
 
My husband left for his overseas tour just two weeks after we said, “I do.” We had a very limited window to get our affairs in order before he shipped off. Unlike civilian couples, military couples have several other steps that need to take place once they get married (and even step beforehand). The honeymoon stage comes and goes quickly, especially if you have to prepare for a separation. Here's what my husband and I did to make sure we were squared away with organizing our finances before he deployed:
 
 
1. Set up a Joint Checking Account 
 
Even before we had rings on our fingers, we set up a joint checking and savings account with a bank that we can both access via the Internet. My husband and I chose USAA because of the convenience and benefits it offers military members. With USAA, we are able to view our bank statements anywhere and it also offers a special app that enables us to even deposit checks via our phone. We decided to keep our personal accounts, that way we are able to manage our own funds. Once we got married, we set-up a schedule to put our allotted military funds into our joint accounts.
 
 
2. Get Enrolled with DEERS 
 
To make sure we were able to get the appropriate funds, we made sure I was entered into the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System (DEERS). Without being in DEERS, I wouldn't be entitled to any military benefits, and it also allows my husband to receive all the necessary pay for us.
 
 
3. Understand Your LES 
 
My husband (and all military members for that matter) use myPay to obtain their Leave and Earnings Statement (LES). In the LES, we were able to differentiate our Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH), Cost-of-Living Adjustment (COLA) and Family Separation Allowance (FSA), which is given to families that are separated. A LES statement is important for military members to keep track of their finances. Not only does it include BAH, COLA and FSA, it lists base pay, federal/state tax amounts and all other deductions.
 
 
4. Create a Spouse Account on myPay 
 
My husband created a limited access account for me on his myPay. This can be very beneficial for spouses to help set budgets and keep track of figures, especially if your service member isn’t within reach. It’s fairly simple to set up limited access.
 
To create a limited access account, log on to your myPay account, and at the very bottom of the list in the main menu, there is “Personal Settings Page.” Under Personal Settings, click  “Limited Access Account (Create/Change/Delete)” to personal account. This is an easy way to stay on the same page. 
 
 
5. Make a Comprehensive Budget 
 
Once we were both had access to the LES, we were able to calculate exact amounts for our joint accounts. We put all the BAH, COLA and FSA into our joint checking account to monitor together and we decided to budget a portion of the money into our joint savings.
 In order to create a budget, we put all our financial obligations on the table. I still have
remaining student loan debt and I’m using my own income to make sure that is on track. We’re saving up most of our joint funds for our new home together when he’s done with his tour.
 
All other expenditures are taken into account in our budget as well. My husband and I are planning a formal wedding ceremony for when he gets back. We’ve allotted a small percentage of our money inour joint checking for our wedding.
 
Be sure to discuss all expenses with your spouse in order to set an appropriate budget for your circumstance because all couples are different. Also, remember to keep the line of communication open with your spouse when they are away because it is very critical (not just for your finances but for your relationship too!). 
 
 
6. Don't Forget to Honeymoon! 
 
Despite all the complexities with arranging your finances as a newlywed, don’t forget to enjoy your time with your spouse before they leave! We budgeted in a short overnight stay at a local four star hotel. You can often find military discounts on hotel stays, and this was within our budget and helped us to take advantage of our short amount of time before his tour.

 

 

 

 

Rachel Tringali is a newly minted Army wife to an amazing SGT and daughter to a USAF retiree. Rachel's family settled in Texas and that’s where she calls home. After growing up in Texas, Rachel continued her education in New York City where she earned BA in Communication Studies. She currently resides in the Big Apple, where she works as a PR coordinator. Rachel started her writing career at a local newspaper and interned at several national and local magazines, and now writes for herself on theprofessionalarmywife.com where she shares her experiences with others as she integrates to Army life.

Celebrate National Medal of Honor Day with a Military Discount to MURPH: The Protector

March 23, 2013

Medal of Honor

March 25th marks National Medal of Honor Day, a time to reflect on all who have served their nation with courage and self-sacrifice. The Medal of Honor is the highest award given to an American military service member. It recognizes extreme courage and intrepidity during combat. 

Here are some ways to honor this important day: 

 

• Send a "Thank You" to Medal of Honor Recipients 

Take a few moments and write a brief  "Thank You" to one of our living Medal of Honor recipients via The Congressional Medal Of Honor Society. The Medal of Honor Society will forward your letter, unopened, to the recipient to whom it is addressed. Just mail your letter to: 

The Congressional Medal Of Honor Society

Attn: (name of recipient)

40 Patriots Point Road

Mt. Pleasant, SC 29464

 

* Be Inspired by Documentary about Medal of Honor Recipient Michael Murphy

 MURPH: The Protector is a documentary based on LT Michael Murphy’s entire life of honor, courage and commitment, as told by his friends, family and teammates.

As a U.S. Navy SEAL Michael gave his life for his men in 2005 and was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor in 2007. By his selfless leadership, courageous actions, and extraordinary devotion to duty, Lieutenant Murphy reflected great credit upon himself and upheld the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.

The film is playing for a special one-week engagement —March 22-March 28th— at select Regal Entertainment Group Theatres across the country.  

If MURPH is not playing in your town, call your local Regal Entertainment Group Theatres and suggest they add the film.

Don't forget you can get a military discount on Regal movie tickets through TroopSwap: get your ticket for only $7.50! 

 

And finally, you can honor today by displaying the American flag with pride and patriotism! 

Military Discounts for Tax Filing

March 21, 2013

Military families are busy, and taking time out to get those taxes filed can be a challenge. If you haven't filed to Uncle Sam yet, don't despair!  This week, we'll be serving up tips and info on military discounts and tax advantages that aren’t available to civilians. 

Did you know that your military affiliation gets you free tax filing and preparation services? Military personnel can get free tax preparation assistance and free tax filing on base and online. Here are a few great options to get deed done by April 15th! 

 

Free Tax Service On Base: Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA)

Most major military bases have a Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA)  office. Military members and their families  $51,000 or less are eligible to receive free tax preparation assistance at offices within their installations. Retirees living close to base and some civilian personnel may also be eligible, depending on the location and available resources. VITA specialists provide free tax advice, tax preparation, and filing assistance. Most importantly, these tax-pros are trained and equipped to address military-specific tax issues like non-taxable military income, combat zone tax benefits, and deadline extensions for military members.

 

Free Tax Service Online: Military Discounts on Tax Prep Software 

For military members looking to e-file taxes online, there are free and discounted programs ready to tackle the unique tax issues surrounding the Armed Forces, such as uniform deductions, capital gains amendments, and PCS.

 

• TurboTax Military Edition

TurboTax Military Edition is customized to get the most out of your military-related tax situations. The software is free for E1-E5 ranks, and $24.99 for E6-E10+officers. 

You can also access the TurboTax Military Edition via USAA, where members get up to $20 off regardless of rank. 

 

TaxSlayer.com Military Tax Edition

 Prepare those taxes with a vengeance with TaySlayer! All Active Duty Military can prepare their Federal and State return for free with this  Military Edition. You'll need to enter your Military EIN from a W2 statement to qualify. 

 

H&R Block At Home® via Militaryonesource.com

Militaryonesource offers a free version of H&R Block At Home® for its members. You must log into your Militaryonesource.com account to access the software. This version features 1 federal return and up to 3 state returns, a plus for military members who have moved in 2012. 

 

And a Tip for Filing Jointly....

Whether you have your taxes done in person or online, joint returns must be signed by both spouses. However, if your spouse is deployed, a power of attorney will allow you to file a joint return on their behalf. 

There is a special exception to using a power of attorney for spouses in combat zones. If your spouse is in a combat zone, you can e-file a joint return with only a written statement saying that your significant other is in a combat zone and is unable to sign.

Military Tax Breaks: Discounts and Deductions for Tax Relief!

March 19, 2013

Military families are busy, and taking time out to get those taxes filed can be a challenge. If you haven't filed to Uncle Sam yet, don't despair!  This week, we'll be serving up tips and info on military discounts and tax advantages that aren't’t available to civilians. 

We've seen this week how military families can get help with free prep and filing and have big opportunities to boost savings, but did you know that there are also exceptions to normal tax rules and increased flexibility for military families? 

 

Extensions 

Military families who've served in a combat zone this year probably have a lot more on their minds than getting those taxes filed by April 15th. Thankfully, you and your spouse may qualify for a deadline extension of at least 180 days after you’ve returned from a combat zone. And that extra time doesn't just apply to filing your taxes. You can also get an extension on paying taxes owed, making claims for refunds, and contributing to IRAs. 

 

Military Deductions

Moving Deductions

Moving every few years gets expensive for active-duty members. But if your move is a required PCS, the IRS allows you to deduct the “reasonable unreimbursed expenses” of relocating yourself and your family.

Separation Deductions 

If you’re transitioning back to civilian life, you can deduct many expenses associated with your job search. Qualified expenses may include:

• Travel to check out companies and to and from interviews

• Resume preparation fees

• Outplacement agency fees

• Moving expenses may be deductible if your relocation is closely related to the start of work at a new job site and if you meet certain requirements.

National Guard and Reserves Deductions 

• Travel Deductions: If you’re called more than 100 miles away from home to perform Reserve duties, you can generally deduct any unreimbursed travel expenses.

• Uniform Deductions:  If you are prohibited from wearing certain uniforms when off duty (a rule that usually applies to reservists), you can generally deduct the cost to buy and maintain those uniforms. But you must reduce your expenses by the amount of any uniform allowance or reimbursement you receive.

 

Waived Withdrawal Penalties from Retirement Accounts 

Many times, reservists civilian income is much higher than their military income. As a result, when answering the call of duty a reservists may have to take a pay cut and dip into retirement accounts, 401(k) or IRAs to make ends meet. Normally, pulling out cash from these accounts comes with a 10% penalty tax if you're under 59.5 years old. But for reservists called to active duty, this 10% fee can be waived for those who have much higher salaries than their military income. You’ll still be subject to income tax on the distribution, but without the extra sting of the penalty.

 

Military Spouses Can Choose Where to File

Under the Military Spouses Residency Relief Act of 2009, military spouses don't always have to file taxes where they are currently stationed. If you've moved in the past year, you can choose to be treated as if you still lived in your previous state. That could generate big savings if the previous state has lower tax rates — or no income tax at all. But that’s not all: if you've had income tax withheld in the state you were living in, you may get a refund by filing a return in that state.

 

Combat Zone Experience Let's You Score a Military Discount on Taxes

March 19, 2013

Military families are busy, and taking time out to get those taxes filed can be a challenge. If you haven't filed to Uncle Sam yet, don't despair!  This week, we'll be serving up tips and info on military tax advantages that aren’t available to civilians. 

Today's Tip: Combat Zone Perks. Did you know you can get a military discount on your taxes if you've served in a combat zone during 2012? Not only do you earn tax-free income, combat-zone experience entitles you to great increased savings options as well. 

 

Combat-Zone Income is Tax-Free

Any enlisted service member or warrant serving in a combat zone for any part of a month is freed from paying federal taxes on all income for that month. So, if you served in a combat zone from Jan 1 - Feb 5, you'd be tax exempt on income for both January and February. For officers, the monthly exclusion is capped at the highest rate of enlisted pay, plus any hostile fire or imminent danger pay received. Here's a list of the geographic areas considered tax-qualified combat zones

 

Thrift Savings Plan Increased Limits 

Combat-zone service raises the limit you can contribute to entitles you to your federal Thrift Savings Plan. Annual contributions are normally limited to $17,000 in 2012 and $17,500 in 2013. However, those with combat-zone service can invest up to $50,000 in 2012 and $51,000 in 2013. Why increase your contribution these accounts? If you are a uniformed services member making tax-exempt contributions, your contributions will be tax-free; only your earnings will be subject to tax at withdrawal.

 

IRA and Roth IRA Contributions

If you've maxed out your Thrift Savings Plan, contribute extra cash to an IRA. IRA stands for Individual Retirement Account, and it's basically a savings account with big tax breaks, making it an ideal way to stash retirement cash.An IRA acts like a basket in which you keep stocks, bonds, mutual funds and other assets. As IRAs can grow tax-deferred until you withdraw the money, contributing more today can provide a real savings boost over the years. And with a Roth IRA, you can further increase the benefits by turning your tax-free pay into a source of potentially tax-free withdrawals in retirement, because qualified distributions of earnings are not taxed. Contributions to 2012 IRAs are allowed up to $5,000 ($6,000 if you were 50 or older by Dec. 31), along with a spousal IRA contribution, until the April 15, 2013 tax filing deadline, plus any applicable extensions. In 2013, annual contribution limits are rising to $5,500 and $6,500 for 50+. 

 

Of course, before making any tax decision, consult a professional tax advisor. Most military installations offer tax help to service members and their families through the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program. VITA’s certified community volunteers are trained by the Internal Revenue Service and understand military-specific tax issues. Best of all, their advice and tax preparation services won’t cost you a penny. For complete details, check out the IRS Publication 3, Armed Forces’ Tax Guide, which summarizes many important military-related tax topics. Publication 3 may also be ordered by calling 1-800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676).

Best Military Discounts for Vacation

March 15, 2013

Most jobs don't require a 24-hour workday, but for members of the military community, long stretches of constant work can be the norm. To offset this grueling schedule, active duty personnel typically get 30 days of leave per year—more than double their civilian counterparts. To take advantage of this time off with some much needed R&R, TroopSwap has put together the best military discounts for vacationing—and staying within budget! 

 

Best Airline Military Discount: Southwest Airlines

While Southwest doesn't publicize its military rates, a quick phone call to the company offers military members substantial savings, especially on last minute flights. Saving customers money on air travel has always been paramount to the Southwest brand, so most fares are already wallet-friendly, but an extra discount for military members makes the value even better. All Southwest passengers get 2 free checked bags on any flight, and as an added perk for active military personnel with identification, Southwest waives all additional baggage fees, including any oversize and overweight penalties. Plus, Southwest doesn't charge change fees, an important consideration for the sometimes unpredictable schedules of military families. 

 

Best Car Rental Military Discount: Hertz Rent-a-Car 

Hertz and Avis come out on top for military benefits, with Hertz taking the lead in savings.  Most major car rental companies offer military discount programs, but Hertz and Avis get points for waiving extra fees–not just discounting the base rates. Hertz waives loss and collision damage waivers, insurance costs, additional driver fees, unlimited mileage fees, underage driver fees, and offers upgrades when available. Avis also waives these fees, but does not provide upgrades. Unfortunately, these discounts and waivers only apply to active military. In the future, Avis and Hertz could extend their programs to Veterans and military spouses though Troop ID

 

Best Hotel Military Discount: Choice Hotels  

Choice Hotels, which includes Comfort Inn, Quality Inn, Sleep Inn, Clarion, Cambria Suites, Econologe, Mainstay Suites, Roadway Inn, Ascend Hotels, and Suburban Extended Stays, offers discounts and perks to the military community at more than 2,700 participating properties. Active duty, retired military personnel, and their dependents are eligible to receive reduced room rates. What puts Choice as our clear winner is the Privileges Armed Services program. It allows active duty or reserve military members, retired military, National Guard, U.S. Coast Guard and eligible spouses and dependents to join the Choice Privileges rewards program at the Elite Gold level. Elite status gives perks such as 10% bonus points on every stay, exclusive customer service and reservations phone numbers, special member-only offers, in-hotel benefits such a upgrades at check-in, welcome amenities, and other freebies. 

 

Best Cruise Line Military Discount: Norwegian Cruises 

Norwegian Cruise line wins not only for providing a discount, but for the transparency of the process by which it can be claimed. Members of the military and their families save 10% on a list of select sailings by adding the promotional code MILITARY on Step 1 of the booking process. Whether you're a Veteran, Active Duty Military, National Guard, Reserve member, or widowed spouse, you can save with Norwegian Cruise Line by presenting valid proof of service at cruise check-in. 

Military Discounts Aren't the Only Ways to Save: 5 Tips for Military Saves Week

February 25, 2013

Military Discounts Aren't the Only Ways to Save:

5 Tips for Military Saves Week

 

Today marks the first day of Military Saves Week, a DoD initiative that shines the spotlight on financial stability for the military community. TroopSwap and the Military Saves campaign are both all about helping military members save: TroopSwap provides members with military discounts so that there's a little extra in the bank each month, and Military Saves encourages participants to put that extra cash into a savings plan. But military discounts aren't the only ways to be smart about savings. Here are our 5 best tips to get you going:

 

1) Take the Military Saves Pledge

The Military Saves Week Pledge encourages signers to "Build Wealth, Not Debt." The first step to addressing any issue is acknowledging it. By signing the Pledge, you'll be getting intentional about saving. Not only does signing bring financial security to the forefront, you'll also get the chance to opt-in on the monthly Military Saves E-newsletter with savings advice from national experts.

 

2) Make a Budget

Keeping track of finances is almost impossible without a budget, and having an up to date record of everything that's coming in and going out is the best way to find places to save. For military families, making that budget accessible to everyone in the family – even those on deployments – is key. Instead of a paper system or Excel spreadsheet that lives on one computer, try a free online budgeting program like Mint.com or BudgetPulse so that everyone can be on the same page regardless of location.

 

3) Rethink Dinner

Making dinner at home can be a challenge when you've got a million other tasks on your plate, but regularly dining out is an expensive habit. Busy families need something quick, healthy, and not too expensive. Enter the humble but delicious casserole! Casseroles can be made in advance, frozen, and leftovers are often even better than the first time around. Two of our favorites are savory Chicken and Fall Vegetable Pot Pie and mouthwatering Lasagna with Turkey Sausage Bolognese.

 

4) Get the Kids Involved

Talking about money with your kids will prepare them for financial success. Help your children and teens develop good savings habits by checking out the Military Youth Saves program. The earlier your children learn about finances, the better chance they'll make good decisions as adults.

 

5) Set It And Forget It

Automating savings ensures that you'll be consistent, one of the most important factors for success. Saving is all about staying the course: set aside a little bit each month no matter what. By making an automatic transfer from your checking to your savings account each month, you'll be able to save time as well as money.

 

If you've got more strategies for savings, we'd love to hear 'em!

MotorcyleInsight.com Partners with TroopSwap to Offer Military and Veteran Discounts

February 19, 2013

Founded and staffed by active motorcycle riders, Motorcycle Insight has partnered with Troop ID and TroopSwap to offer a 10% military and veteran discount to eligible customers. Brands featured on Motorcycle Insight include Diemax, Wild@Heart, and Twalcom, plus name brand gear from Hepco & Becker, SW-Motech, and GIVI. The program allows Motorcycle Insight to recognize current and former service members with a special military discount while protecting themselves from fraud by verifying eligibility through Troop ID. 

 

Additional Troop ID Discounts may be accessed at:

 

Under Armour: http://www.underarmour.com/shop/us/en/military-offer
Tough Mudder: https://register.toughmudder.com/register/militaryrefundrequest.aspx
Veterans Affairs: http://www.innovation.va.gov/program-techshop.html
Telluride Ski Resort: http://tellurideskiresort.com/TellSki/info/season-passes-lift-tickets.aspx
Military and Veteran Discount Center: http://militaryandveteransdiscounts.com/page/troop-id-faq.html

TroopSwap.com: https://www.TroopSwap.com

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