View Full Version : Jobs secure, troops worry for savings

10-01-08, 12:22 PM
Jobs secure, troops worry for savings
By Matt Millham, Stars and Stripes
Mideast edition, Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Troops with an eye on the U.S. economic turmoil were equal parts confused, optimistic and dubious Tuesday about the short-term future of the U.S. economy and the prospects for a bailout plan, which failed to pass Monday despite impassioned support by President Bush and leaders in both parties.

With their jobs all but guaranteed, troops aren’t panicking about where their next
paycheck is coming from, but some are worried about their homes and retirement savings. Others speculate the tumult in world financial markets is providing opportunities to pick up stocks at discount prices.

Sgt. Daniel Hughes, with Troop C, 3rd Squadron, 89th Cavalry Regiment, has been investing about $1,900 a month into a mix of mutual funds and bonds while he’s been in Baghdad. Most of those are holding steady, although one emerging markets fund has taken some hits, he said.

Hughes is not worried, and has chosen to go all in, buying stocks on the cheap in the hope of turning a long-term profit.

"This is phenomenal," Hughes said. "Right now, I’m buying twice as many stocks as I was two years ago. I’m still throwing money in it left and right."

Petty Officer 2nd Class Tim May and wife Amanda are taking a more measured approach, watching the headlines from Naples, Italy, and holding back from panicking as they weigh developments.

"It’s too early to see how this and the bailout will affect the market," said the 29-year-old sailor. "So patience is a virtue here."

The Mays have roughly $10,000 invested in mutual funds in a company Amanda May once worked for. "So I have faith our money is OK," she said. They don’t plan on tapping those funds for another 30 years or so, and think the market can right itself before then.

But not all troops have time on their side.

Spc. Juan Mogollon, 23, of the 21st Theater Support Command in Kaiserslautern, Germany, said since the adjustable rate mortgage on his Colorado Springs home readjusted in July 2007, he’s having second thoughts about home ownership. His monthly mortgage payments, he said, "started at $900, and now I’m paying like $1,250."

In the meantime, the house’s value has dropped from $160,000 to $145,000.

"So I’m just hoping the crisis gets over so I can sell it, because I can’t keep paying $1,200 … on something that’s losing money," Mogollon said.

House prices continue to fall, along with the stock market, which has many investors concerned.

"It’s affecting the Thrift Savings Plan, so it’s affecting our savings," said Air Force Staff Sgt. Daniel Knight of the 48th Logistics Readiness Quarter at RAF Lakenheath, England.

All but one TSP fund is worse off now than it was six months ago, with the I Fund leading the pack at a loss of 22.5 percent. All of the life-cycle funds are down as well.

But in the down economy, troops don’t have as much to worry about as ordinary Americans, according to Marine Corps Gunnery Sgt. Aaron Helstrom, now at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. He was less concerned with his own finances than with those of friends and family.

"We work for the government, so we’re going to get paid," Helstrom, of Plainfield, Conn., said.

He believes the government needs to act to stem the crisis, but said the $700 billion bailout package voted down by the House of Representatives on Monday favored big banks and billionaire chief executive officers over the ordinary people at risk of losing their homes.

"I understand we have to take care of the [banking] institution or we go down a deep dark hole," he said. "But if we’re going to take care of big business, we need to take care of homeowners as well."

Helstrom said he’d heard a range of opinions from other troops on whom to blame for the crisis, including the banking industry and both political parties, but said he felt the crisis was the result of a decades-long policy of deregulation pursued under both Democratic and Republican administrations.

"It was a bomb waiting to burst," he said.

Stripes reporters Michael Gisick in Afghanistan, James Warden in Iraq, and Sandra Jontz in Naples, Italy, and Mark Abramson in Lakenheath, England, contributed to this report.