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Beyond Payday Loans

Behind the photo: The unexpected job duties of a commanding officer

Mitchell Hartman May 14, 2013

Captain Brandon Archuleta, 29, is West Point graduate. He commanded a company of 100 soldiers in the late 2000s. He was stationed at Fort Stewart, in Hinesville, Ga, home to the Army’s Third Infantry Division. He deployed with his troops twice, first to Iraq, and later to Afghanistan.

You’d think that the only challenge he faced was war, and he did find that the first and foremost challenge of command was leading men and women in the theatre of war. But he says he also faced an unexpected challenge in dealing with his soldiers’ financial troubles.

Young, inexperienced, perhaps with a new family to support, soldiers sometimes needed quick cash just to cover the bills. Home from deployment, they might splurge on new trucks, big-screen TVs, trips – luxuries they could ill-afford.

When the bills came due, they often went to high-interest cash lenders on the internet, or in brick-and-mortar loan stores that cluster outside military bases, in spite of significant restrictions on predatory lending under the Military Lending Act.

Then, they’d get behind. The debt-collectors’ letters and phone calls would start. Eventually, the problem would get kicked up the chain of command—to Archuleta, or a military lawyer.

He’d have to intervene, help set up a payment plan, make sure the soldier got financial counseling, all while trying to protect the soldier’s security clearance and future military career.

“I think in the last twelve years we’ve seen military officers as war fighters, we’ve seen them as diplomats,” Archuleta told me. “But what we don’t see is the officer as social worker, financial advisor and personal caregiver.”

Read other stories from the Marketplace and Propublica joint investigation “Beyond payday loans: Installment lending and the cycle of debt.” Explore the whole series here.

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