Heroes at Home: Thomas R. Slaughter

Thomas R. Slaughter, 319th Force Support Squadron Airman & Family Readiness Center community readiness consultant, instructs a class centered on ways to handle finances between spouses evenly to create a healthier marriage Feb. 25, 2015, on Grand Forks Air Force Base, N.D. During Military Saves Week, the A&FRC provided luncheon classes, an open house and a financial fair to spread the world about the importance of sound financial knowledge. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Zachiah Roberson)

Thomas R. Slaughter, 319th Force Support Squadron Airman & Family Readiness Center community readiness consultant, instructs a class centered on ways to handle finances between spouses evenly to create a healthier marriage Feb. 25, 2015, on Grand Forks Air Force Base, N.D. During Military Saves Week, the A&FRC provided luncheon classes, an open house and a financial fair to spread the world about the importance of sound financial knowledge. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Zachiah Roberson)

GRAND FORKS AIR FORCE BASE, N.D. -- About 2009, a young lady came to see me for an Air Force Aid loan for food. Airman Benjamin was a single mother. She had heard me speak at the First Term Airmen Course.

Anytime anyone comes to see me for an AFA loan, the first thing I do is a budget. I want to see where their money is going.

We did a budget and it wasn't pretty. I pulled her credit score and it was in the 500s. I told her it's going to be tough. I gave her some recommendations to deal with her debt. We hammered out a budget for her current pay as an Airman.

I told her to come back and see me when she was promoted to Airman 1st Class. We checked her budget again and it was still rough because she had a child to provide for.

About a year later she came back when she was promoted to senior Airman. I told her to take the extra money from her promotion and put it towards her debt. She continued to live with the money an A1C would make.

She then made staff sergeant, but still continued to live on an A1C budget. She deployed several times and each time she put that extra money towards her debt.

I told her the best method to use was the 'leap frog.' You pay off the credit card with the worst rate and then move to the next one.

It takes a tremendous amount of dedication. You have to believe you can do it and look at the big picture.

I hadn't seen her in a while. She came to my office and stuck her head in the door. She was crying. The first thing that I thought was she needed another AFA loan.

She said, "I don't have any debt."

She was debt-free and had raised her 500s credit score to more than 800.

She said, "I listened to you."

She did some things I told her and went even further.

She was going to separate and came in to do her exit budget for the next 12 months. I looked at her savings account and asked, "Is that right? Is that $6,500 or $65,000?"

She said, "$65,000. That's my deployments, income tax, senior Airman and staff sergeant pay. And I splurged a little too."

In her six years in the Air Force she was able to raise her credit score from 500s to 800s as a single parent and walk away with $65,000 in her savings account.

I like to address these issues with new Airmen at FTAC. I talk about car buying, balancing checkbooks, online banking and credit cards. After that, I bring up the idea of investing.

Back in the day you could have debt issues and not worry about it affecting your Air Force career. Now if your credit score gets too low, you can lose your security clearance. I had a first sergeant bring an Airman to me to work out a budget because they were going to pull her security clearance. If they want to stay in the Air Force, they will stick to that budget.

I almost cry with them when I see an Airman succeed. It makes me feel good. I feel like I have accomplished what the wing wants me to do.

I've gone through it myself. I know what it feels like. I know what it takes. I've been where you are.

It makes me feel great when they come back to me and say, "I did it."

(Editor's Note: This article is the last of a three-part series by Airmen who have received financial management assistance from the Grand Forks Air Force Base Airman & Family Readiness Center. The series will lead up to the Heroes at Home program hosted by the A&FRC, May 12, 2015, from 1-3 p.m. at the Northern Lights Club.)