The day after soldiers from the Iowa National Guard were celebrated in a homecoming ceremony in Davenport this month, they were told the bad news.
Nearly every member of the 248th Aviation Support Battalion — about 366 out of 400 soldiers — were overpaid by the federal government. And the government intends to get its money back.
During the battalion's recent year-long deployment to Kuwait and Iraq, soldiers were overpaid amounts ranging from a few dollars to several thousand dollars each, Lt. Col. Michael Wunn, a spokesman for the Iowa National Guard, confirmed this week.
"When National Guard Soldiers deploy in a federal status supporting an overseas contingency, their pay is managed by the active duty Army component," Wunn explained in an email Tuesday. "This includes starting and stopping pay according to each Soldier's dates of duty.
"It appears the problem stems from an issue at the demobilization station (Ft. Hood, Texas) that caused some members of the battalion to continue receiving their active duty pay and/or entitlements once their active duty orders ended.
"As a result, impacted Soldiers incurred a debt to the federal government for pay they should not have received but did that now must be recouped. The Iowa National Guard took immediate action to notify Soldiers of this problem as soon as it was discovered. In fact, many Soldiers have already taken steps to repay this money."
The wife of a Bettendorf man who serves with the 248th said news of the error was conveyed the day after a homecoming celebration at the Davenport Army Aviation Support Facility. Each soldier was required to sign a paper, acknowledging the debt, she said. But the soldiers were not provided any paperwork explaining when or how the overpayments were made, she said.
The woman spoke on the condition of anonymity, saying that her husband feared "backlash" from leadership. She said the situation creates a hardship for many returning soldiers, given they are being told to repay the money by the end of the year, but the 248th has only one opportunity for drill pay remaining this year.
Wunn said withholding drill pay is one of several options for the soldiers.
"We understand this creates a hardship for those affected," he wrote. "The Defense Finance and Accounting Services provides Soldiers with a variety of options to repay the debt they incurred as a result of the overpayment."
Options are: Army keeps 100 percent of monthly checks until the debt is paid; solider decides on a monthly payment to be taken from pay; two-thirds of base pay is taken each week; soldier can write a check for the entirety of the debt.
Money owed ranges from $2 to $4,500, depending on rank, years of service, entitlements and duration of the payment error, Wunn said.
"Soldiers are not required to have the debt paid in full before the end of the year, but they must understand that if they don't have their debt settled before the end of the current tax year, they will need to file an amended tax return for 2018 once the debt is repaid," he wrote.
U.S. Rep. Dave Loebsack, D-Iowa, reacted angrily to the request.
“It is completely unacceptable that a payroll error made by the Army could now cause financially harmful consequences for our soldiers, who already sacrifice so much in service to our nation," he said Wednesday afternoon. "The Army must work with each individual soldier to ensure that they do not face any financial harm or difficulty. I encourage any service member in Iowa who was affected by this failure at the Department of Defense to reach out to my office if you are in need of assistance.”