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MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan — The Air Force at Misawa has found a way to collect delinquent phone bills incurred by Navy personnel, who collectively have racked up $50,000 in debt.

Starting in September, sailors will see their phone bill — as well as any outstanding charges — deducted from their paychecks.

At the heart of the problem are two incompatible data systems.

The program the Air Force uses to automatically bill its personnel for residential phone service did not interface with the Navy’s payroll system, said 2nd Lt. John Truex, 35th Comptroller Squadron deputy financial services officer.

Navy customers were required to pay their bills in person, but they didn’t always do it.

They “were off somewhere else in the world — on leave, deployed,” Truex said, or they never received e-mail notification of their bill due to system inefficiencies.

“There’s about $50,000 in debt just from people not paying,” he said.

Truex, with just one year of active-duty service under his belt, spent about four months teaching himself how to write a computer program that would interface between the Air Force and Navy systems. His product, called Bridges, collects information from the Air Force’s telephone billing system and converts it into data the Naval Military Pay System can understand. The information file is delivered to the Navy finance office, telling it which members to charge for service and how much. Defense Finance and Accounting Service in Cleveland then will transfer the funds from Navy payroll into the 35th Communications Squadron’s account, Truex said.

Brig. Gen. Bill Rew, 35th Fighter Wing and base commander, and Rear Adm. Kenneth Deutsch, the highest-ranking Navy officer at Misawa, approved the application of Bridges a few weeks ago, Truex said. The system will be put in place Aug. 15 for about 800 Navy personnel with residential phone service on base.

With two paychecks a month, sailors will see half their phone charges deducted from each. Bridges will collect current monthly bills as well as any outstanding ones — not to exceed $500 a month. Regulations require that no more than two-thirds of a member’s base pay, minus deductions, be taken, Truex said.

Phone charges for July — which are billed in August — will come out of September paychecks. Navy personnel will receive e-mail notification of their bills, as well as any pre-existing debt, sometime after Aug. 15 but before the amount is taken out of September paychecks.

“We should wipe out the outstanding debt in a couple of months,” Truex said.

Lt. Cmdr. Franklin Lee, Naval Air Facility Misawa executive officer, said the Air Force has briefed Navy commanders on the new system, and leaders are in turn disseminating the information to their sailors.

“Overall, I think we’re going in the right direction of … avoiding delinquency and maintaining convenience, too, for the individuals paying,” he said. “Like any new system, there will be some growing pains, but the ultimate goal is to pass the benefit and efficiency of the system to the customer.”

Bridges may spread to other Air Force bases that provide residential phone lines to sister military services.

Truex said Kadena Air Base on Okinawa and Osan and Kunsan air bases in South Korea want to run similar programs.

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Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.
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