Army Reserve NCO and daughter prepare tax returns pro bono

By Capt. Ernest Wang | 316th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) | April 15, 2019

CORAOPOLIS, Pa. —

A U.S. Army Reserve noncommissioned officer and his teenage daughter have been preparing tax returns for local Soldiers, veterans and community members at no cost since January.

Sgt. John Stakeley, a 92A automated logistical specialist with the 316th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) of Coraopolis, Pennsylvania, and his daughter, Marissa Stakeley, a senior at Lincoln Park Performing Arts Charter School, together have processed scores of tax returns this season at Robert Morris University and reserve units such as the 316th ESC, the 171st Air Refueling Wing, the 911th Airlift Wing, and the Navy Operations Center Pittsburgh.

“It’s all about serving,” said Sgt. Stakeley, an Iraq veteran who has over 21 years of military service between the Army Reserve and the Pennsylvania Army National Guard. 

“There is something special about the Army and the camaraderie that is genuine. People care about each other and want to help each other. It extends to the battlefield and outside of the battlefield,” he said.

The Stakeleys belong to a team of 40 volunteers based at RMU, where Sgt. Stakeley is a faculty member in the school of business. The tax program, which is part of an Allegheny County non-profit tax preparation coalition, is led by Sgt. Stakeley’s friend and RMU colleague, Prof. Marcel Minutolo.

Minutolo started the program at RMU in 2012, and Sgt. Stakeley joined the team in 2014. Alongside other volunteer organizations such as United Way and Just Harvest, they provide free federal, state and local tax returns for lower income community members, and veterans and servicemembers regardless of income level.

In all, the RMU tax program has prepared thousands of tax returns over the past seven years, with returns summing to over tens of millions of dollars. All volunteers are Internal Revenue Service-certified. They consist of faculty members, students, and local business professionals from companies such as the Eaton Corporation and PNC Financial Services. 

Service has been a life-long mantra for Sgt. Stakeley, who previously was ‘Captain Stakeley’ in the PANG. An armor officer, he resigned his commission in 2008 to obtain his doctor of science degree in information systems and communication. He re-joined the military through the Army Reserve in 2014, and donates his drill pay to the Veterans Leadership Program of Western Pennsylvania, which helps veterans with legal issues, financial matters and housing.

“It’s a family thing,” said Marissa about community service. This is her first year preparing taxes, and her father could not be more proud.

Marissa, who is 17, has prepared taxes each Wednesday evening at RMU and many weekends at local units. Those she serves often are astounded by her age and maturity, which Sgt. Stakeley credits to his wife, who passed away last year.

Marissa is also a member of her school’s track team, and operates a small chicken egg operation in her free time. Next year she will start at Chatham University, where she will follow in her father’s footsteps in the military and business. She is enrolling as an Army Reserve Officers’ Training Corps cadet and will major in sustainability.

“My dad has learned a lot by being in the Army and it’s really impacted his civilian life. It’s really impacted me and my decisions on how I want to live in the future,” she said.

Marissa plans on joining her father at the 316th ESC. She hopes to become an Army quartermaster because she values the practical lessons in logistics that the branch provides.

“I want to be a business professional, and a business leader,” she said. “I want to understand logistics, and I believe that I will be able to learn it here and apply it to my civilian career.”

Sgt. Stakeley looks forward to working with his daughter over the next several years.

“I’m 53 years old. I can serve until I’m 60, and I have every intention of doing that. I believe I can make a bigger impact being embedded in the unit,” he said.