Most high school seniors have now graduated in some form. A year from now, where do you want to be? Just completing a year of college, or in a solid job making around $35,000 a year if you’re single, if married how about making around $50,000 a year, and going to college.
I spoke at the Veterans Day Assembly about the opportunities that are available in the military. After a soldier has been in the Army for a year, he or she will have completed Basic Combat Training, and most all AIT’s (Advanced Individual Training), plus special training, such as airborne school, and is assigned to a permanent assignment, and probably will have been promoted to PFC (Private First Class E-3).
Let’s do some numbers. A PFC E-3, single soldier living in the dorm in a private room, receiving no extra pay, such as parachute pay, and paying 3 percent of their pay into a Thrift Savings Plan, which the government matches, claiming him or herself as one dependent will have take home pay of around $1,635.00 per month, half paid on the 1st and half on the 15th. No rent and no food expense if you eat all meals in the Dining Facility, which has excellent food, and 100 percent health care, if you need it. If you are married and your wife or husband is living with you in family housing on post, your take home pay will be around $2,085.00 per month, and you’re living in a nice house, no rent, no utilities, no maintenance, 100 percent health care (babies are free).
After getting settled in your job at your permanent assignment, go to the post education center, and talk to a guidance counselor. The ed center counselor is thoroughly familiar with DANTES (Defense Activity for Non-Traditional Education Support). DANTES will help you get semester hours for military training and experience. Basic training produces around 5 SH from most schools. Some AIT’s give you many semester hours, some do not. Health Care Specialist MOS 68W (Combat Medic) is 16 weeks and produces close to 30 SH, so does the 16 week 35F Military Intelligence Analyst course. The 20 week 25B Information Technology Specialist (computers), and the 20 plus week 17C Cyber Operations Specialist (hacker) course gets close to 60 SH, as does the 26 week 46S Public Affairs Mass Communications (photo journalist and broadcaster) course. Most of the combat arms AIT’s don’t produce that much. Those hours must be accepted by a college or university, but several military friendly schools are represented at every post ed center. The counselor knows which schools give credits for what. The counselor is also familiar with DSST (DANTES Subject Standardized Tests), in other words CLEP (College Level Examination Program). DANTES has 38 subjects on which you can test out, for free, and get semester hour credit without attending a class. They also provide study material prior to taking the test. The counselor will help you prepare a Joint Service Transcript (JST), documenting semester hours for military training and experience. JST’s are accepted by over 2,300 schools nationwide, but primarily by the 1,800 schools in the SOCAD (Servicemembers Opportunity College) network. These schools form a network that helps servicemembers get associates and bachelors degrees. They accept hours from military education and experience and they accept each-others hours.
Military TA (Tuition Assistance) is $250 per semester hour, for up to 16 semester hours (SH) per year. Almost 100 percent of the colleges and universities represented at Army Education Centers (every post has an ed center), have set their tuition at $250 per semester hour (SH).
Is it really possible to go to college while on active duty? Absolutely! The Army is so serious about civilian education that every semester hour is worth one promotion point to Sergeant. However, your day job comes first. Is it possible to go from being a high school graduate to a bachelors’ degree in four years, while in the Army? Probably not. Time is the big factor. Combat arms soldiers don’t have as much off time as support soldiers. Their training is often in the field and often at night. I did read a comment from one infantryman who obtained a bachelors’ degree in five years. He was shooting for OCS (Officer Candidate School), for which you have to have a bachelors’ degree and no more than six years of service. He surely had to sacrifice almost all social life to do that. Many combat arms soldiers use online classes almost exclusively.
I’ve attended and taught evening college classes at the education center on Fort Leonard Wood, and I’m familiar with online. In my opinion, attending class in the evening is easier, for the student, than that class online. On post classes usually top out at around 20 students, you have almost one on one instruction, you can ask questions, bounce off other students, and immediately find out if you are on the right track. The only advantage of online classes is that you can set your own time, but you basically have to teach yourself. They often take more time and study than attending class. Many colleges and universities with on post classes now use eight week sessions. Two 3 SH classes per session equals 30 SH year, if you can hit every session.
What jobs and assignments allow you the time to go to school? Even if college is your goal, don’t pick an Army job based solely on its’ ability to let you attend classes. If you want to be an airborne ranger, don’t accept anything less. As I have said before, research the Army, talk to people, and select a job that you think you will enjoy. During my Army career I met many career soldiers who were initially drafted into the Army. And many who enlisted for three years to get the GI Bill. Almost 20 Percent, 2 out of 10, people who enlist in the Army, spend 20 years and retire. Our son, Richard, spent four years as an infantryman in the 10th Mountain Division and saw combat in Somalia in the summer of 1993 (Blackhawk Down). He got out when his enlistment was up, finished college, and has enjoyed a very successful career in the information technology field, but to this day says that the smartest decision he ever made was to enlist in the Army.
Some jobs, like those I mentioned above, will give you almost two years of college when you finish AIT, many will not.
So, I encourage you to consider the Army. Basic training is physically demanding and challenging, but ends up being fun. No gain without pain. It’s your future – take control.