As some of you know, I have decided to return to school to pursue a graduate degree. I am excited about beginning this new adventure in life and I wanted to tell you a little about it, and about how it came to be.
I am not sure if all of my readers are aware of this, but I am a veteran of the United State Coast Guard. The United States Coast Guard is a branch of the U.S. Armed Forces that works under the Department of Homeland Security. I served for four years in Houston, TX and was honorably discharged in June of 2006 after fulfilling my commitment. During my four years, I earned two Coast Guard Achievement Medals for my service (both computer/programming related), qualified on the 9mm pistol (sharpshooter) and the M-16 rifle, received an amazing letter of recommendation from my commanding officer, and completed a Bachelor of Science degree in Information Technology Management while attending school online.
So that long-winded horn-tooting was really about pointing out that I finished my B.S. while serving.
Some people may not realize this, but the Military has some AMAZING education benefits for those who serve. Most Americans have probably at least heard of the Montgomery GI Bill, but may not know exactly what that is, they also probably do not know about the other awesome benefits.
When I enlisted, the Montgomery GI Bill was one of the BIG reasons that I did. It was a late-in-life decision for me to enlist. I did it after September 11th, 2001. I actually was not able to go until June of 2002 because I needed to lose 80 lbs first. Which I did. I left on June 11th, 2002, 2 weeks after my wife and I found out that she was pregnant with our first child. Leaving was one of the hardest things I ever had to do. One week after I began the grueling eight weeks of basic training, I turned 29 years old.
That's right. I did eight weeks of military basic training at age 29. I was as much as 12 years older than some of the other recruits. I was even older than some of the Company Commanders.
After completing basic training and being assigned to a unit in Houston, TX, I began to research my options for going to school. There were some local schools that I could have attended, but with work and a newborn daughter, I could not maintain a regular schedule. As a lowly E-3 my work schedule fluctuated A LOT, and was typically on 12 hour night shifts for a long time. So I decided to attend school online. And I found out more about the benefits.
While serving in the military, enlisted personnel are eligible for Tuition Assistance. This is NOT part of any GI Bill. This is extra. It qualifies those personnel for up to (I think) $4500 or so in annual tuition assistance with no additional obligation to the military, since enlisted give their obligation up-front. This TA allowed me to take one eight-week class at a time, year round, without costing me anything. Additionally, while taking classes, I was studying for CLEP and DANTES exams. These are college-level equivalence tests that basically allow you to earn college credit if you already know the subject material. These test are available free to military personnel. So I was able to test out of classes that I was already well versed in from my own independent study. Things like Astronomy, Intro to Psychology, English, and basic information technology.
So in May of 2006, eight days before the end of my enlistment, I completed my last course and in July of 2006 I graduated. The entire cost of my schooling while I was serving was $0. And I only had to use 3% of my GI Bill to do it(there was one year when I took an extra class and I had already tapped out TA).
That means that I still have 97% of my GI Bill to use, which equates to about $42,000 of free education. And I do not want to see that money go to waste. I have 10 years from the end of my enlistment to use that money, or I lose it. So that gives me another 6.5 years. Time to get to work.
In two weeks I will begin studying for a Master of Science degree in Information Assurance and Security at Capella University in Minneapolis. I have once again opted to attend class online. I have the discipline to maintain my work, and I like the freedom it gives me to work when I can make the time.
The Information Assurance and Security program at Capella seems like a great fit for me and my interests and I am hoping that it will give me some awesome blogging material. So you can look forward to some good posts on the material I will be studying.
I will, again, be taking one class at a time. I still have a full-time job, and I have two children now, plus my wife is attending school in the evenings (she is in a Culinary program), so one class should be enough to keep me busy.
Anyway, if anyone has any questions for me about military education benefits for you or your children or life in the Coast Guard, I would be happy to answer them. The military is a fantastic and honorable way to serve your country and make a difference, not to mention the fantastic medical and educational benefits. I figure I will be 2/3rds of the way through a doctoral program before I need to start paying for anything.
The Montgomery GI Bill is no longer an option for new enlisted members of the military. The new GI Bill is called the 9/11 GI Bill and is, in many ways, even better than the Montgomery GI Bill.