Tips for navigating college from a student soldier

This article was originally published on The Knightly News blog on September 17, 2020.

Guardsman explains how he balances school and service

The most frequent question I get from my classmates, as well as from faculty and staff, is: “How can you manage your time with both?”

I always answer that it is challenging, but easily manageable – if you have multiple plans of action.

Lots of perks

Being in the National Guard has many benefits. The one benefit everyone is familiar with is the National Guard has something called EAP, which stands for education assistance program.

That means that while serving, the Guard will cover tuition for certain state schools and community colleges across the state.

Another benefit of the Guard is that it offers a 6-year service contract. If you decide to reenlist, then the Pennsylvania Army National Guard offers new education assistance to your spouse and children when they attend college.

The next benefit is that being in the military looks good on a resume and can help you get a job. In the military, you learn to be disciplined and professional and, and those are two important characteristics are ones an employer is looking for.

Yet another benefit is that if you want to work for the state or federal government, being or having served in the military will give you bonus points, because a lot of state and federal jobs involve people having gone through the training you learned while serving in the military, and some continue taking that training.

Perhaps the most popular benefit is that if you serve for 20 years, you can receive a military pension. The military also offers a great life-insurance benefit, along with medical and dental benefits.

Plenty of support

Central Penn College has a great liaison, student success coach Dan Guerrisi, who oversees veterans’ affairs at the school. Guerrisi does an excellent job of making sure active military students and veterans are taken care of.

Next, the professors of our campus are willing to work with soldiers and will provide extensions on assignments you might need because of being called to duty, if you continue to communicate with them.

When it comes to my Guard duty, I do not ask for extensions on assignments for drill weekends, because a typical drill weekend is only Saturday and Sunday. I usually have all my assignments done by Friday if I have a drill weekend because usually by the end of the duty day, I am very tired and end up going to bed because we have to be in early again the next day.

So, how do I manage?

Now, to answer the question of how I manage my time to make sure I stay on top of my military duties and schoolwork.

My military job is being a 92G, which is a culinary specialist. In plain English, it means I’m a cook.

As a cook in the military, my day depends on which shift I work and what day of the week it is. During the first week of my two-week training, I worked the night shift, which meant my day usually began between 11 a.m. and noon on a normal day. If it was a rations day, however, then my day started at 8 a.m. The normal military duty day ends at 1700 (“seventeen hundred,” or “seventeen hundred hours”), which is 5 p.m. For a cook, the day does not end until around 2100 (9 p.m.).

During my second week of the training, I was on day shift. When I was on the day shift, my day started at 4 a.m. and ended around noon.  When it came to the two shifts, I believe the day shift was easier on my school schedule, because after, I was working. So, I had time to do school work while on the day shift, but not a lot of time at night, because as a cook, your duty day is very tiring.

For the two weeks we were on orders, the projected headcount for the unit was 350 soldiers; they had to be fed. For breakfast, the most we fed was around 125 and for dinner, we fed at most, 160. The reason we were not feeding many soldiers was that soldiers had other food options on the post.

Multiple food establishments surround Fort Indiantown Gap. These establishments include Moose’s, which is a bar and grill, Pizza Town, and multiple fast-food chain restaurants.

For the two-week annual training, the most popular meal the soldiers enjoyed was the Salisbury steak for dinner, and the breakfast sandwiches to start their day.

I was able to keep up with my schoolwork because I planned and knew what to expect from my annual training, as well as reached out to my professors before the term started so they were aware. I always tell students that if you reach out to your professors early and keep communicating, they will be willing to work with you. Keep that in mind, current and future Knights.

Regular drill weekends

When we have a regular drill weekend, my section usually reports for 0730 (7:30) on Saturdays. Our report time on Sundays varies, based on how much we get done on Saturday.

When I tell people that, they say, “Well, you are a cook. What else do you possibly have to do on a drill weekend after you cook lunch?” The response I give them is when you report to a drill weekend, your first job is being a soldier. That means if there is a soldier task you must complete, you must do that task before working on your other Guard job.

Some soldier tasks include briefings and PowerPoint training, online training and hands-on training. The popular training that we do in the military includes training on how to avoid sexual harassment, which is referred to as SHARP training, and equal-opportunity training. Hands-on training includes learning how to drive a military vehicle like a Humvee or a Lmtvee, or LMTV (light medium tactical vehicle). We also do weapons marksmanship, where we must qualify on the assigned weapon, based on our MOS (military operational specialty).

My favorite training to do hands-on in the military is PMCS on our vehicles and equipment. PMCS is preventive maintenance checks and services. The purpose of a PMCS is to make sure your equipment and vehicles are in good condition and are ready for use when needed. I enjoy doing that hands-on training because it helps me understand what to look for if there is an issue with our equipment or vehicles when we are driving the vehicle or performing the PMCS.

Being in the Guard is a truly rewarding experience, in many ways, and that is definitely something to keep in mind, current and future Knights.

By Parker Rose
Knightly News Reporter

Rose is president of The Knightly News.

Edited by media-club co-adviser and blog editor Professor Michael Lear-Olimpi.

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