The prospect of higher education seems to be enticing for many looking to enlist in the military.
“It’s in every pamphlet, in posters, it comes out of every recruiter’s mouth saying, “Education, education, education,” he said.
That was a big reason why Naperville resident Robert Wright signed up to be a Biomedical Equipment Specialist in the U.S. Army.
“With my son born and my wife in school herself, we knew that education was a huge priority and knew that for our child as well. So aside from providing me with a skill set in the army, the education was a big factor in my role in choosing to go with that.”
Wright leaves for basic training in late April and like many who’ve enlisted in military service, intended to apply for tuition assistance once he completes his first year of training. But because of the Sequester, the Army, Marines, Coast Guard and Air Force have all eliminated the program.
“It does worry me,” said Wright. “I had intended to use the tuition assistance to take classes while away from my family and working so that once I was done and they were able to rejoin me, I could spend more time with them rather than being away from them, taking classes.
More than 200,000 soldiers had been taking advantage of tuition assistance to further their journey through academia…including Wright’s friend, Damien Hernandez, who has spent the last six years in the Army Reserves.
“The fact that they offer that tuition assistance was a big selling point so that I can further my education so when I’m done with the military, I have a life that I can adapt to versus not really having any other skill set in areas other than the military,” said Hernandez.
He’s taking online courses from Devry University to pursue a marketing degree. He managed to enroll in two classes just one day before the cuts to the tuition assistance program took effect, but as of now that will be the last of any financial aid from the Army.
“This puts a big standstill on my life,” said Hernandez. “The Army was helping fund $4,500 a year or $250 per credit hour. So now I have to accommodate for that loss in tuition assistance and find other means of funding for my education.”
For Hernandez, the loss of funding also feels like the loss of backing from the very country he’s trained to protect.
“You hear constantly, ‘Support our troops. Support our troops,’” he said. “You hear it everywhere. I’m not feeling that right now.”
Both Hernandez and Wright have signed an online petition to bring back the tuition assistance program. That petition has reached more than 100,000 signatures, enough to reach White House officials for review.
Some senators are rallying in Washington to reinstate the program. The Navy is the only branch of the Armed Forces that has not yet eliminated its tuition assistance.
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