VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. --
It was the Fourth of July, and fireworks were illuminating the night sky on the Central Coast. The aroma of various foods on the grill wafted through the California air. Friends and loved ones all gathered throughout Vandenberg, and beyond, to celebrate our annual “Brexit 1776.” While most celebrated their freedom on this significant night, I was restricted in my house like a punished child, feverishly pushing fingers to keys – finishing yet another assignment right before the deadline.
Now for some, the picture I just painted may look like a lazy, disgruntled college student finally starting his homework during the 11th hour, but I assure you, nothing could be further from the truth. Before uploading my literature homework at 11:58 p.m., one minute before the deadline, I had spent the previous three hours researching and preparing a five-minute public speech for a different class. Prior to all of the aforementioned, I spent two hours studying for an upcoming College Level Examination Program, or CLEP, test.
So why was I cramming so much work into such little time?
I left myself with no choice.
As members of the Air Force, we’re afforded many luxuries associated with our service. In my opinion, however, the most valuable of those luxuries is our educational benefits.
The Air Force will pay for your schooling not only during your military career, but after you separate as well. Programs like Air Force Tuition Assistance and the Post 9/11 GI Bill are almost too good to be true. Additionally, everyone can obtain an associate-equivalent degree in their specific career field through the Community College of the Air Force – another free incentive. Unfortunately, I left most of my benefits on a shelf collecting dust for the last three and a half years, and it’s come around full circle to haunt me now.
I’m now attempting to complete an entire associate’s degree via CLEP tests and regular classes in one semester while beginning my out-processing and preparing for life after the Air Force. Luckily, I’ve had some help along the way.
Don’t hesitate to use all of the resources at your disposal. Ms. Dorian Hodge at the Education Center is probably sick of seeing my name in her Outlook inbox by now, but she has been one of my saviors throughout this whole ordeal. With time running out and my back against the wall earlier this year, Ms. Hodge was able to help me develop a tailor-made plan that would allow me to finish my CCAF with about a month to spare before my separation date. The only caveat with this plan is that my margin of error isn’t even paper thin – it’s nonexistent. Failure is not an option for me, which again is a result of my previously lackadaisical efforts.
Don’t make the same mistakes I did. I’m not telling you to sign up for three classes and four CLEP tests upon arrival at your first duty station. But don’t put your CCAF, or any other degree, on the backburner during your time in the military. It’s especially difficult in the often distracting state of California, where the beaches, big cities, and hiking trails are practically always calling your name. It’s almost tragic to watch these benefits go to waste. Write down your questions, go to the briefings, ask your questions, find out about your benefits, and ask more questions.
More sleep-deprived, buzzer-beating deadline nights are sure to be in my immediate future, and I’m okay with that. As long as those nights yield a degree in my hand, it will all have been worth it. However, this could have easily been avoided with better preparation and a plan. Next year, I’ll be watching the fireworks outside, and not through my window pane.