FORT RILEY, Kan. - When Staff Sgt. Michael K. Lima received deployment orders with the 1st Infantry Division's Combat Aviation Brigade in 2007, he already had a plan for whatever spare time he would have in Iraq.

The ammunition specialist had enrolled in graduate school online just a few months earlier through Fort Riley's Education Services. He found a program offered by Baker College that would help him earn a master's degree in business administration, with a concentration in human resources management.

Lima, who served a prior enlistment as a helicopter mechanic, had used his G.I. Bill to earn a bachelor's degree after leaving the Army in 2005. He reenlisted 18 months later and wasted no time investigating more education options. A fellow noncommissioned officer of higher rank got Lima interested in pursuing an online graduate degree.

Lima not only took his advice, he passed by his mentor in completing the program. "He's still halfway through it," Lima said. During his 15-month deployment, the Long Island, N.Y., native discovered keeping up with coursework was a challenge in a combat environment.

"At first, we didn't have a computer in our work area, but we ended up getting Internet service in our work area," he said. Instead of doing a lot of work at once, Lima paced himself. If he got a little free time, he logged on and moved further into a course.

"I'd chip away at it and spend an hour during lunch," he said. "On my day off, I'd spend more time on it." Lima completed the entire program soon after redeploying to Fort Riley last November. Along the way he mentored some of his comrades on the benefits of higher education, and convinced them to begin taking college classes also.

"Anybody that I've helped to do that, once they did the tuition assistance forms and picked a school, then they saw that it really was easy," Lima said. "They just have to get over being scared of that first step, and once they do, they're happy that they did it."

With his master's program behind him, Lima said he hopes someday to begin work on a doctorate. He offered some advice for Soldiers who have yet to enroll in classes. "Once you have any degree, your doors open," he said. You'll have more opportunities, not just in the military, but in life.

I have this piece of paper saying not only do I have all this experience in the military, I also have a solid education." Soldiers may discover that getting started on a college degree is much easier than they thought.

Army training they've already received may count for some credit hours because of the Army American Council on Education Registry Transcript System. AARTS is a computerized transcript system that produces official transcripts for eligible Soldiers upon request by combining a Soldier's military education, training and experience with descriptions and credit recommendations developed by the American Council on Education.

The AARTS transcript is designed to help college officials award credit for learning experiences the Soldier gained while in the military. The transcript provides the Soldier or veteran a supplement to his or her resume. It also provides employers with a better understanding of the scope of responsibilities and skills acquired in the military.

Visit http://aarts.army.mil/index.htm for more information about AARTS. For more information about getting started on a college degree at Fort Riley, visit the Army Education Centers in Buildings 7604, 7656 or 217.

Page last updated Fri January 23rd, 2009 at 17:21