By Adrienne AndersonJuly 17, 2013
FORT BENNING, Ga., (July 17, 2013) -- Balancing work and school can be difficult -- especially if you add deployments, PCSing, transitioning from the military and other challenges Soldiers face.
Soldiers who seek assistance from the Army Continuing Education System in Building 2602, Soldiers Plaza, are coming at various stages in their academic careers, said Hillary Bailey, education service specialist. Over the past 12 months, ACES saw about 12,800 Soldiers.
No matter your goals, Hillary Bailey recommends starting early and not overloading yourself with classes. And if you don't know where to begin, start with ACES.
"Some (Soldiers) are intimidated because they don't really know what to do or how to get started," she said. "Some may not have great computer skills ... they can do all of this great Army stuff but they may be intimidated by trying to do something online on their own. A lot of them worry about their schedules -- because a lot of times they might have to stay late when they are not expecting to, or they go out in the field -- so they are worried about how can they complete a class when they don't always know what their schedules are going to be like."
She said although they often see younger Soldiers, there are many times when older Soldiers come to ACES especially if they are about to transition out of the military.
They realize they should take advantage of benefits such as tuition assistance before they retire or ETS, Hillary Bailey said.
"Everybody has to start somewhere," she said.
Sgt. 1st Class James Bailey, Hillary Bailey's husband, is a medical platoon sergeant who also works 10 hours or more a day. He started his education career in 1995 before online classes. Although he said he prefers the traditional classroom, he said he sees the importance of online classes.
"The main thing is having the convenience of online courses," he said. "I can do those at home, on the weekends, whenever -- it's at my leisure at that point."
Once you are enrolled in a college, Bailey advises starting with one class.
"It sounds really easy when you are looking at the syllabus ... but if you try to load up on two or three classes and then get overwhelmed, get burned out -- and end up having to pay money back," she said. "You'll get a bad taste in your mouth and think 'forget it, school is not for me.'"
Bad grades can affect tuition assistance, she said. And if you feel like you are struggling, talk to someone who can help you get to the root of the problem.
Only later when you get more comfortable should you take on additional classes if you think you can handle it, Bailey said.
Staff Sgt. Michael Walk is currently taking three classes at Austen Peay State University. His goal is to get a bachelor's degree in homeland security and he also works 10 to 14-hour days as the senior processing NCO at A Company, 30th Adjutant General Battalion (Reception). He has been following his education goals since 2007 and has an associate's degree in liberal arts. He is currently going through the Army Career and Alumni Program to transition to a civilian.
"Mostly I was scared that I would fail class or I wouldn't have time due to the mission," he said about when he first started pursuing his education. Soon after he started school he deployed for the first time. "The chain of command was really supportive of (Soldiers') education."
Walk will be out of the Army in December, which is also the time when he will graduate with his bachelor's degree.
"Education can really help in the military as well," Hillary Bailey said. "If they are going to stay in and make a career, it's going to help them with promotion points. The Army is getting more competitive with the downsizing and it's important because they look at that."
Because of online classes James Bailey was able to finish his associate's degree while in Iraq, he said. But it wasn't always easy because of time.
"You are working six days out of the week. They give you a little bit of off-time on a Sunday," he said.
Currently, he said is seeking a bachelor's degree in emergency disaster management from the University of Maryland.
Realize there are many resources available to you, he said.
Walk said it's up to the individual to see what those benefits are. And on-post resources will be able to help you.
"Most of us that work here are either Family members of Soldiers or prior military or have worked with them for a very long time," Hillary Bailey said. "(We) can understand what they are going through."
"I think whenever I first came in, at one point it was a lot easier to take classes because I had less responsibility," he said. "But the more responsibility you end up getting, obviously, the more time you end up devoting to do other things."
He said staying goal-oriented will help you stay on track.
"It's like Nike, you pretty much have to 'just do it,'" Walk said.
For more information, contact ACES at 706-545-7397.