Like many of her fellow Soldiers, when Pvt. Tanya Otto joined the Wisconsin National Guard, she planned on taking advantage of the many benefits available to her, including money to help pay for college.

She has already completed one semester. But unlike many in her position, there is one benefit she declined to exercise -- the college-first option.

The 23-year-old, light-wheel vehicle mechanic student is in her sixth week of Advanced Individual Training. She recently learned that her unit, the 32nd Brigade Special Troops Battalion, has been put on alert to deploy to Iraq in February.

Under the college-first option for National Guard Soldiers she could have chosen to complete two years of college with the guarantee of not being deployed. Instead, she chose to delay college and deploy with the rest of her unit.

"I knew I had the option," said Otto. "I feel if I get deployed, I'd rather get deployed with people I know - the people I drill with - rather than with complete strangers two years down the road."
Otto's choice is not one a lot of Soldiers would have made said the 187th Ordnance Battalion's Army National Guard liaison Sgt. 1st Class Corey Parrish.

"It's very rare that you see a Soldier choose to deploy rather than go to college," he said. "It says a lot about a Soldier's character when they put country first like that."

When she first found out that her unit was put on alert, Otto said it was an easy decision to make, one that her family and friends supported.

"It's going to happen either way. I don't see us leaving anytime soon. Even if we stopped the war, it's going to take a while to get everything situated," she said. "If it's (deploying) something you are dreading, you shouldn't have signed up in the first place when we are in the middle of a war."

After her deployment, Otto said she plans to finish up her degree in criminal justice.
The Army National Guard College First program provides qualified high school graduates and graduating seniors, with no prior military service, the opportunity to complete up to two years of full-time schooling, with no federal mobilization or deployment upon completion of Initial Entry Training.

Other benefits of the program include:
Aca,!Ac Up to a $20,000 enlistment bonus
Aca,!Ac Basic educational assistance of $309 per month
Aca,!Ac Additional educational assistance of $350 per month for those enlisting in a critical MOS and assigned to a qualified unit
Aca,!Ac 100 percent college tuition assistance, up to $4,500 a year
Aca,!Ac Up to 100 percent state tuition assistance