FORT SILL, Okla. (Feb. 8, 2017) -- Out of more than 1,600 Soldiers nationwide who applied for this year's Army Green to Gold Active Duty Option -- a two-year college degree program that produces commissioned officers -- Cameron University in Lawton had four Soldiers chosen.
Three work at Fort Sill; the fourth works at Fort Campbell, Ky.

The Fort Sill Soldiers chosen to attend Cameron University in August are: Sgt. 1st Class Jason Blanco, 3rd Battalion, 6th Air Defense Artillery; Sgt. 1st Class Lauran Kissiah, 32nd Air Defense Missile Defense Command; and Staff Sgt. Kevin Rutherford, 1st Battalion, 78th Field Artillery.

A couple unique factors stood out regarding this year's Green to Gold Active Duty Option: Cameron University had more active-duty option winners than any other college in America, according to Jeff Klosterman, recruiting operations officer for the ROTC Comanche Battalion at Cameron. Also, two of the three Soldiers from Fort Sill needed waivers to attend due to their higher NCO ranks, age and other considerations.

Normally, Army Cadet Command at Fort Knox, Ky., chooses NCOs and enlisted Soldiers in the ranks of staff sergeant and below who are under 30 years of age.

Strict criteria exclude most Green to Gold applicants. In fact, of the 1,600 Soldiers who applied nationwide, Cadet Command selected 200. Applicants submitted packets last November, and Cadet Command announced selections in January.

The Green to Gold Active Duty Option runs every year. Some qualifications prospective applicants must posses are: U.S. citizenship (nonwaiverable), be under age 30, no domestic violence convictions, a general technical (GT) score of at least 110 on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) test, a passing score on the Army Physical Fitness Test, letters of acceptance from various organizations, medical fitness, and other items. Some qualifications can be waived; others cannot.

The three Fort Sill Soldiers explained how they became interested in applying for the program and shared their Army background.

"It started with one of my mentors (an Army warrant officer 5) who just retired. He talked to me about my future, my career and asked me if I wanted to go warrant," Blanco said.

The warrant officer urged Blanco to study so he could raise his GT score.

"My GT score was 103. After a bit of those professional development conversations with him, I gave in. I went to the education center (at Fort Sill) and signed up for the BSEP (Basic Skills Education Program) and raised my GT score to 115, and I also raised all my line scores dramatically.

BSEP is a two month course eligible Soldiers attend on half days while fulfilling their normal Army duties. Though Soldiers can attend BSEP for other reasons, most attend to raise their ASVAB scores.

Blanco said he nearly has a bachelor's degree but has had to pursue a different degree to qualify and participate in Green to Gold. Now at Cameron University, he will undergo interdisciplinary studies with a focus on military sciences and organizational leadership. He holds a military occupational specialty (MOS) of 14T, Patriot Launching Station Enhanced Operator-Maintainer. While he waits for the fall semester at Cameron, Blanco works as an administrative assistant and operations NCO for 3-6th ADA. He was the Fires Center of Excellence's curriculum developer of the year for 2017.

Kissiah, a platoon and drill sergeant, still maintains an intense work schedule while he waits to attend Cameron. He holds MOS 14E, Patriot Fire Control Enhanced Operator. He also was working on a college degree but must rematriculate into something else to stay in the program. He is majoring in interdisciplinary studies with an emphasis on military science and marketing.

"It was my second year applying for it. The first year I applied I was deployed, downrange attempting to do everything," Kissiah said. "I got the majority of (the application) done with a few minor things that held me up, so I didn't get selected last year. They told me to try again next year so I did."

Both Soldiers said they want to remain on active duty and retire as officers. Upon selection and completion for the two-year Green to Gold, active-duty Soldiers must fulfill at least 10 years in the Army as an officer.

The third Soldier, Rutherford, said he has completed a bachelor's degree, but is willing to take on another degree to become an officer. While awaiting schooling at Cameron, he works as an instructor for advanced individual training Soldier-students at 1-78th FA. He teaches the MOS of 13M, Multiple Launch Rocket System-High Mobility Artillery Rocket System.

"I completed my bachelor's degree in 2016. I am planning on staying within the field artillery community once I commission," said Rutherford stated. "I would highly recommend Green to Gold to any Soldier who has the drive to achieve academic success while excelling on active duty. I found the process more simplified than other commissioning sources, and it allows Soldiers to find the happy medium between being challenged academically and professionally."

While attending Cameron University, Soldiers are still on active duty and receive all the pay and benefits of full-time Soldiers. They may wear civilian clothes on campus, but for ROTC events they don their Army uniforms. They must maintain a certain grade point average and maintain normal military order and discipline. They have organized fitness training at least three times a week and some field training.