FORT SILL, Okla. -- The first class of Advanced Individual Training Soldiers from 30th Air Defense Artillery Brigade completed a civilian certification course on Computer Technology Industry Association information technology, or CompTIA IT, fundamentals on Oct. 22 at Fort Sill.

The course taught Soldiers fundamental concepts of computer security best practices. It also provided students with an understanding of the infrastructure of common operating systems and how to establish a network.

The Army's credentialing program, created in 2015, provides Soldiers a way to receive civilian certifications related to their military occupational specialties, or MOS.

"It prepares our Soldiers for the marketplace. Whether the emphasis in the marketplace is on an educational degree or a certificate or license, this program is going to ensure our Soldiers are well-rounded as they enter the civilian workforce," said Col. Sam Whitehurst, Army Soldier for Life program director.

Four instructors led the 12 AIT students through the three days of training.

Once finished, the Soldiers were driven to Great Plains Technology Center where they were administered the certification test in a high-stakes testing lab. These labs are secure testing facilities that meet stringent industry standards required for certification testing.

These newest air defenders are in their third week of training and have already completed two previous MOS tests. This class is the first of three pilot classes for the 30th Air Defense Artillery Brigade.

Sgt. 1st Class Jessica Llavet is the Air Defense Enhanced Early Warning System Operator course manager and the senior instructor who assisted with setting up the class.

"The CompTIA IT fundamentals will be beneficial and will make it easier when Soldiers are going into computer networking. It gives them more of an understanding before they get into the complicated parts of their jobs," she said.

The civilian instructor from the New Horizon Learning Center is Andrew Karaganis from San Antonio.

He explained that the CompTIA IT fundamental course is the foundation for CompTIA certifications in A+, Network+, and Security+. He used a standard lecture-style teaching technique but also included a new virtual lab accessed on student laptops.

With a glint in his eye and a chuckle in his voice, Karaganis said, "[The virtual labs] are great; it's hard to break a virtual lab."

As for the certifications he teaches, Karaganis said "They will open a lot of doors and carry a lot of weight in the outside world."

For a civilian, the CompTIA IT fundamentals certification can cost well over $1,000; but the books, class instruction, transportation, and test were free for the Soldiers.

Jennifer Smith, leader development and education analyst for the Air Defense Artillery School commandant, explained that Training and Doctrine Command funded the Air Defense Artillery credentialing and certification programs with oversight from the ADA commandant.

The 30th Air Defense Artillery Brigade provides its Soldiers various credentialing programs. For example, warrant officers in the Command and Control Systems Integrator MOS have certified on CompTIA A+, Network+, and Security+. The 140L warrants are the Air and Missile Defense System Support technicians, for which the Red River Technology Center in Duncan provides a certification class on basic electronics in alternating and direct currents.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration provides Patriot Launching Station Enhanced Operator and Maintainer AIT students the opportunity to certify on Class VII rough terrain forklift trucks. To date, the brigade has certified nearly 1,000 14T AIT Soldiers on these forklifts.

Also, Smith is working on developing a credentialing program with Oklahoma State University on radar theory.

"Our educational partners work so well with us and are instrumental in helping us facilitate our credentialing programs," she said.