ALEXANDRIA, Va. (Army News Service, July 23, 2009) -- Although the Post 9/11 GI Bill is not effective until Aug. 1, servicemembers may submit a request to transfer benefits to their spouses and children now.

"Transferability of Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits has been the most requested initiative we receive from our servicemembers," Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Military Personnel Policy Bill Carr said, "and we believe it will assist us in retaining highly qualified military personnel."

Career servicemembers on active duty or in the selected reserve on Aug. 1 who are eligible for the Post 9/11 GI Bill may be entitled to transfer all or a portion of their unused Post 9/11 GI Bill entitlement to one or more family members.

Among the first to take advantage of the Post 9/11 GI Bill was 1st Sgt. Steven Colbert, Headquarters Company, 3rd U.S. Infantry (The Old Guard) at Fort Myer, Va. The Old Guard conducts ceremonies in the national capital area, funerals in Arlington National Cemetery, showcases the Army to the nation's citizens and the world, and defends the dignity and honor of fallen comrades at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

"I will be the first to say that the Army is probably the best thing that has ever happened to me. It has given me some of the advantages that I didn't have as a child growing up. One of the reasons why I stayed in so long is because of Jordan (9), my son. Now I have the opportunity to give him something I never had," Colbert said.

Colbert has spent 23 years in the Army with tours throughout Europe and across the U.S.

During his years in the Army, Colbert took advantage of tuition assistance and graduated with a B.S. degree in Management. His wife, Danielle, currently a junior at Prince George's Community College, is working towards her B.A. in Business Administration. Jordan already has big plans.

"I want to go in the Army and play football," Jordan said with a big smile. "But I want to attend Virginia Tech first."

"I didn't put that in his head," Colbert said. "He already has picked that out and with us being here in the D.C. area, the Post 9/11 GI Bill is perfect. It's a pricey school but these benefits are going to help me be able to take care of's just wonderful. I'm just overwhelmed about the opportunity to really be able to take care of him," Colbert said.

For Soldiers and Army spouses who might want to continue with their studies, the Post 9/11 GI Bill can be used for all levels of degree programs, including a second degree, a master's degree or even a doctorate.

Defense officials are advising service members to transfer at least a month's worth of GI Bill benefit to every dependent before they leave service. This will lock in an opportunity to change the number of months transferred at a later time.

Any family member not approved for transferability before a member retires or separates will be denied the opportunity forever, unless the member re-enters service.

Likewise, veterans who remarry or have more children after leaving service will not be able to transfer GI Bill benefits to these new family members.

"It's recommended that Soldiers add all family members as potential beneficiaries of their Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits. Once a Soldier has retired or separated from the Army, they can no longer add new family members as potential beneficiaries," said Bob Clark, the DoD's assistant director for accession policy and military personnel policy.

As a first sergeant of The Old Guard, Colbert also wants to make sure his Soldiers know about this benefit.

"Because I'm the first sergeant here at Headquarters Company, with all these assets like the Regimental Career counselors, I'm in a unique position to pass this knowledge on to my Soldiers," Colbert said.

A program he's particularly proud of is College 101 which the Fort Myer military community developed with the Army Education Center. Representatives from local colleges and universities will hold an educational fair

"We will have people come in from the education center who will advise Soldiers to take advantage of these benefits, because they have to have some type of educational background to be successful. A lot of us in the Army don't realize it but, hey, it's tough outside that gate, real tough. You've got to have a balance. You've got to be more competitive than the next person," Colbert said.

Tuition is not the only benefit extended to potential college-goers. For students attending school more than half the time, the Post 9/11 GI Bill also pays housing costs, up to a rate equivalent to the Basic Allowance for Housing rate for an E-5 with dependents in the zip code where the school is located.

Students are also entitled to a yearly stipend of up to $1,000 to cover the cost of books and supplies, and students from highly rural areas who are transferring to a school may also be entitled to a one-time payment of $500.

"I get choked up just thinking about the benefits I'm able to give my son," Colbert said.

Soldiers could actually elect to transfer benefits to family members beginning June 29, through the Transferability of Educational Benefits Web site at

The Department of Veterans Affairs administers the "Post 9/11 GI Bill," and determines eligibility for education benefits. Further information on eligibility, benefit levels, and application procedures can be found at the VA Web site.

(Rob McIlvaine serves with Family and MWR Command Public Affairs.)