By Sgt. 1st Class Rhonda M. Lawson, 3rd Sustainment Brigade, 3rd ID Public AffairsJuly 22, 2010
VICTORY BASE COMPLEX, Iraq - Five Soldiers stand shoulder-to-shoulder in front of two dry erase boards in a dimly lit classroom, fervently working through math problems. Once they're done, they shuffle back to their seats, expectant looks on their faces.
"Okay, let's go through these," announces Capt. Ning Agbay as she walks up to the first problem.
It's a matter of figuring out how much tax a person would add to the original price of a product. "What's the first thing we need to do here'"
The 24 students in the class work together in solving the problem and checking their work. Some, who didn't come up with the same answer, ask questions. Others look triumphant, knowing they got the answer right.
While many students look to pursue their education while on deployment, this isn't just a regular college course. The students in this classroom are in the midst of a two-week Functional Academic Skills Training class to prepare for the Armed Forces Class Test, which will enable them to raise their General Technical scores. The 373rd Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, 3rd Sustainment Brigade, the 103rd Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) currently offers two of these classes each month. However, with the unit preparing to redeploy in August, this class could be the last offered on Liberty Base.
The unit took on the responsibility of offering the classes to help its Soldiers raise their General Technical scores while deployed.
"We knew we could get more bang for the buck by using our leadership who have bachelor's and master's degrees," explained 373rd CSSB Command Sgt. Maj. Donald Montgomery, a native of Houston. "GT scores in the active component are generally higher than in the Reserves."
Currently, there are about 10 FAST classes offered in various areas of VBC, but the 373rd was the only unit offering classes in the Liberty area. They were also one of the few who taught the class during the day. While some may feel this takes the Soldier out of the fight for two weeks, Capt. Agbay, a Cherry Hill, N.J., native, said she sees this as a positive.
"If taking a Soldier out of the mission for two weeks will improve the Soldier's ability to think and expand that Soldier's opportunities for advancement, then it's time well spent," she said.
Although the class started off being offered only to 373rd CSSB students, the class was opened to any Soldier who wanted to take the class. They even accepted standbys from other classes whose seats were filled, according to Patricia Davis-Mullins, the VBC Education Services Officer.
"We hope that if we can continue the program, we'll get more Soldiers to come out," Davis-Mullins said. "There is no cost to the Soldier."
Unfortunately, the FAST classes won't be the only thing going away. With the redeployment of the 373rd also goes the Staff Sgt. William J. Beardsley Pre-Warrior Leader Course, a seven-day class that helps Soldiers prepare for WLC once they return to their homestations.
"I still have units on VBC contacting me about Pre-WLC," Command Sgt. Maj. Montgomery said. "But we don't have the resources anymore."
The Pre-WLC course began in 2009 with the 260th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, out of Hunter Army Airfield, Ga., and was named after Staff Sgt. William J. Beardsley, who was killed when an IED detonated near his vehicle during the 260th CSSB's 2007 deployment to Iraq. When the 373rd replaced the 260th CSSB earlier this year, they continued the program, and later added the extra incentive of two college credits.
"You won't get a 1059 for completing the course," Command Sgt. Maj. Montgomery said. "But you can't beat getting college credits and promotion points."
Since the 373rd CSSB took over the course, more than 400 Soldiers have completed it, Command Sgt. Maj. Montgomery said.
"It's a wonderful thing for the Soldiers," Davis-Mullins said. "It's NCOs mentoring Soldiers. We can't teach the Pre-Warrior Leader Course, but we can capture those segments (of education) and kill two birds with one stone."
Since the 373rd CSSB is not scheduled to be replaced, it is uncertain whether another unit will pick up the course and continue it. The course guidon has already been retired and cased. Davis-Mullins said she has hopes that someone will pick up the course soon.
"It will take another unit to step up to the plate for this task," she said, "and we will be right there as partners."