BAGHDAD - The United States Forces-Iraq Deputy Commanding General for Advising and Training recognized 17 members of the A&T team for their commitment to post-secondary education while deployed in support of Operation New Dawn, during an awards ceremony at the Babylon Conference Center here May 4.

The awards ceremony is part of a new Quarterly Education Excellence Recognition Program, designed to honor individual commitment to advanced education. Honorees include service members - enlisted, noncommissioned officers and officers - as well as civilian employees.

Among the 17 honorees, two are working towards associate's degrees; six towards bachelor's degrees, six towards master's degrees; and three are working towards doctorate's degrees.

The most junior person recognized was U.S. Army Pfc. Ashley Powell, a finance management specialist with the 1153rd Finance Management Detachment, who is working toward an associate's degree in nursing from Saint John's River Community College in St. Augustine, Fla.

Since her arrival here last December, Powell has worked hard to master the art of time management in order to achieve her degree.

"We work a good 50, 60, sometimes 70 hours a week," said Powell, a native of St. Augustine, Fla. "I had to learn how to really manage my time to get in everything I want to."

The education recognition program helped rejuvenate Powell's motivation towards continuing education. It's a demonstration of the potential rewards that higher education can offer.

"It's nice to know that all these sleepless nights weren't for nothing," said Powell, an Army Reserve Soldier who aspires to become a physician's assistant.

The majority of those honored have already attained one collegiate degree, and this event recognizes their efforts towards life-long learning. Many hope the recognition will serve as motivation to their peers to seek new educational challenges.

U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Naomi Gilbert, a senior enlisted aid to the DCG (A&T), looked at the ceremony as just that - a way to motivate other service members to work towards a higher degree.

"I think this will help others to understand how important education is," said Gilbert, a native of Washington, D.C. "I hope this will inspire them to excel in their own [educational efforts]."

Gilbert is working toward her bachelor's degree in Business Management at Phoenix University, where she maintains a grade-point-average of 3.8.

During the ceremony, Gilbert was also presented a certificate of achievement from the American Society of Military Comptrollers, along with a $200 scholarship from ASMC's Desert Eagle Chapter for her dedication to education excellence.

Santia Davis, a senior infrastructure engineer with USF-I's J7 Engineer Program Management Division, received great praise during the ceremony, not only for her work towards a doctorate's degree, but also for her invitation to attend the 13th International Symposium on the Management of Industrial and Corporate Knowledge in Lausanne, Switzerland.

Davis has been working towards her doctorate in engineering management and systems engineering at the George Washington University since August 2010 and says she is thankful for the support of her peers.

"I've received so much support from my command," said Davis, a native of Portsmouth, Va. "If it weren't for people giving me opportunities and encouragement, I don't think I would have made it this far."

U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Bradley W. May, executive director to the DCG (A&T), presented the awards on behalf of the DCG (A&T).

"I think everyone knows the value and the premium we put on training and education," May said. "This is a big deal. [Lt. Gen. Michael Ferriter, the DCG (A&T),] wants everyone to go out of Iraq a better person."

Leadership is a trait in high demand throughout the military. A leader is someone who can make decisions for themselves, and education is a valuable tool to help leaders make better decisions.

"You're making yourself better, and [becoming] a better leader," said U.S. Army Command Sgt. Maj. Stephan Frennier, the senior enlisted advisor to the DCG (A&T).

Working towards a post-secondary degree is a personal choice, and requires a high degree of personal commitment, especially in a deployed setting.

"No one is going to make you do it," Frennier said. "You have to go and do it for yourself."