FORT STEWART, Ga. (April 27, 2012) -- President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama traveled to Fort Stewart, Ga., the home of the Third Infantry Division, Friday, to announce and sign an executive order preventing scams used to con veterans out of their federal education benefits.
In front of a crowd of more than 10,000 Soldiers, veterans and military families, Sgt. Johnnie Marshall of the 2nd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, opened the event with his personal story of being taken advantage of by a university.
"They were not looking out for my education," Marshall said of the school. "I felt the focus was all financial."
He reported it to his chain of command, and was sent to the Fort Stewart Education Center. He is now enrolled in Central Texas University, where he said he is taking classes and getting sincere academic advice.
According to the president, Marshall's story is not unusual.
"Some of you guys can relate; you may have experienced it yourselves," Obama said to the enthusiastic crowd. "Sometimes you're dealing with folks who aren't interested in helping you, they're interested in getting the money. They don't care about you; they care about the cash."
"I'm not talking about all schools," Obama explained. "Many of them, for-profit and non-profit, provide quality education to our service members, veterans and their families. But there are bad actors out there."
The goal of the newly-signed executive order is to make it a whole lot tougher for those "bad actor" schools to prey on the military.
The first step, he said, is to require colleges that want to enroll members of the military, veterans or their families to provide clear information about their qualifications and available financial aid. Second, the order will require those schools to step up their support for military students, including providing more counseling. Finally, the order aims to bring an end to the aggressive recruiting that takes place.
"We're going to up our oversight of improper recruitment practices," the president said. "We're going to strengthen the rules about who can come on post and talk to service members and we're going to make it a lot easier for all of you to file complaints and for us to take action when somebody is not acting right."
Once the order was signed, the Obamas shook hands and briefly spoke with some Marne Soldiers.
According to 3rd Infantry Division Commander Maj. Gen. Robert "Abe" Abrams, Obama chose to announce the new executive order at Fort Stewart because of the installation's reputation, including winning the 2012 Army Community of Excellence Award, or ACOE, the fifth time in eight years the installation has earned the honor. The ACOE awards the installation that has achieved levels of excellence in building a high-quality environment, outstanding facilities and superior services.
"[The Obamas] picked Fort Stewart because we've got the best Army Continuing Education system in the Department of Defense," Abrams said.
For "Dog Face" Soldiers in attendance, it was an event they won't soon forget.
"I think this is a great opportunity for Soldiers and family members to see the president. I think it's great for Fort Stewart," said Staff Sgt. Enrae Johnson, 1st Battalion, 30th Infantry Regiment, 2nd HBCT and noncommissioned officer in charge of the motorcade for the Presidential visit. "This is exciting. For someone to say they want us to be part of the president's visit, it's a big deal. This is something we'll tell our kids and grandkids about someday."
Before addressing the audience, the president and first lady traveled to Warriors Walk, where they walked hand-in-hand past the 441 Eastern Redbuds, each representing a Soldier with or attached to the 3rd Infantry Division killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. While on Warriors Walk, the president placed his coin and the First Lady placed a folded American flag on the memorials for Pfc. Shane Mikel Stinson, 2nd Battalion, 69th Armor Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team; and Sgt. Gene L. Lamie, 2nd Brigade Combat Team. The President spoke of the visit during his speech.
"History will remember what you did. We will remember the profound sacrifices that you've made in these wars," Obama said. "Michelle and I just had a few moments at Warriors Walk, paying tribute to your fallen comrades, men and women who gave their last full measure of devotion to keep our nation safe. And we will remember them, we will honor them always."