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Three Ways to Power Through Your Education
By Peter Shelby, Assistant Secretary for Office of Human Resources and Administration, U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs
I was the eighth of nine kids. My dad was a cop, so education was never really stressed when I was growing up. I joined the U.S. Marine Corps when I was 17 and left for Basic Training when I was 18. I am proud I the opportunity to serve.
I used my new skills to become a Sergeant in the Marines, which helped me realize the value of education. I aspired to become an officer and that required an advanced education. After completing my associate's degree, I was selected for an officer program. I took full advantage of my VA benefits while attending The Citadel as part of the U.S. Marine Corps Enlisted Commissioning Education Program (MECEP). The Citadel was a great decision, an amazing experience, and those Marines are still some of my closest friends.
Education is critically important to the growth and success of any organization – be it formal learning, on-the-job learning, peer learning or mentorship. These start with a foundation, a formal education. That's where veterans must understand the importance of their benefits and take full advantage of all the education opportunities they have through Tuition Assistance, military professional education, and the GI Bill. That's how you grow as an adult, how you grow as a person, and how you open doors to success.
Take Advantage of the Time Given to You
I lived in Southern California when I was in the Marines. I could have spent all my liberty time out at the beaches and the clubs, having a good time. I was young; in my very early 20s. I spent my nights and weekends either going to school full time or working to pay for it. There wasn't a whole lot of social life. But was it worth it? Absolutely. I got a meritorious promotion to sergeant and was selected for the MECEP program. Three years later, I was commissioned a regular officer as a second lieutenant.
I have never stopped learning. As a Major, I applied for an advanced degree program and was selected. I went to George Mason University for nearly two years to get my Master's in Adult Education. Again, I used my GI Bill.
Mentoring Proves Potential
I took every opportunity I had to mentor other Marines and tell them the importance of education. That to me was my calling and my duty as an Officer, but also as a person. That is my passion.
Facilitating greatness in others and helping them achieve their full potential is really what moves me. I was able to influence the entire Marine Corps on how we trained and developed Marines. We built training based on competencies. Without getting a proper education that positioned for increased responsibility throughout my career, I would have never had that opportunity.
Stay the Course and Be Prepared
You have to decide what you want to do for the rest of your life. Many Marines aspire to be a Sergeant Major, or a Colonel, or whatever their goals are and they don't look beyond that. I tell them even if you do that, if you accomplish every goal you want in the Marine Corps, you still only get 30 years. I impress on them that they have to be prepared.
Whether you're staying only for that first stint or you're planning to stay 30 years, you need to be looking to what you're going to do for the rest of your life. Find what you're passionate about and prepare yourself for that through formal education.
Stay the course. That's the biggest thing. You're going to have a lot of challenges. Most student veterans are older, and some even have spouses and kids.
But the sacrifice is worth it. Don't lose that camaraderie and those connections that you had in the military. Use SVA to reconnect and connect with new veterans and lean on each other. Help each other get through the demands on your time. Education is going to make life easier and open a lot more doors.
Take advantage of each other and SVA to make connections that help you get over the hump and get through this time in your life, because it'll be worth it. It'll set you up for the rest of your life.