The Sheppard SenatorOctober 15, 2004 - Staff Sgt. John Haymes spends his working hours training Airmen at the 363rd Training Squadron. His duties as a Military Training Leader here range from numerous administrative tasks to supervising a dormitory with up to 1,000 students. He teaches drill, dress and appearance, living and health standards and tries to instill the self discipline required in today's military.

When he leaves work, however, Sergeant Haymes steps out of his teaching role and into the role of a student. He's working towards a degree in Computer Information Systems from Grantham University in Slidell, La.

But he has never set foot on Grantham's campus. He's never needed to.

Grantham is a distance learning institution and his commute is as easy as the click of a mouse. All of his educational needs - from taking tests to communicating with professors and advisors - can be met online.

Sergeant Haymes said he joined the military for two reasons: the opportunity to serve his country and the outstanding education benefits. But Sergeant Haymes, who is frequently deployed and has recently served in support of Operations Southern Watch, Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom, said he found it almost impossible to attend traditional classes.

"My deployments are often to desert regions," he said. "I have been in everything from a fully functional military base to setting up tents outside of a hangar and runway. There are long days in the hot sun, but I love my job. I enjoy the professionalism of the military. It has great structure and discipline."

His decision to enroll in a distance education institution, he said, was made during a deployment to Diego Garcia, a small island in the Indian Ocean. "This island is about 1,000 miles from anywhere," Sergeant Haymes said. "What finally made me decide to enroll in Grantham University was the fact that I realized that even though I was 1,000 miles from anything, I could still study and go to college if I had enrolled before I left."

Sergeant Haymes is one of seven Grantham students at Sheppard and he's part of a larger trend in distance education.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, enrollment in distance education courses has more than doubled since 2000.

In the past, distance learning meant taking courses through audio or video feeds. Today's technology has allowed schools to offer more and more courses using the Internet.

This new distance learning model is ideal for military personnel who are deployed, move frequently because of temporary duty assignments, or whose duty schedules make it difficult to attend traditional evening classes.

"Being in the military, I know I will be deployed again and again, and usually there is one thing constant about Air Force bases," he said. "They all have Internet access. So for me, the convenience of being able to do my schoolwork anywhere anytime is amazing."

In addition to the benefits of an education flexible enough to accommodate their unique situations, Sergeant Haymes and his fellow students are able to take advantage of another benefit - a full scholarship which takes care of all educational expenses not covered by the military.

Their education is funded through Grantham's military scholarship program, which is available to all service men and women. The military scholarship covers all books, software and tuition not covered by the Department of Defense after Tuition Assistance or Defense Activity for Non-Traditional Education Support (DANTES) is applied.

Grantham University offers an unlimited number of scholarships to all of the nation's soldiers, sailors, airmen and members of the other uniformed services. These scholarships are available to reserve members and to active duty military personnel. Grantham has additional scholarship programs for veterans and military families.