March 18, 2005 - Sgt. Mathew Bartley, 67th Signal Battalion, recently returned from a six-month deployment in Iraq and Kuwait. The deployment was not quite what he'd imagined, he said, but it was better than he'd expected.
"We were able to avoid any major combat, and returned with zero combat casualties," he says. "I can't hope for anything better than that. Our unit providedcommunications to units around Iraq, Afghanistan, and Kuwait.
"The majority of the people of Iraq andKuwait seemed very grateful that we areover there, helping spread democracy andfreedom. The U.S. military and civilian workforce have done so much to help Iraq, and I was glad to be a part of it," he said.
Bartley has been in the Army since his senior year of high school.
"I wasn't sure what I wanted in life, and my only plan so far was to continue working at K-Mart. I left school one dayand a recruiter approached me with his offer. I accepted reluctantly at first, but knew soon that that was a great decision," he says.
While Bartley is happy with his military career and has never regretted his decision to join the Army at such a young age, he gradually realized that if he was going to achieve his professional and personal goals, he needed a college degree.
He knew that a college degree wouldallow him to advance within the military,and would help him in the civilian worldafter he retired from the Army. However, with unpredictable career obligations and the constant possibility of deployment or relocation, he felt that he'd never be able to succeed at a traditional university.
Then Bartley found a solution to that problem. In 2003, he enrolled as an Information Systems major at Grantham University. Bartley was deployed to Cuba at the time, and Grantham is located in Slidell, La.
Luckily, Grantham is a distance learning institution, and all of Bartley's educational needs - from completing coursework to consulting professors - can be met online and at his convenience.
Now less than a year away from earning his degree, Bartley has been able to keep up with his studies no matter where his military career has taken him.
Like many distance education institutions, Grantham is self-paced, so if Bartley needs to set aside his coursework from time to time to handle pressing career obligations, that's not a problem. He can pickup right where he left off.
Bartley is one of about 28 Grantham students stationed at Fort Gordon, and he's part of a larger trend in distance education. A U.S. Department of Education study found students enrolled in nearly 2.9 million college-level distance education courses in 2000-01, more than double the enrollment of 1997-98.
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.
"I think distance education is a great option for military members," said Bartley. "It gives you the flexibility to balance your education and work however you want. There are times when, as Soldiers and Sailors, we are unable to do anything but focus on our mission.
"Grantham allows us to put the bookdown for a week, and only focus on whatis important at the time. Afterwards, you can pick up your book and continue at your own pace again. During extended field exercises, a few Soldiers are unable to get permission to go to a class off base," he said. "I don't have that problem. I pack my school books right in my rucksack or duffle bag and work on it whenever I get the chance."
Sgt. Malik Meadows, another Grantham student at Fort Gordon, agrees with Bartley about the benefits of distance education.
Meadows, who has been in the Army for 12 years, is nearing the end of his military career. Saturday is his official last day as a battalion reenlistment NCO in the 93rd Signal Brigade. He's a father of two young children, and like Bartley, has been a Grantham student since 2003. He'd tried to complete coursework at several traditional universities in the past, but scheduling conflicts always caused him to dropout.
"It's hard to go to a traditional college when you're in the military, because every two or three years you have to move," says Meadows. "Even if you stay in one place for a while, you've got other responsibilities. With distance education, you can take your books everywhere. I get a lot of my schoolwork done on my lunch break."
As he neared the end of his military career, Meadows started to think about the skills he would need in the civilian world. He knew that the Army had given him all of the career skills that he would need to be successful, but he knew that he'd need to work on a degree as well.
"In today's world, you need that piece of paper, period," says Meadows. "Education is important to me - I watched mym om work in a factory for years, and she would always get laid off. Finally, she got tired of it and went back to school. It took her six years, but she got an MA in Social Work.
"I was so proud of her, and I want to set that kind of example for my two kids. I know that with the skills I developed in the Army and my degree from Grantham, I can walk in the door anywhere and be successful," he said.
In addition to the benefits of an education flexible enough to accommodate their unique situation, Bartley, Meadows and their 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 servicemen and women. The military scholarship covers all books, software and tuition not covered by the Department of Defense aftertuition assistance or Defense Activity for Non-Traditional Education Support is applied.
Grantham University is offering an unlimited number of scholarships to all of the nation's Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines. These scholarships are available to reserve members and to active duty military personnel. Grantham has additional scholarship programs for veterans and military families.
Both Bartley and Meadows have a fewwords of advice for any soldiers at Fort Gordon who want a college degree.
"Definitely do it," says Bartley. "A college degree is a lifetime achievement. It isa goal that is worth every day, hour and minute that you spend trying to achieve it. It is never too late to start a degree program."
"It's a hard road, but keep your eye on the prize," adds Meadows. "Once it's over, it will pay off."
To learn more about distance education, contact the education center at 791-2000. More information about Grantham's programs and scholarships can be found at www.grantham.edu or by calling 1-888-947-2684.
(From a Grantham University information release.)