CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan -- After working a 12-hour shift, most deployed servicemembers want to kick off their boots, lie down and get some shut eye. After all, Camp Leatherneck, Helmand province, is not exactly known for its happening night life.
However, since August, a few dozen troops who prefer not to go right to bed after work have found something productive to do with their off duty hours - they attend college classes.
In July, an Education Center opened at Camp Leatherneck. The center, which consists of four 650-square foot tents with eight employees, became the first of its kind in Helmand province.
It started offering three face-to-face college classes through the University of Maryland University College in July. Since then, the center has completed six classes: Philosophy 101, Geography 101, World History, World Civilization and College Mathematics. In the near future, Central Texas College will also begin offering classes.
“Typically UMUC does general education classes,” said Catherine Lovelady, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel and the base’s education services officer. “Central Texas College will focus on vocational courses such as Criminal Justice, Military Sciences, and potentially Emergency Medical Technician.”
“It’s awesome that they offer this opportunity out here,” said Sgt. Justin Bamberger, the Motor Transportation platoon sergeant with Task Force Belleau Wood and a student in four classes offered so far. “I always try to push my Marines to take advantage of it. They’re offering these classes that you can take on your own time after work, and it helps get you ahead in both the Marine Corps and civilian life.”
“It is a positive way to pass time when not working,” added Staff Sgt. Christopher Stephens, the Afghan National Security Forces logistics chief with Regional Command Southwest, who has been taking online college classes throughout his deployment. “I have found that this deployment has seemed shorter because I have been able to keep my mind occupied.”
Both schools’ instructors are understanding of the fact that they are teaching students with obvious other commitments and understand there are classes students are not going to be able to attend because of their operational responsibilities.
“They’re very lenient,” explained Bamberger, a native of Florence, Ky. “They know we can’t hit every single class, so they’ll give you the syllabus and you make the work up as you can. They completely understand the situation.”
The center also offers testing for most standardized tests, including the ACT, SAT, and Armed Forces Classification Test. In the near future the center will also start offering testing for the College Level Examination Program and DANTES Subject Standardized Test..
The CLEP and DSST tests are both standardized tests which, if passed, count as college credits. The center also offers study guides students can check out to help prepare them for the tests. Once they pass the test, students do not have to worry about taking that class so long as their school accepts the CLEP or DSST test, explained Lovelady.
“This is absolutely a good opportunity to get closer to a degree,” said Stephens, who is a native of Dallas
Although the Education Center is not able to offer classes at smaller forward operating bases just yet, the employees of the center periodically make time to go to other installations throughout Regional Command Southwest to offer testing.
“We’ll go out to places like Camp Dwyer for two or three days,” said Lovelady, who is based out of Peterson Air Force Base, Colo. “Last time we had someone go out there they gave about 135 tests in that short of a time period.”
For servicemembers who need a place to study, the center also has a learning center tent dedicated to giving students a quiet area where they can sit and study. The tent has 10 computers with commercial internet available, and the Education Services employees are hoping to receive more computers soon.
“We have it so if there is some place like back in their [living quarters] and it’s just too noisy or the internet connection is too slow, we offer them another opportunity,” Lovelady said.
Those who work at the center work the same hours, if not more, as deployed servicemembers do in order to bring education to the front lines. They work to make sure troops who are deployed do not miss out on opportunities they would have if they were not deployed.
“The more educational opportunities the better,” Lovelady explained. “It gets you further along. You may not leave the Marine Corps with a degree, but you’re going to be further along and not have to spend as much of your GI Bill once you get out to finish that degree.”