Access to education benefits is one reason many people join the U.S military, including the West Virginia National Guard.
While it can be overwhelming to wade through all the available benefits and programs, the West Virginia National Guard Education Services Office works to help Soldiers and Airmen figure out how to use benefits like the GI Bill, tuition assistance, and student loan repayment options, in addition to offering career guidance, credentialing services and test help.
“Our office is in charge of overseeing and providing information and direction for the various types of education benefits that are available,” said Sherri Shafer, director of the Education Services Office for the WVNG. “We also handle testing services that allows service members to improve their scores that will allow them to reclass or go to school.”
One way Shafer and the Education Services Office are keeping service members informed is through a podcast. “W.Va. National Guard Ed. Talks” is available through iTunes and Spotify. West Virginia is the only state program that produces an education-focused podcast, but many of the topics can apply to Guardsmen across the states and territories, Shafer said.
Brig. Gen. William “Bill” Crane, Adjutant General of the West Virginia National Guard, recently sat down with Shafer to talk about his educational background and how it has shaped his military career. He explained how he took advantage of the benefits offered through the National Guard to complete both his undergraduate and graduate degrees.
“I came home from high school one day, I was 17 years old, and there was a recruiter sitting there waiting on me,” Crane told Shafer. “My parents explained that’s how I would go to college if I wanted to go to college, and it turned out to be the best decision they made for me. I’ve added about 37 years to that, and my education background has been critical to what I think are my successes.”
Because of these benefits, Crane was able to earn his bachelor’s in chemistry from Glenville State College and his master’s in organizational communication from West Virginia University. But his education didn’t stop there. He also is a graduate of the United States Army War College Fellowship Program, Army Command and General Staff Officer College, the Functional Area 43A Human Resources Course and the Engineer Officer Basic and Advanced courses at Ft. Leonard Wood, Mo.
Crane hopes his own resume encourages younger Guardsmen to continue pursuing education so they can grow in their military careers.
“You absolutely have to get your education,” he told Shafer. “I think it is important to have civilian education, but it is just as important to have your military education. Don’t sit around and wait until it is time for you to get promoted until you go get your education Always stay ahead of those education requirements so that you don’t get an automatic no because you’re not ready or qualified.”
Statistics show that 75 percent of women and more than 60 percent of men who join the National Guard do so to access education benefits. Shafer said the National Guard emphasizes both civilian and military education so that soldiers are better prepared for their jobs, both in and out of uniform, and remain mission ready.
“An educated force is a force that can think critically and can respond and react appropriately and has developed skill sets,” she said. “The National Guard does place a lot of emphasis and take care to develop these programs and keep the states and territories up to date.”
The services and programs available to Guardsmen are highly specific to each individual. For example, the time of enlistment, degree program, and the type of Army or Air Force training can determine what benefits a service member might qualify for and the timeframe for using them.
“It really depends on the person and what they want to do,” said Staff Sgt. Jason Wilson, GI Bill manager and testing facilitator for the Educational Services Office. “As service members return from basic training, they get an education briefing from us. Once a soldier gets in the system and gets everything set up and done, it’s like clockwork. The benefits are certified each semester they’re in school and they have access to that money.”
Some of that money comes directly from state coffers. The West Virginia Legislature appropriates $4 million annually to the State Tuition Assistance to incentivize members of the WVNG to not only get their degrees, but also to stay in the state after they graduate. STA can be used at in-state schools to help service members earn certifications or associates, bachelor’s or master’s level degrees.
“I’ve talked to a lot of legislators about this, and they understand the importance of this to the National Guard and the importance to the state of West Virginia in trying to retain talent and making sure people have the opportunity to go get those degrees so they can be a part of the work force here, stay here and be able to raise their families and do good things for the state of West Virginia after they get their degrees,” Crane said.
Shafer and her staff are available to help service members better maximize their benefits and determine which programs apply to their individual needs. The Educational Services Office is located on the top floor of JFHQ, and more information on available programs can be found at https://www.wv.ng.mil/Education/.
|Date Posted:||07.09.2021 09:35|
|Location:||CHARLESTON, WV, US|