"If money is your hope for independence, you will never have it. The only real security that a man will have in this world is a reserve of knowledge, experience, and ability," said Henry Ford, one of the nation's great inventors and entrepreneurs. The U.S. armed forces can provide the experience and ability, but it is up to every Soldier and Sailor to seek knowledge. Continuing education is one way to follow Ford's advice. Educational mentors can help servicemembers find their way in a confusing world of college courses, catalogs, and credits.
Reason #1 - Getting Started
Starting school in armed forces education programs -- perhaps while supporting a family -- can be overwhelming, according to MSG Patricia A. McNair, course manager for staff and faculty division course development at the Sergeant Majors Academy at Ft. Bliss, Texas. McNair, working on her second master's degree, speaks from experience about the importance of a mentor.
"A mentor can provide guidance, direction, and insight to other servicemembers just starting their educational journey. Understanding how to maneuver through college catalogs and degree requirements is invaluable information to someone who is just beginning their course work."
Reason #2 - Experience
Servicemembers often mention finances, time constraints, and child care issues as reasons they do not continue their education. PO1 Robert Prawel, command education and training counselor at the Naval Dental Center, Parris Island, says that mentors can help address small personal issues that may arise when a sailor starts back to school. "Mentors can provide solutions and guidance based on personal experience. They've been there and can usually relate to other military students in ways that a college counselor can't," Prawel says. Mentors can also point out resources, such as the Navy Knowledge Online (NKO), and explain how to use similar programs and resources to their best advantage. McNair adds, "Mentors have walked that educational path already and are in a good position to share their experiences, both good and bad."
Reason #3 - Encouragement
When juggling family, military duty, and mid-terms, servicemembers may feel a lot of pressure. "Mentors can offer encouragement and support," says Prawel. "They can help [servicemembers] learn to balance the demands of the military, their family, and their education." "Mentors act as a safety net of encouragement," says McNair. She adds that mentors can help keep in perspective how the sacrifices servicemembers make today will pay off tomorrow, especially when they return to civilian life.
Reason #4 - Personalized Guidance
"Mentoring is about taking care of sailors first and taking the time to be there for them when it starts getting tough," McNair says. "The one-on-one relationship provides the opportunity for a mentor to really know a [servicemember's] needs and interests, which results in more personalized guidance." Talking about interests with a mentor can focus the field of available degrees and save valuable time by avoiding unnecessary courses, especially if someone feels directionless when he or she first starts out.
Finding a Mentor
"There is almost always someone furthering their education in every command. Start asking questions of those you know have or are attending school," says Prawel. He also says that most people are more than happy to share their experience and knowledge. "Knowledge is something no one can take away from you," says McNair. She keeps a quote up on her office wall under her diplomas: "There's no growth in the comfort zone. There's no comfort in the growth zone. -- Anonymous" Taking that first step may be the hardest, but it doesn't have to be taken alone.