With the passage of Oregon House Bill 4035, the State of Oregon has taken a historic step toward assuring significant investments in service members of the Oregon National Guard with a new educational tuition assistance program signed by Governor Kate Brown, April 3, 2018.
"I'm proud to sign a bill into law that deepens Oregon's commitment to our National Guard service members," said Governor Brown. "Whether they're fighting on the frontlines, fighting wildfires, or helping prepare our state for the influx of eclipse viewers, our Oregon Guard members are always ready to answer the call to help Oregonians in times of need. Extending tuition assistance to Guard members is one important way to show our appreciation for their service by investing in their education and future."
The bill was first introduced by House Minority Leader and Oregon Air Guardsman Rep. Mike McLane and passed with wide bi-partisan support throughout the Oregon Legislature. Gov. Brown also championed the bill, as it supports her education agenda to enhance education programs in Oregon.
"This new law specifically bridges the federal tuition assistance shortfall and enables our Guard men and women to complete their associate or bachelor degrees," said Maj. Gen. Michael Stencel, Adjutant General, Oregon. "It aligns with the Governor's education focused agenda and will not only serve as a huge recruitment and retention tool, but it will also provide us with the breadth of knowledge we need to think like leaders and succeed in an increasingly technologically complex world."
The bill provides full tuition assistance for members of the Oregon Army and Air National Guard at all Oregon state public universities and community colleges beginning in the 2018-2019 academic year.
"This is an incredible investment in Oregonians and the Oregon National Guard," said Col. Verl Miller, Recruiting commander for the Oregon Army National Guard. "This will help our force access their educational needs, while producing a better educated citizen of our state."
Oregon Citizen-Soldiers and Airmen are often the first responders when natural disasters impact local communities at home and around the nation. In 2017, Oregon Guardsmen supported relief efforts when Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria ravaged Texas, Florida and islands in the Caribbean. With massive wild fires in the past two years, Oregon Guardsmen have been instrumental in providing disaster support throughout the state. Last year nearly 15 percent of the Oregon National Guard was called into activation for emergencies, disasters, and crisis planning.
Service to the community is an import aspect to why many Oregonians choose to join and serve part-time in their communities, and education benefits are another key facet to joining the National Guard.
"People join the National Guard for a variety of reasons, but paying for education and building work life skills are continually at the top of those lists," Miller explained. "When we look at some of our junior enlisted members who might be challenged with pressing home life expenses, tuition assistance can immediately help cover those demands."
Oregon Guardsmen who may live across the Columbia River or elsewhere out of state, are also covered under the bill. To receive the tuition assistance they must be in good standing with their Oregon National Guard commitments and can begin the assistance upon completion of basic military training.
Service members who already have federal educational benefits such as the Montgomery G.I. Bill or the Post 9/11 Bill will need to use those benefits prior to using the new tuition assistance funding. Qualified students can use up to 90 credit hours at an Oregon Community College and up to 180 credit hours at a public university.
"This bill will have an immediate impact on recruitment and retention within the Oregon National Guard," Miller said. "When we look at a state like Minnesota that has a full 4-year tuition assistance program for their Guardsmen, their recruiting rates are near 100 percent."
The benefits also support ever changing educational needs of Guardsmen. For senior enlisted members of the Air National Guard, promotions to the ranks of senior master sergeant (E-8) and chief master sergeant (E-9) are required to hold a Community College of the Air Force Degree (CCAF).
"The Air Force has set the requirement that for our senior enlisted leaders to continue to serve and be eligible for promotions, they must have their CCAF degrees," explained Oregon Air National Guard Lt. Col. Keith Townsend. "By attending classes in Oregon colleges, their coursework is in accordance with the degree program."
The changing educational landscape has fostered in the need for new areas of readiness for the Oregon National Guard mission. Oregon's commitment to the National Guard comes at a time when the National Guard Bureau is looking to realign end strength and award a cyber battalion.
"With the concentration of high tech and cyber talent in Oregon, a state of the art Joint Reserve Intelligence Center coming on line to support the nation and Pacific Command, the nation's cheapest power supply to some of the largest data centers in the country, an entry point to major trans-Pacific data cables, our strong State support calls for the National Guard Bureau to give strong consideration to placing cyber forces in joint proposal by Oregon, Washington, and Idaho," said Maj. Gen. Stencel.