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Education, assistance benefits pay off

TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- A college-level education can be expensive. Exploring career options can be both costly and time consuming.

Yet many personnel at Tinker have an advantage. These services are significantly discounted, or entirely free, for Airmen.

"Do not waste the opportunity to advance your personal goals and career by not taking advantage of everything that's available to you," said J.D. Coy, Education Services guidance counselor. Glenn Gardner, supervisor of Education Services and Military Training, agreed.

"There are a countless number of opportunities Airmen can pursue, which are unheard of in the outside world."

For starters, active-duty Airmen are eligible for $4,500 of tuition assistance each fiscal year for voluntary off-duty education. To receive the assistance, Airmen must establish an academic goal and provide the education office with a copy of their degree plan. Also, they take college-level tests at no cost to them; the credits from which can be applied toward an undergraduate degree from the Community College of the Air Force or a major at a college of their choice.

Tinker is centrally located between several universities. Additionally, there are several academic programs available to Air Force members through distance learning opportunities, which are online degrees and courses.

Tinker's Education Services Center offers tuition assistance provides for any regionally or nationally accredited college or university. Enlisted can use the funds for associate through master's degrees and officers can use the funds toward a master's degree

Mr. Coy urges Airmen not to let their education opportunities go to waste.

"I have out-processed far too many master sergeants and below that have spent 20 years in the Air Force and left saying, 'Gee, I wish I had finished my degree' and they just didn't," Mr. Coy said. "Many of them are only missing one or two courses to complete their CCAF degree." Spouses are eligible for up to $6,000 for tuition assistance, licensing or training through the Spouse Career Advancement Account.

Airmen also have access to the Montgomery GI Bill and the Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits. While both options are available, Airmen must choose which one they want to use. Both are designed to provide education benefits after separation, but Airmen can use them while they are still active. The benefit is paid differently for active duty Airmen and veterans, but either would cover all tuition costs. Post 9/11 option permits military members to transfer all or some of their benefits to family members.

Mr. Coy said the Montgomery GI Bill is valued at approximately $47,556 and can be increased an additional $5,400. It is hard to put a dollar amount on the Post 9/11 GI Bill because it pays for all tuition, books and housing for 36 months of college attendance. In essence, it's a four-year college degree.

"There are more than $100,000 worth of educational benefits and opportunities," Mr. Coy said. Additionally, enlisted Airmen can take advantage of Tinker's career assistance advisors, who offer advice, suggests career options, recommends resources and seeks job opportunities.

"Without us, military members might make a career-ending decision not realizing the benefits they have as a military member," said Master Sgt. Dana Reynolds, a Tinker career assistance advisor assigned to the 72nd Force Support Squadron.

Oftentimes, when Airmen come to see Master Sgts. Reynolds and Lyne Huffman, a representative for the 552nd Air Control Wing, they're concerned about their future. Sometimes they want to leave the military, and other times, they want to retrain due to force shaping.

Before rash decisions are made, Sergeants Reynolds and Huffman will provide Airmen with necessary resources so they can research options. They will also see what's available to the Airmen and work within the guidelines of Air Force Instruction and the Air Force Personnel Center's regulations to accommodate the Airmen.

Outside of one-on-one sessions, the sergeants also address concerns at other programs. They host at least 13 programs including "Informed Decision," a monthly briefing for first and second-term Airmen within 15 months from their date of separation, commanders' calls, and civilian-military management courses, an overview for new civilians who supervise military.

"These programs are invaluable," said Sergeant Reynolds. "Whether helping Airmen make informed decisions or helping supervisors take care of their Airmen, our programs help to sustain a strong Air Force. If you take care of the Airmen, they will take care of the mission. It sounds cliché, but it is as true today as it was years ago."