Eye on education: Tinker military couple achieves college dreams while upholding other commitments

  • Published
  • By Brandice J. O'Brien
  • Tinker Public Affairs
They proved it could be done. They made the time for their education, refusing to succumb to excuses.

Master Sgt. Dean Garrison and his wife, Jennifer, a staff sergeant, have pursued and achieved collegiate degrees while meeting their military mission requirements and raising their toddler daughter, Aubrey. Instead of viewing the degrees as pipe dreams, they decided, independently of one another, their goals could be achieved. Their college careers have overlapped each other by three to four years.

"I know everyone's situation is different, but if you want something bad enough, you will take the time to do it," said Dean, 31, who in August 2011 completed a Bachelor of Arts in Homeland Security from American Military University, an online school. "I am sure there are people reading this who are married military-to-military with more kids and have been able to complete their degrees. I just say give it a shot; you will be surprised at what you can accomplish."

Dean, who also has a Community College of the Air Force degree in Air and Space Operations Technology, chose the subject matter because he was interested in the topic of terrorism and how it could be prevented in the future. Now, he's considering pursing a master's in economics from the University of Oklahoma.

"Take advantage of what the Air Force offers. There are many people who are neck-deep in student loans and I have been blessed with free education," Dean said. He is currently on a temporary-duty assignment retraining for another career field.

Jennifer is working on a bachelor's degree in psychology from American Military University. She is the first one in her immediate family -- she is one of five children and the third oldest -- to earn a college degree. She also has two CCAF degrees, one in Aerospace Ground Equipment and a second in Mental Health Services.

She said she chose a psychology degree because she wanted to be better versed in her career field. She has 11 classes to go until the degree is finished. Jennifer is a mental health technician in the 72nd Medical Operations Squadron who is training to be an alcohol and drug abuse counselor for Tinker's Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention and Treatment, or ADAPT, program.

Although they have proved they can achieve their collegiate goals, like most any student, Jennifer and Dean said they definitely take pride in the smaller successes along the way. Jennifer said she once wrote a 12-page research paper in three days. It was a "huge" accomplishment. Dean recalled a time when he knocked out six classes while his wife was deployed for four months.

While their lives might be a tad bit busier than the traditional college students, neither Jennifer nor Dean is overwhelmed by the commitment. They said it is just a matter of making time for their studies.

"It wasn't really different than any other day. Instead of watching a TV show or going out to eat for lunch, I would spend that time studying or getting homework done," Dean said. "It did help that we both were going at the same time because we motivated each other to get it done. Anyone who has done a 12-page term paper knows it is not fun and having my wife there to push me, helped out tremendously."

Jennifer, 27, agreed.

"When he had homework due, I'd watch Aubrey and if I had a midterm or any type of homework, he'd watch Aubrey. So, it's sort of like you just have to juggle it," she said. "And, when Aubrey's playing or otherwise occupied, I can easily read a couple of chapters; only rarely does she get into a crying fit."

Furthermore, Jennifer said she knows she can only take on what she can handle.

"I know I can't overload myself because I still have work, a husband, child and all the household chores even though we share them, and sometimes I work late," she said. "One class is definitely manageable. I'd like to take two, but given past experience where I had to drop a class, I'll just take one at a time."

While studying can be stressful in the interim, the Garrisons know the pursuit of more education and higher degrees can lead to better opportunities. Their supervisors already see the possibilities.

"Jennifer has a bright and promising Air Force future. She has aspirations to continue to serve her country in whatever needed capacity," said Olga Simons, ADAPT office program manager.
"Her work ethic is top quality. She is reserved and quiet, yet leads by example and sets a pretty high standard for others to emulate. She is a servant leader who genuinely listens and cares for those she has supervised as well as those she works with. She is level-headed, not quick to lose her temper, but instead processes her thoughts before speaking; quite wise for her young age."

Chris Furbee, 752nd Operations Support Squadron Training chief, said Dean will accomplish virtually anything he wants.

"Dean is motivated, resilient and respected; and his work ethic is phenomenal. When given a task, he attacks it immediately and produces outstanding work," Mr. Furbee said. "Dean is the epitome of an Air Force professional."