RELATED STORY:Tucker: Education just one part of self-discipline plan

CAMP RED CLOUD, South Korea — Maj. Gen. Michael Tucker has a plan to get the troops in his command to work and train harder. He’s going to let them knock off early two days a week.

There’s a catch, of course. The soldiers of Tucker’s 2nd Infantry Division must spend the extra free time in afternoon college classes. It’s part of Tucker’s plan to persuade his soldiers to better themselves — and give them the time to do it.

The general recalled the struggles he had as a young private stationed overseas: “Going downtown at night, urinating my money away and trying to figure out — where do I fit in?”

That changed.

“I will never forget it,” he recounted. “I saw a poster at the snack bar about the education center. So I was thinking — I could go to college? And I went over there and signed up for English 101, and I loved it.”

It eventually led to a bachelor’s degree, two master’s degrees and a rapid rise up through the ranks.

“I would not have these stars on my chest if it wasn’t for the Army education program,” the commander of the 2nd Infantry Division said, crediting superiors who went out of their way to accommodate his education goals early in his career.

And so next month, the doors will swing open to Warrior University, a unique program in which the division’s 10,000 soldiers in South Korea will be offered the chance to get off early two days a week if they sign up to take college classes.

Registration is under way for those newly available classes — which will join the night and weekend courses that have always been offered — for the semester that begins Jan. 18.

Modeled after similar programs Tucker instituted for his soldiers at two prior stops in his military career, Warrior University is designed to give soldiers “a little nudge” into giving college coursework a try in hopes that “the bug will bite them, and they’ll like it,” he said.

“When I talk to soldiers, I say, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice to write home to Mom and say … I’m going to college,’  ” Tucker said. “  ‘Wouldn’t it be nice to have nine, 12 or 15 credit hours after your tour of duty here?’ And, oh, by the way, it earns promotion points for soldiers.”

Tucker said the ranks of his book-toting soldiers grew from about 12 to 300 in his Fort Stewart, Ga., command and from about 200 to 2,800 at Friedberg, Germany, when he offered time off for classes. So he’s optimistic that the number of 2nd Infantry Division soldiers taking classes will eventually double or triple from the current 2,900 hitting the books.

That has education officials across South Korea scrambling to come up with the teachers and classroom space that will be needed if the new program is a hit.

“They are having a little difficulty coming up with instructors,” said James Campbell, education services officer for Area I, the northern sector of South Korea. “But I think in the long run, we’ll be able to take care of it.”

He said Tucker’s move in letting the soldiers off duty at 3 p.m. every Tuesday and Thursday, “is going to stimulate the interest in lots of young soldiers who have perhaps been borderline in the past in deciding whether they want to go to school or not.”

Not everyone has been enamored with the idea of letting soldiers out of their normal responsibilities early, Tucker said, particularly their unit commanders, who oversee jobs that need to be done. But, Tucker said, they have been told to work around the class schedules of their student-soldiers.

“I told the commanders they are not allowed to mess with this program,” Tucker said. “Don’t even think about it. I used a few expletives. This program, believe it or not, will support you because these will be the soldiers you will see on the promotion list. These will be the soldiers that win Soldier of the Quarter. These are the soldiers who will be the examples that other soldiers will look up to.”

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