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OSAN AIR BASE, South Korea — Since he assumed command of the 51st Fighter Wing a year ago, Col. Jon A. Norman has made a point of encouraging newly arrived airmen to take at least one college course during their year in South Korea.

Norman makes the pitch each time he briefs new arrivals.

"It applies to any airman stationed at Osan Air Base who does not yet have a college degree," said wing spokesman Capt. John W. Ross.

Ninety-five percent of Osan’s airmen serve a one-year remote tour — unaccompanied by families.

"He’s telling our airmen to take advantage of the situation they’re in here," Ross said. "It will help them stay personally invested in their work, and also help them take away something they can be proud of, either by finishing their college degrees or by making significant progress toward them."

And while wing officials can’t be sure there’s a connection, they said college enrollment has increased about 13 percent at Osan since Norman began emphasizing it.

From Oct. 1 to Thursday, 1,764 people had enrolled in one or more college courses, Ross said. And the Air Force, which offers 100 percent tuition support for airmen’s college education, spent $2.2 million for Osan airmen’s education costs in that period.

By comparison, from Oct. 1, 2006, to May 29, 2007, Osan had 1,557 airmen enrolled in one or more college courses, with the Air Force spending $1.9 million on their studies, Ross said.

"To me what it says is that Col. Norman’s emphasis … is showing results … We hope to see similar increases in years to come, here at Osan and throughout the Air Force," Ross said.

Air Force Staff Sgt. Leonel Gallardo, 24, of Phoenix, said Norman’s comments were part of what inspired him to enroll in two University of Maryland University College courses being taught on base — a computer class and a speech class.

Gallardo works extensively with computers in the wing headquarters.

Among his goals is to earn an associate’s degree in information management through the Community College of the Air Force.

"I remember him emphasizing not to waste time always going out and drinking, to do something to improve the community, and the base, and education — self-improvement, in other words," Gallardo said of Norman’s message.

Gallardo’s taken two other college courses at a previous duty station, he said.

"If an individual hasn’t yet achieved a certain level of education, they can’t progress very far in rank," he said.

Ross said airmen can enroll in college courses at the base education center.

"They can get a lot of advice there before taking their next step," Ross said. "That’s also where they can ask about the Air Force’s 100 percent tuition assistance to any servicemember who is working on a college degree."

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