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Staff Sgt. Thomas Barnhart, education center NCO-in-charge, teaches an Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery class in the center, which is currently under construction.
Staff Sgt. Thomas Barnhart, education center NCO-in-charge, teaches an Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery class in the center, which is currently under construction. (Juliana Gittler / S&S)

LSA ANACONDA, Iraq — Soldiers wanting to advance their career, change jobs, become an officer or knock out some college courses during their down time in Iraq now have a few classrooms to try to reach those goals at LSA Anaconda.

“They’re basically in a holding pattern while they’re deployed,” said LSA Anaconda and 13th Corps Support Command, Command Sgt. Maj. Dan Elder. “They want to be promoted, they want to be warrant officers. They want to further their career. Education isn’t necessarily part of the deployment package [so] we had to carve out something.”

This past spring, an education center at the base started offering free classes and preparation programs for tests that can further a servicemember’s military or civilian career.

It’s the pet project of Army Reserve Maj. Kristi Hilton, usually a medical logistician and patient administrator in the Army, but a secondary special education teacher in her civilian life.

“It was really important for soldiers to have a quiet place,” said Hilton, “as quiet as you can have here, to let them get online.”

The base commander gave Hilton, now the education officer in charge, a building for classrooms, a lecture hall and computer lab.

In the spring, an Air Force unit arrived and brought with it an education services officer certified to administer standardized tests. The two services agreed to give soldiers the same benefits.

The current education services officer, Master Sgt. Darryl King with the 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing, can administer several standardized tests, including the Law School Admission Test and a variety of College Level Examination Program tests that give college credit for passing certain exams. Others can pursue a high school General Equivalency Diploma.

King can administer CLEP tests in 104 subjects.

“It’s enough subjects to cover your general [college] requirements at least,” King said.

The center may also create a few teachers. Pilots have volunteered to help prepare soldiers for the flight aptitude test required to become an aviator. Others on base teach computer courses and even an Arabic class.

For soldiers wishing to change careers or enter officer programs, the center has a three-week study session for the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, the ASVAB. Servicemembers who have taken the course have raised their ASVAB scores by 20 points or more, Elder said.

“It’s not a few points, it’s a vast improvement,” he said.

Spc. Randolph Scott, with the 302nd Transportation Company, will leave Iraq in February with 18 college credits, six earned through the CLEP system and 12 more through online classes.

Scott was registered for college when he was activated for the Reserves last year. Through the center, he converted his registration to online and began classes, he said.

Since the center opened, thousands of people have passed through and taken tests and classes or enrolled in college online, said Hilton, who is helping other posts start similar programs.

She briefed command sergeants major in Baghdad and has worked with 50 installations to help them get the students cracking the books, she said.

The education center is free and open to all services and Department of Defense civilians.

“It’s another way to support soldiers,” Elder said. “Bettering yourself, getting a degree. That’s one of the goals here, to have a better soldier.”

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