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Language teacher Misuo Onozaki teaches Japanese to soldiers at the army education center on Tuesday at Camp Zama, Japan. Military service members can use foreign languages they use as credits for degrees.
Language teacher Misuo Onozaki teaches Japanese to soldiers at the army education center on Tuesday at Camp Zama, Japan. Military service members can use foreign languages they use as credits for degrees. (Christopher B. Stoltz / S&S)

KADENA AIR BASE, Okinawa — A college education can boost an enlisted military career, and the sooner one starts, the better, say some Pacific-based servicemembers working on college degrees.

There’s never been a better time than now, as the military is providing 100 percent tuition assistance, said Marine Master Sgt. Edward Marotske, who’s one course away from earning his bachelor’s degree.

After high school, Marotske — of the Special Operations Training Group at Camp Hansen — had no desire to attend college. Nor did he have much interest in a university education after he joined the Corps.

Even though junior Marines receive points toward promotion for college courses they complete, Marotske recounted that as a young Marine he was focused on infantry duties, not college studies. He said he didn’t start taking college classes until they were offered during a deployment.

The Corps has come a long way when it comes to encouraging enlisted Marines to seek more education, Marotske said. And so has he.

As an enlisted leader, Marotske said, he pushes his junior Marines to embrace education and take advantage of such military service benefits as college tuition assistance.

College studies make them smarter, better Marines, he believes.

Petty Officer 3rd Class Kevon Fansler, a sailor aboard the guided-missile cruiser USS Shiloh out of Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan, said his command supports higher education.

“We get weekly e-mails sent out by one of the chiefs, soliciting crewmembers to sign up and earn their degrees,” Fansler said.

The Navy, indeed, is big on education, said Chief Petty Officer Ron McGinnis, of the Computer Information Learning Site at Yokosuka.

“The opportunity is there, but I don’t think enough people are taking advantage of what the Navy is offering them,” said McGinnis, who has completed a bachelor’s degree and is working on a master’s.

All the military service branches emphasize education now more than ever, 22-year Corps veteran Marotske said. But in his opinion, the service that excels in promoting off-duty education is the Air Force, he said

Air Force Master Sgt. Thomas Stiles agreed. He said his supervisors have always helped him in his pursuit of a degree, and he just completed the last class in his program for a bachelor’s degree in business.

Stiles, of 18th Dental Battalion on Kadena Air Base, attended Plattsburgh State University of New York after high school. But after a semester and a half, he no longer could afford to attend, so he joined the Air Force in 1993 for such educational benefits as the Montgomery GI Bill.

“I planned to do four years and get out,” he recalled. But plans can change. “I met my wife, re-enlisted and started a family.”

Stiles wants his children to go to college, and he wanted to set the example.

As Stiles puts it: “How can I tell them to go if I haven’t gone?”

In the Stiles household, the example has been set.

Education is of interest to servicemembers in South Korea, too. Troops at U.S. Army Garrison-Red Cloud, for example, said a limited roster of classes are offered at the three education centers in their area, but for a more extensive course schedule, they have to take an hourlong bus trip — as they aren’t allowed personal vehicles — to the larger Yongsan Garrison in Seoul.

“I would go to Yongsan if I absolutely needed to,” said Army Pfc. Randy White, who is based at Camp Red Cloud. That’s not a problem right now, White said, because his general education courses are available in his area.

White plans to extend another year in South Korea. He said that since his unit doesn’t deploy, he has a better opportunity to continue his studies.

Early in his career and not supporting a family, White is at the perfect point in his life to pursue a degree, both Marotske and Stiles said.

“If I could do it all over again,” Stiles said, “I would have knocked more college out of the way before the family started arriving.”

But family and work responsibilities should not stop anyone from attending classes, Marotske said.

With tuition assistance, the availability of online courses and the options offered at installation education sites, there’s no excuse not to get a degree, he said.

“It’s never too late to start,” he added, offering himself as proof.

“Your education is like your own retirement plan,” Stiles said. “Whatever it takes to rev you up, then do it.”

Stars and Stripes reporters Chris Fowler and Erik Slavin contributed to this report.

First class is hardest step, students say

OKINAWA — Some servicemembers join the military with no plans to attend college — only to change their minds later.

Others join specifically for the education benefits.

“A good place to start is an installation’s education office,” said Air Force Master Sgt. Thomas Stiles, of Kadena Air Base, who recently finished his last class for a business administration bachelor’s degree.

The hardest step is taking that first class, said Bob Stenard, the supervisory guidance counselor at the Life-Long Learning Center on Camp Foster.

Troops should “take a class that they will enjoy that first time so that they will keep coming back, class after class,” he said.

Europonda R. Chestnut, the Kadena Air Base Training and Education Services deputy chief, suggested first tackling a college course on a topic of personal interest.

“That will give them the motivation to flourish in other areas of study,” she said.

Both Stenard and Chestnut advised that students attempt only one class at a time to begin with.

“Don’t overload yourself,” Stenard said.

“Once you have started taking classes, don’t take a break, don’t take a semester off,” said Marine Master Sgt. Edward Marotske, a Camp Hansen-based Marine who’s close to completing his bachelor’s degree. He said a break can make it easy not to continue.

Online classes can be fit into hectic schedules, even if a servicemember is deployed to a war zone. And they’re not limited to a certain time of the day or week, Chestnut said.

However, online classes aren’t for everyone, she cautioned.

“The biggest challenge is time,” she said. “You have to be able to set aside time each week to focus on class and study. Nobody is there to make you do it. You have to do it on your own.”

Where to start

Mainland Japan

Misawa Air Base: 226-4201Yokota Air Base: 225-7337Commander Fleet Activities Sasebo: 252-3511Commander Fleet Activities Yokosuka: 243-5682Navy at Misawa Air Base: 226-2458Naval Air Facility Atsugi: 264-4148Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni: 253-3855Camp Zama: 263-3015Okinawa

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