GIs pursuing goal of college degree in a ‘not-so-dreamy situation’
August 1, 2005
WASHINGTON — Chief Warrant Officer Mike Moritz will accept battling insurgents as an excuse for missing his American history class, but his students still have to get their homework done once the mission is over.
Since April, he and five other servicemembers deployed to Iraq have been teaching basic college courses to about 90 troops at Forward Operating Base Speicher, through a program sponsored by the State University of New York.
Students in his classes use textbooks donated by American schools and veterans organizations, and take their study guides with them into battle.
“I test from their study sheets, so they can study if they’re on the road or if there’s downtime at the motorpool,” said Moritz, a Guardsman from New Jersey and a part-time teacher with Sullivan County Community College in New York. “But the idea is to make the classes just like back home.”
The program is the first of its kind, offering courses for college credit with in-person instructors in an active combat zone. Online courses from other universities are available to the troops, but Moritz said many enlisted troops don’t have access to the Internet.
Teachers for the program were interviewed by university officials to make sure they matched up with the school’s academic standards.
Soldiers stationed at the base can enroll in the classes for $45 a credit — less than half the normal tuition cost — and can choose subjects like calculus, sociology and marketing.
Spc. Nichole Paquin said before being deployed she was working toward a nursing degree. The Iraq classes allowed her to finish her sociology and history requirements while serving, which she called a chance to “keep pursing my dreams while in a not-so- dreamy situation.”
“These are classes I don’t have to pay for when I get home now,” she said. “Not only is it a huge educational benefit, but also a financial benefit.”
Most of the classes meet twice a week, and Moritz said he usually schedules another three make- up sessions for soldiers whose missions conflict with the normal meeting times.
“We’ll have students gone for three or four days because of their mission,” he said. “I’ve had to teach the same class three or four times. Sometimes I’m sitting in a room with five or six of them, testing each one on something different.”
But he has been impressed with the seriousness of the classes. Recently several students produced an impressive research paper on infidelity during deployment for their sociology class, which drew praise from university officials.
Moritz is scheduled to leave Tikrit for Kuwait in October, but he hopes to keep the classes going by recruiting more teachers and students. University officials said they have no current plans to expand the classes to other bases.