CAMP RED CLOUD, South Korea — When Spc. Brian Gannuscio sees other soldiers heading downrange to spend their free time and money at bars, he thinks about how much they are missing.

How much free education, that is. The 21-year-old native of Alta Loma, Calif., has taken 13 university courses worth 35 credits since coming to South Korea 18 months ago to serve with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 102nd Military Intelligence Battalion, 2nd Infantry Division.

When Gannuscio, based at Camp Essayons in Uijongbu, combines that study with 30 credits he earned at Cochise College in Arizona and Chaffey College in California, he’s halfway to an information systems management degree he hopes will kick-start a career with the Department of Homeland Security or the FBI.

The young student was one of several soldiers who received counseling from academic advisers visiting Camp Red Cloud and Camp Stanley on Wednesday.

University of Maryland academic adviser Bill Williams told Gannuscio he had finished the social science, arts and humanities and physical science components of his degree. He needed two more lower-level writing courses or a lower-level writing course and a speech course; a mathematics course; one course with a civic responsibility component; and one with international content, Williams said.

“We come up once a month and do unofficial evaluations on students. It is to let them know what credits they have from the military and other schools so they don’t take courses that might duplicate something or classes they don’t need,” Williams said. “We also clear up questions about general degree plans.”

Soldiers’ military training counts toward degrees. They get four credit hours for basic training, and soldiers with certain military occupational specialties get credit for advanced individual training, Williams said.

Gannuscio was taking full advantage of the tuition assistance provided by the Army, he said.

The tuition assistance is capped at $4,500 a year, and each University of Maryland course costs $468. Soldiers who take a lot of courses might go over the cap and have to pay for extra courses out of their own pockets. However, they can apply for reimbursement from the Department of Veterans Affairs under the GI Bill, he said.

“I know up here it is hard (to make time to study) because they have a lot of exercises and time in the field,” Williams said. “But it is really to their advantage to take the classes. I would like to see a lot more, especially younger troops, taking advantage of it.”

Gannuscio said he has just begun three courses — Information Systems 303, Library Research 150 and Communications 393 (technical writing) — and plans to take another three courses before leaving South Korea.

“It has amazed me how easy it is to take all these courses online in Korea,” he said. “They post the homework on a Web site and you have a week to do it. I find that the teachers give the soldiers more leeway because they know what we do, so I don’t find it difficult at all.”

Through his university study, Gannuscio is learning about computer operating systems, computer security and how to manage a team.

The most interesting course he has taken in South Korea is Asian Philosophy, he said.

“I learned all about the different types of philosophy that the Asian people have, such as the Buddhist religion. They believe that the world should be peaceful. I was amazed what a calm and basic life they live. I talked to one of the female gate guards, who is actually a Buddhist, and she helped me explain some of the stuff I was reading,” he said.

Other soldiers were missing out on the free study, he said.

“In Korea I see nobody taking advantage of the online courses. They are going down the street to the juicy bars and spending their money elsewhere,” said Gannuscio, who estimated his courses would have cost him $10,000 if taken in the United States.

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Seth Robson is a Tokyo-based reporter who has been with Stars and Stripes since 2003. He has been stationed in Japan, South Korea and Germany, with frequent assignments to Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti, Australia and the Philippines.

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