Kathy, a Mom of a soldier and an educator contributed this piece. It contains some very good information for deploying Guardsmen. Thank you so much!
As a new school year looms in the very near future, I think about those students whose educational journey may be interrupted…. The men and women of the National Guard. Although they understand from the start that their service and commitment is first and foremost to serve our country in time of need, this poses a distinct situation for those who are in the midst of their college education. As a soldier’s mom and an educator, I know without a doubt that knowledge is power. Here are some thoughts on this matter…
Orders for deployment come without concern for convenience. A student may find out that they will have to report for active duty in the middle of their course work. What happens then? First and foremost, student soldiers should know the institutional policy regarding military deployment. No student will be penalized for leaving the semester early for military duty, BUT they need to know if they will receive a grade for the work completed so far or merely a “W” on their transcript. Withdrawing from a course simply means that the student was granted the option to leave without penalty. Some institutions also add a “P” (for passing) or “F” (for failing) along with the W. Withdrawal simply means that the students overall grade point average (GPA) is not affected by the withdrawal. However, it would be good for the deploying soldier/student to know if they have to repeat the part of the course they’ve already completed, or if they will receive a grade to that point – the other option that some institutions grant. Again, knowing this policy ahead of time may make the decision to start the semester a bit easier. Good communication with the academic advisor, dean of students or director of the discipline is essential when deployment orders are received. Having written policy or documentation if exceptions are granted is also necessary for when the soldier returns to school. It is not enough to be told “Don’t worry, we’ll take care of you when you get back”. People move on and nothing stays the same during deployment, so it is wise to ask for documentation of stop-out policies or re-admission policies, especially of professional programs with criteria for acceptance (health care programs – nursing, med school; law school, etc.).
Once the soldier/student returns to school, working with the institution’s VA officer becomes extremely important. Paperwork and forms must be filled out accurately so the soldier receives the full benefit he/she deserves. There is a difference in monthly benefits depending on which Montgomery Bill option is being applied for…..considerable differences. At some point, it is even wise to double check with the state VA educational officer - not just the local county officer, for assistance to make sure the soldier is applying to the appropriate program. Once paperwork is filed incorrectly, it takes an inordinate amount of time to correct the problem – meanwhile, the soldier is without benefits. Working with the guard unit’s readiness officer is also a good idea. In the past, I’ve also enlisted the help of the state representative of the Family Readiness Office. The most important point to pass along is don’t be satisfied with an attitude of “I’m not sure” or “I don’t know”……there are people who do know and can help, so seek them out.
That is only the business part of returning to school after deployment. A soldier who leaves campus for 2 semesters (or longer) also loses his/her spot among the relationships they’ve built to that point. If they’re an athlete, they come home to a different team; if a member of a cohort that is accepted into the major, now they are part of a different cohort. No soldier is penalized for being gone, but no one comes back to the same student group, social group or sometimes, even the same faculty and staff. This is another adjustment to the circumstances they are already making in their return to civilian life. Support during this time is critical. Awareness and acknowledgement of the soldier/student’s contribution to OIE or OEF should not be underestimated or undervalued.
These are just some points of interest that I wanted to pass along for the next soldier who is deploying during their college years. It is a situation that calls for attention to detail and information about benefits to assure ease in transition back to college life, as well as an understanding of the specific adjustments that this student is making in the name of freedom.