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Training and Education Command

United States Marine Corps
Program helps staff NCOs graduate into higher learning, earn degree

By Lance Cpl. Brian Kester | | January 09, 2004

MCRD/ERR PARRIS ISLAND S.C. -- The Marine Corps is offering staff NCOs the opportunity to obtain their bachelor's degrees through the Staff Noncommissioned Officers Degree Completion Program.
The program provides active duty staff NCOs the opportunity to earn bachelor's degrees as a full-time student, while receiving their regular pay and allowances during attendance.

According to Marine Corps Order 1560.21D, applicants must be active duty Marines, have an associates degree or 60 semester hours and must be staff sergeant through master sergeant with the potential and motivation to become sergeant major or master gunnery sergeant.

Having spent a good amount of time in the Marine Corps, Gunnery Sgt. Larry D. Johns, a recent graduate through the degree completion program, fulfilled all of the criteria necessary for the program.

"With the combination of my credits from Marine Corps training and going to school while on Parris Island, I earned 60 credits and was then able to apply for the program," he said.

Gunnery Sgt. Charles D. Ellard, also a graduate through the Degree Completion Program, now the education services officer for MCAS Beaufort and Parris Island, had some considerable insight into what it takes to get a degree.

"Check with the Lifelong Learning Center," said Ellard. "Start as soon as possible to get into college and check into the program before the next year's MARADMIN comes out. Do all of this the summer before you request a package. Also, plan financially because while you get full pay and allowances, you cannot use tuition assistance to pay for the schooling."

Acceptance into the program leads to a commitment of time from each applicant.

"If you get accepted into this program, the Marine Corps says you have 18 months to complete your bachelor's degree," said Johns. "For the last 18 months, I have been in school, and basically, that was my duty station. I was a full-time student and full-time active duty."

There are however stipulations to this program. The service member must re-enlist on a payback tour, which will fill specific billets in specialized areas within the Marine Corps.

"There were three different fields for me to choose from for my education: psychology, education and environmental safety," said Johns. "Because I am also a minister, I figured I would go with psychology. That way, I can help [Marines and parishioners] with counseling."

While counseling people, Johns will be preparing them mentally, with the proper support and encouragement.

"My wife, Gabrielle, played a very significant role in my going to school," said Johns. "She has been a constant source of encouragement. I also had the support from all of the people working in the education office. When you have all of that encouragement behind you, all you can do is look forward."

As Johns looks forward to his future, he is seeing things very clearly.

"That's one of the things that going to school can do, it opens up your mind," said Johns.
Johns now reflects on what has gotten him to this point and what he will do about it.

"My debt to the Marine Corps for allowing me to go to school and obtaining my degree is to give them three years, and that is what I am going to do," said Johns. "I was a recruiter for three years, I served in the first Desert Storm, and I was a drill instructor. Since I have been in, I have wanted to give back to the Marine Corps."

An education is something the Marine Corps wants to give to its Marines, and many have taken advantage of this.

"I see that there is an opportunity for Marines to get an education, and it isn't being taken advantage of," said Ellard. "This is a great program, and I recommend anyone who qualifies to look into it."

Johns said he sees the need to gain more exposure for programs like these.

"Unfortunately, a lot of Marines don't know about this program," said Johns. "It is one of the best-kept secrets that the Marine Corps has. I think this is one of these programs where we as educators should make it more available to our Marines."

For more information, visit your career planner, lifelong learning center or the education office.

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