CAMP ARIFJAN, Kuwait - History is showing that the job market in today’s economy has seen better days. Many people in the United States are out of work and it is difficult to find a job with good pay and benefits. While on deployment, soldiers in the Army National Guard have a steady paycheck and benefits while on a deployment. But what happens when they return home and their military obligation goes back to one weekend a month, and two weeks in the summer?
The 1/34 Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 34th Infantry Division, currently deployed in Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, will be heading back to Minnesota in late spring. Approximately 50 percent of the soldiers in the Bloomington, Minn., based unit, do not have a job waiting for them at home. Many soldiers have been using their free time, and military college benefits while deployed to take online classes in order to earn a college degree. They know that having a degree will help to get a good job upon returning home.
Spc. Melissa Rolfes, a Billeting specialist from Coon Rapids, Minn., says “I decided to take classes while deployed to get a jump start on my bachelor’s degree.” Rolfes takes online classes at American Military University, where she majors in Criminal Justice. During the course of her deployment, Rolfes will have completed 16 credit hours towards her degree.
Several other members of the 1/34 Brigade Special Troops Battalion are taking online classes through American Military University who cater to deployed service members. The college mails free text books to Army Post Office addresses and allows flexible schedules to allow soldiers to focus on mission first. The company commander, Capt. Chris Lotzow of Eagan, Minn., is pursuing his Master’s Degree in Intelligence Studies. Sgt. 1st Class Brittany Thingvold, Senior Human Resources sergeant, Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 1st Brigade Combat Team will have completed at least 15 credit hours towards finishing her bachelor’s degree in Business Management.
Sgt. 1st Class Thingvold would ultimately like to earn a Master’s Degree in Human Resources Management for employment after she retires from the military. “The National Guard has the advantage of an array different civilian experience levels and I have received some assistance from teachers and other subject matter experts – it’s incredible to see everyone reach out and offer help” said Thingvold from Waverly, Minn. Rolfes says she chose to attend American Military University because she “like(s) the option of a 16 week or 8 week course.”
Several soldiers are also taking online courses at schools that are closer to home. A few attend Metropolitan State University in St. Paul, Minn. Sgt. Kassandra Rutherford is working towards her Master’s Certificate in Information Assurance. Rutherford earned her Bachelor’s Degree from Metro State so she decided to go for her Master’s at the same school. First Lt. Mark Griebel, a resident of South Dakota, is working on his Master’s in Education Technology through the University of South Dakota. When the soldiers who attend a local university get home and the new school year starts, they have the option to return to a traditional classroom environment to finish their degrees or just pick up where they left off with their online education.