Specialist Colin Progar isn’t sure what his future holds, but thought he might find clues at the Education and Credentialing Fair at Fort Campbell’s Staff Sgt. Glenn H. English Jr. Army Education Center.
Those who attended Nov. 20 met with representatives of 25 colleges and universities, 11 credentialing assistance training providers and several other agencies eager to answer questions in what has been touted as Fort Campbell’s largest such fair.
“I’m just trying to find the next step in my life if I decide to get out,” of the Army, Progar said. “I’m trying to figure out what I can do while I’m still in.”
Progar, a Soldier assigned to A Troop, 1st Squadron, 75th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), is weighing whether to re-enlist or leave the Army.
“It’s always an option,” he said.
While Progar might be pondering a career change – law enforcement especially intrigues him – the Education and Credentialing Fair was about more than showing the 425 men and women who turned out about careers outside the military.
With the addition of the credentialing program, now paid for by the Army, more Soldiers are looking at options if they decide to stay in the military or ways to get an education or certification that will ease their mind about the future.
“The Credentialing Assistance Program is a retention tool,” said Sabrina Giraldo, education services officer for the education center. “The idea is to provide the funds for service members to earn a credential so they have something to fall back on when they do get out of the Army so they can have their career in the Army and not stress about what they’re going to do after, or if something happens and they have to get out sooner than they thought.”
Soldiers who apply for the program or get tuition assistance are eligible for up to $4,000 a year to pay for credentialing or degrees. Before Fort Campbell was selected by U.S. Army Forces Command and Installation Management Command as a limited user test site, Soldiers had to pay for credentialing out of pocket.
With the test successfully wrapped up this month, the credentialing program is expected to begin at other installations soon.
Fort Hood, Texas, was the first to create a shell program and Fort Campbell was the first to implement a program by working with established credentialing providers and spreading the word. Between June and Nov. 15, about 450 Soldiers submitted credentialing assistance applications and Giraldo expects that number will increase as more people hear about the program.
Active-duty Soldiers don’t have to get a credential related to their military occupational speciality. Trainers at the education fair included aviation companies, cyber security teachers and even a Clarksville-based scuba company that can prepare Soldiers to become instructors.
“They have different pathways,” Giraldo said. “One can be based on their career MOS, one can be academically focused, one could be a vocation, welding or something like that.”
Pilots have been especially eager to get certification for aircraft they don’t fly. Helicopter pilots or crew can get the instruction they need to fly fixed-wing aircraft or even commercial licenses.
“It’s overwhelming how many people are interested in it,” Giraldo said. “We’re processing them and getting them through and I think it’s amazing, in such a short period of time.”
Progar also was interested in college classes along with any certifications he could add to his resume.
Soldiers can split the $4,000 annual limit between traditional college classes and credentialing programs and pursue activities they are passionate about, Giraldo said.
“They can be working on their associate’s degrees and then go on and if they can complete a credential with the remainder of the money, which is great,” she said. “It really opens us options for Soldiers.”
Others might take college classes that could help with promotion points or prepare for an unrelated career. Even as they take college classes, the Army is still retaining those Soldiers as they pursue their degrees.
Major Jennifer Givens, a nurse manager at Blanchfield Army Community Hospital, stopped by the fair just to see what might be new and pick up information for her coworkers and their children, who may be looking at colleges.
“I am done with school,” Givens said. “I have two master’s degrees and I don’t want a PhD so I’m done.”
Julius R. Kelley III, scholarship and enrollment officer for Austin Peay State University’s ROTC, said he was happy to see so many people turn out.
Many Soldiers he talks to are looking for classes to help them move from enlisted status to officer, Kelley said. Others were interested in opportunities for spouses or children.
Staff Sergeant Daniel Espino, C Troop, 1st Squadron, 33rd Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), is getting ready for a seven-month temporary duty assignment and attended the fair to get ideas about classes he could take during his downtime.
“I’m just trying to get some college courses done,” Espino said, stopping at Troy University’s booth as he made his way around a room full of higher learning recruiters from across the country.
He has been in the Army for six years and wants to start a program in kinesiology, the study of the mechanics of body movement.
“I would like to get into something to help athletes,” Espino said.
He decided on general education classes through the American Military University and is checking if his credits will transfer.
Troy recruiter Deuce Morris, who is based in Clarksville, was telling students how tuition is capped at $250 per credit hour for Soldiers and Families. Terence Harrison, program manager of the Veterans Programs and Services at the University of Cincinnati tried impressing some students by playing the school’s fight song.
Harrison served in the Army Reserve for 30 years and got his master’s degree from the University of Cincinnati using his Post 9/11 GI Bill.
He was eager to tell those who stopped to chat about the university having one of the largest number of veterans in Ohio, only second to Ohio State. Harrison said universities gain much from their Soldier and veteran students.
“They have discipline, maturity and a more global view,” he said. “I think they have an advantage over their peers who graduated high school and went [straight] to college.
In addition to pamphlets, pens and tokens recruiters were giving out, Harrison offered some advice.
“I remind them what they did in the military,” he said. “If you are able to jump out of an airplane or repel out of a helicopter, you can handle school.”
The next Education and Credentialing Fair takes place in April, and Giraldo expects it will be even bigger as more credentialing agencies are added and word spreads, she said.
“Because credentialing assistance is fairly new, we expect there to be more providers coming out to show off their credentialing programs,” Giraldo said. “We are actually thinking in April about having an outside education fair.”
Because of the popularity and demand of the credentialing program, anyone interested is required to set up a time for a mandatory credentialing brief, offered Tuesdays and Thursdays at in Room 110 of the Staff Sgt. Glenn H. English Jr. Army Education Center. Appointments are required and can be scheduled at https://ftckyedcenter.timetap.com.