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The Rolla Daily News - Rolla, MO
  • Rolla native helps Marines further their education

  • For the most part, Marine Corps Logistics Base, Barstow, Calif., is a slower-paced, non-deployable support establishment.
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  • For the most part, Marine Corps Logistics Base, Barstow, Calif., is a slower-paced, non-deployable support establishment.
    That being said, Marines at the base have a great opportunity to further their education and enhance their Marine Corps careers.
    There are numerous benefits, grants and scholarships available for active duty military members, explained Francis Villeme, the base education officer and Rolla native.
    "Marines have the military tuition assistance program," Villeme explained. "It covers $4,500 in tuition costs per fiscal year."
    Aside from tuition assistance, Villeme added there are many other ways military members can receive money for school.
    Numerous Marines qualify for FASFA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid), and various grants," said Villeme. The cost of tuition, books and other fees may all be covered without even using their military TA, Villeme added.
    "There are all kinds of scholarships out there … I have a book 2 inches thick with different scholarships and grants," explained Villeme. "They are for anyone — including military, military families and dependents."
    Service members also have the benefit of being able to participate in the College Level Examination Program (CLEP) free of charge.
    "The CLEP speeds up the process of obtaining a degree," explained Villeme. "It allows you to study the course material on your own … and when you're ready, you test out to receive the college credit."
    Different colleges have different regulations regarding the CLEP, however. As long as the student passes the exam to their respective school's standards, they will receive the credit, he added.
    The test is normally more than $200, not including any study material. However, not only is the test free, but also the library at the base will provide all of the materials and lectures needed to successfully complete the exam and receive the credit, explained Villeme.
    "I've seen Marines study for two weeks up to three months," Villeme explained. "Both of them passed the exam. It all depends on the student."
    Villeme explained with time management and dedication, Marines who take advantage of both tuition assistance and the CLEP will have no problem leaving the Marine Corps Logistics Base in Barstow, Calif., with an associate's degree.
    Villeme, a retired Marine artilleryman, who received 30 credit hours through the CLEP and a master's degree by the time he got out, said he doesn't understand why every Marine doesn't take advantage of the numerous benefits.
    "There are a lot of Marines here who capitalize on these benefits, but there are still some who don't," Villeme said. "They may not realize just how many advantages they have to further their education."
    Villeme further explained, if a Marine is worried about taking an online course for the first time, the base library offers practice courses to get familiar with online learning. Tutoring is also available for any subject.
    Page 2 of 2 - "If a Marine begins to struggle in any course, the library will ensure they get the help they need," he said. "They just need to let us know."
    Lance Cpl. Luis Castro, administrative clerk on the base, is just one of the Marines who takes advantage of these benefits.
    Castro, a Puerto Rico native, is majoring in criminal justice and has passed six college courses covered by tuition assistance and used the CLEP for one.
    "It's not hard at all to sign up for college," Castro explained. "Marines here shouldn't have a problem taking one or two classes a semester (while still performing) their duties as Marines."
    Being in a non-deployable unit gives Marines a great opportunity to advance in school, and they should take advantage of the time they have here, Castro added.
    Sgt. William Koeppe, the base career planner, also agrees that Marines should take advantage of the slower pace and work toward their degrees.
    "Marines here aren't deploying. Not only does that leave more time to study, but the opportunity to take any in-class courses they need, as opposed to taking a class online," Koeppe explained.
    No matter what Marines intend to do, whether it's getting out for civilian life or staying in the Marine Corps for 20 years, a college education will give them an advantage.
    "Someone getting out of the Marine Corps who took advantage of off-duty education will have a head start to their degree and career plans," Koeppe said. "They will also be able to save some of their GI bill (a 36-month college benefit for service member who get out honorably) by taking advantage of tuition assistance while they are active."
    Marines who choose to stay in also benefit from taking college courses, Koeppe added. It can help with promotions and allow enlisted Marines to participate in the Enlisted Commissioning Program. Marines who earn a bachelor's degree while enlisted will have the opportunity to go to officer candidate school to become commissioned officers in the Marine Corps.
    "Anytime you increase your education it will be useful and applied somewhere," Koeppe explained. "Marines with a college education will benefit the Marine Corps and themselves."
    Marines never really stopped going to school, Villeme said, and they go to the school of infantry, their military occupational specialty schools and constantly receive professional military education.
    "One thing Marines do is accomplish the mission … no matter what," Villeme concluded. "So, make education a personal mission and get it done."

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