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Department of Education hails Oregon National Guard’s education plan

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By Cody Mann, TheChronicleOnline.com

The Oregon Department of Education recently endorsed the Oregon National Guard’s credit proficiency program known as The Oregon Plan for use in high schools across the state. The program gives juniors and seniors the chance to earn academic credits while training for military service.

In an official letter to Major General Michael Stencel, the adjutant general for Oregon, The Oregon Plan was praised by Oregon Department of Education Deputy Superintendent Salam Noor, who wrote that for over 20 years the plan has provided an excellent opportunity for professional technical training while receiving high school credits.

“The Oregon National Guard’s stewardship of this program for over two decades is both appreciated and commendable,” Noor wrote

Noor wrote that young Oregonians could earn part-time income for their service and also train and work in specific career skills while continuing to earn their diplomas. In the letter, he encouraged all school districts to seriously consider granting credits under the program. “The Oregon Plan offers educators another resource in their efforts to help all young Oregonians meet graduation requirements,” Noor wrote.

“The students who take advantage of this program will benefit exponentially from the life skills and leadership training they will receive in the Oregon National Guard,” Noor wrote. “In return, Oregon will benefit from the stronger, better educated National Guard and the contributions of its well-trained citizen soldiers and airmen.”

Staff Sgt. Melissa Fleming is a Warren resident who volunteered for Active Guard Reserve duty as a recruiter in Columbia County. Originally from St. Johns, she plans to spend her next decade of service in the area.

Fleming said the alternative education plan has been around for some time, but the endorsement from the education department was a new development. Some school systems have taken a stance against allowing military recruiters to be active on their campuses, so a ringing endorsement from a top education official is noteworthy.

As recruiter for the Oregon Army National Guard, Fleming said her approach is one of teambuilding, and really, of community building. Unlike active duty recruiters who may never see a recruit again after enlistment, Fleming is looking to bring in colleagues who she will work with in the future. “It’s different for us because we build our own hometown units,” she said.

The endorsement from the education department may open doors for recruiters. It gives recruiters a tool for cutting through the red tape of getting approval through districts and schools. With a clear path to achieving timely graduation, the plan certainly has appeal to those who lack the necessary credits.

The plan features four options, one for juniors and the rest for seniors. Juniors may enlist in a split training program, attending Basic Training for 11 weeks in the summer, graduating, and then attending Advanced Individual Training (AIT). Seniors can complete credit requirements before or after basic or advanced training with different timings for graduation under each of the three options they are given.

“Say it’s May and your kid comes home and says he isn’t going to graduate because he doesn’t have enough credits,” Fleming said. “They could enlist, go to Basic Training, AIT, come back and boom, graduation requirement is done.” Walking with your graduating class may be a little tricky in terms of timing, but some are able to arrange that, too.

Do you have what it takes? Fleming said the number one attribute she sees in those who are successful in military service is determination. Everything else falls into place if a candidate for recruiting has the will to succeed. “I will stick with anybody, regardless of what we need to go through, to get somebody like that in,” she said.

All walks of life are drawn to serving in the military. Fleming said she has seen everything from medical assistants to gas station attendants come through the door. She said she could not pin down an exact type of person that could be successful in the service. For example, Fleming said a recruit of hers who was turned down by another branch of service will be a distinguished honor graduate from his current training unit.

It comes down to mindset, and Fleming said those who serve want to stand for something bigger than themselves and be part of the greater good. She pointed to recent news stories focused on freedom of speech issues and said those who serve are protecting our rights as Americans. “All of us together stands for something,” she said. “Being a part of something bigger than yourself, at some point in your life that’s going to be important to you.”

The Oregon Army National Guard can be federally activated and deployed, but it also serves communities around the state. “When there’s flood, fires, natural disasters – we’re there – we stay here and take care of our people,” Fleming said.

By Cody Mann, TheChronicleOnline.com