never too late

NY Army Guard veteran finishes college education after nearly four decades

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by Eric Durr

Chief Warrant Officer 3 Doug Sherman started his college education in 1979. He finished nearly 38 years later, on Saturday, June 3, 2017.

Sherman, age 56, the warrant officer recruiter for the New York Army National Guard Recruiting and Retention Battalion graduated with a degree in business management and economics from Empire State College. It took three years of late nights and long weekends to finish what he had started as an 18-year old Marine Corps recruit, Sherman said, but it was worth it.

When he leaves the Army his goal is to teach Junior ROTC, Sherman said. To do that, he needed a degree.

So he decided to use the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill education benefit he’d earned through two Afghanistan deployments, along with some federal military education aid to get that degree, even though most students working on their four-year degrees are under the age of 25.

“I wanted to pursue this opportunity,” Sherman said. “[I expect] my working life will be well into my late 60s.”

Sherman started taking college classes at night at the University of South Carolina as a young Marine. Then he joined the Army and spent four years in Germany during the 1980s and took classes while overseas.

But when he left the Army, life happened and he didn’t pursue college again until just recently.

“A lot of life happened in all those spaces. It never seemed to be the right time for me to sit down and focus on my education,” Sherman said.

In 2002 he joined the Army Reserve in Florida as an MP and then he went to Afghanistan. He then moved to New York, joined the National Guard, entered the warrant officer program in 2009 and deployed to Afghanistan again with the 27th Infantry Brigade Combat Team in 2012.

National Guard members often not only qualify for federal military education benefits, but also for additional benefits from their individual state.

For example, the state of Alabama recently amended the Alabama National Guard Education Assistance Program (ANGEAP) to cover the cost of full tuition for members of the Alabama Guard. State officials say Guard members are eligible for the benefits, which cover 100% of tuition at most four-year institutions in the state, once they complete basic training.

Other states have various levels of education benefits to offer Guard members.

Visit www.nationalguard.com/tools/state-education-programs to find a local Education Services Officer (ESO) who can share with you the most up-to-date education benefits available in your state.

In 2014 he decided it was time to do something about finishing that college degree he started decades ago, so he enrolled in Empire State College. The State University of New York school specializes in adult and non-traditional college students.

The school is military friendly and it gave him credit for his warrant officer training course and his basic non-commissioned officer course, along with credit for other training he received while in the military, Sherman says.

The school was a mix of on-line education, meeting with professors and taking weekend classes, he explains.

He started with 50 credits, but it still took a lot of long hours to do the work of re-learning college-level math and English, says Sherman.

“Towards the very end, there were nights when I was up until midnight,“ he says. “Finishing my last paper, I could barely keep my eyes open — but I kept telling myself the finish line is really close.”

In the end, it was all worth it, Sherman says.

“I want to let people know there are opportunities that we should take advantage of,” he says. “I think any of us — whether it’s the younger ones, the older ones or the middle-aged ones — we are looking to improve ourselves.”

—Eric Durr is with the New York National Guard