Recruiters deal with loss of tuition program

Written by Observer Upload March 22, 2013 01:06 pm

by Pat Caldwell/For The Observer

ONTARIO — One of the Army National Guard’s most effective recruiting tools went off the market recently, the victim of the federal budget quagmire known as 
sequestration.

The Army endorsed the suspension of the Tuition Assistance program March 8 and the Secretary of the Air Force approved the postponement of the agenda March 11. Members of the military already enrolled in the higher education aid program before March 5 will not be affected by the suspension. However, no new tuition assistance candidates will be accepted by the military.

Last-minute Congressional budget arbitration could eventually rescue the vaunted military college aid agenda.

The United States House of Representatives approved a continuing funding resolution Thursday, averting a government shutdown. The government funding decree keeps the doors of the federal government open until Sept. 30.

Also Thursday, the Defense Department said it will delay a wide-sweeping furlough blueprint slated to include up to 800,000 civilian employees while the agency evaluates the impact of the funding resolution sanctioned by Congress.

Whether the continuing funding resolution, or the moves by the DOD, will liberate the tuition assistance program, though, remains to be seen.

Along with the famous GI Bill, tuition assistance proved to be a recruiting mainstay over the years. Tuition assistance is a benefit offered to eligible members of the armed services and can often translate into a Guardsman securing the opportunity to pay up to 100 percent of his or her college expenses.

“It definitely puts a speed bump in our effort to reach the people who want to join specifically for school benefits,” Staff Sgt. Roberto Gomez, a recruiter for Eastern Oregon’s Guard outfit, the 3rd Battalion, 116th Cavalry Regiment said.

Gomez, who started recruiting duties in Ontario for the battalion in January, so far said he has been fortunate regarding attracting new people to the battalion. He admitted, though, that the tuition assistance was a key tool to help bring new citizen-soldiers into the battalion.

“(Tuition assistance) is usually one of the first questions I’m asked about,” Gomez said.

However, Gomez said while tuition assistance is a crucial device to help attract new recruits, he also conceded it is just one of a number of benefits the Guard offers.

“(New recruits) are made aware of things like the GI Bill, the GI Bill kicker and people are still interested. There are, really, plenty of other ways to get tuition assistance,” he said.

In a press release issued this week, the Oregon National Guard said about 350 serving Oregon Army National Guard soldiers will be unable to utilize the Tuition Assistance program for the upcoming spring term because of the suspension. According to the press release, in 2012 more than 200,000 soldiers across the Army tapped into the Tuition Assistance program. 

Capt. Stephen Bomar, the public affairs officer for the Oregon National Guard agreed with Gomez that there are other programs the Guard offers to help new recruits with their education.

“There is still the GI Bill for those who qualify and other military-related scholarships,” Bomar said in the press release issued by the Oregon Military Department.

Maj. John Qualls, Heppner, the executive officer of the 3rd Battalion said the loss of the tuition assistance program will make an impact.

“Tuition Assistance is a vital part of recruiting and retention for the Oregon National Guard. It is sad to see a substantial program like this suspended because of
‘a possible year-long continuing resolution and sequestration,’” he said.

Qualls said the battalion will seek out innovative measures to offset any negative impact from the loss of the program.

“We will find a way to take care of our soldiers as we always have,” he said.