By Franklin Fisher
CAMP RED CLOUD, Korea (March 12, 2013) -- Staffers at Area I education centers gave crucial, eleventh-hour help to more than 250 Soldiers who rushed to sign up for college before the Army's Tuition Assistance funding halted over the weekend, officials said Monday.
The Army suspended its Tuition Assistance, or TA, effective March 8, because of the current federal budget gridlock and the resulting sequestration.
Overall, about 920 Soldiers sought enrollment help at Army education centers throughout Korea, March 8-9, and many of those were successfully signed up, officials said. South Korea is on the other side of the International Dateline, so the March 8 deadline in the U.S. ran into March 9 in South Korea.
The suspension is in effect until further notice and applies to all components, including the Army Reserve and National Guard.
Under the suspension, Soldiers are not allowed to submit new requests for tuition assistance.
But those who before the suspension were enrolled in courses approved for tuition assistance are not affected.
Even with the TA suspension, Soldiers on active duty can still seek educational funding through the Montgomery GI Bill-Active Duty (Chapter 30), if qualified, officials said.
"They have to be in the military at least 20 months before they're eligible to use their GI Bill," said John Stephens, contract counselor at the Camp Red Cloud education center in Uijeongbu.
Other potential funding sources could be Pell Grants, scholarships with different schools, financial aid through the government, other than the GI Bill, he said.
"But basically what happens is the Soldier has to pay for it him or herself," said Stephens. "The Soldier has to find the financing that can be available. So, the onus is put on the Soldier."
Area I education centers are ready to help Soldiers revise their education plans in light of the suspension, Stephens said.
"We can help them as far as those schools that are available to them," he said. "We can help get them advice on their GI Bill," he said.
And the centers can guide them toward which schools may be offering scholarships, and otherwise steer them toward tuition help, Stephens said.
The Army's centers also continue to provide education and vocational counseling, academic testing, credentialing, and transcripts of Soldiers' military training and experience.
"Tuition Assistance is one of the primary reasons that Soldiers stay in the Army, and that they enlist," said Stephens. "And, hopefully, it will come back. But in the meantime, education is extremely important for anybody, and the way to be successful, whether they stay in the military or they get out, is only through education."
When word of the suspension hit Area I the morning of March 8, a Friday, Army leaders and education center staff rushed to get as many qualified Soldiers as possible enrolled for Tuition
Assistance before the stated deadline for Korea of 7 a.m. March 9.
Nearly 150 Soldiers sought help at the Camp Casey education center during the rush, said Carroll Chapman, education services specialist with U.S. Army Garrison Red Cloud and Area I.
That included a number from nearby Camp Hovey, who could not process their enrollments at Hovey's education center because the GoArmyEd education portal was so overloaded the server couldn't be accessed.
It also included Soldiers of a unit based at Camp Humphreys, the 520th Maintenance Company.
They were in Area I for training at Rodriguez Range, said Chapman.
The company commander brought in several of his Soldiers March 8 who needed to enroll, he said.
"They were up here in the field so the closest education center to them was us," Chapman said, "and they did not become aware of what was happening until six o'clock, so rather than try to make it back all the way to Humphreys, they came here.
"We don't turn anybody away here in Area I," said Chapman. "If they qualify for education center services, we'll see them here in Area I."
At Camp Red Cloud, more than 100 Soldiers sought help, either in person or by phone. That number included some from Camp Stanley, who were brought to Red Cloud because Stanley's GoArmyEd access was also down.
Area I education centers had announced they'd keep special late hours to accommodate the rush, until 9 p.m. Friday, and would be open the next morning from 5 a.m. to 7 a.m.
But with the crush of Soldiers seeking last-minute enrollment, the Red Cloud center stayed open until around 10:30 p.m. The center at Casey closed around midnight.
Both centers reopened at 5 a.m. March 9, as scheduled. But by then the Tuition Assistance system had been so flooded with customers that there was no money left, officials said.
"We all came to work at five o'clock Saturday morning," said Chapman, "and we were not able to sign anybody up for anything anymore. It already had been suspended. So sometime between midnight and 5 a.m. it ended."
In Area II, about 300 Soldiers made their way to the U.S. Army Garrison Yongsan's education centers March 8, on Yongsan and at K-16 Air Base. All but two were able to enroll in classes before the deadline, officials said.
In Area III, 167 Soldiers received help with Tuition Assistance enrollments at the U.S. Army Garrison Humphreys' education center on Camp Humphreys, March 8.The center reopened the next morning at 4:15 a.m. and 40 Soldiers were counseled on their education options in the face of the suspension.
In Area IV, 204 Soldiers sought Tuition Assistance enrollment help from the U.S. Army Garrison Daegu's education centers at Camp Henry and Camp Carroll.