Army National Guard Offers a Way to Pay Federal Student Loans

One of the Army National Guard’s best selling points is its ability to help pay for its Soldiers’ educations.

There are many paths to earning a degree without incurring a ton of debt or any debt at all, like the Guard’s Federal and State tuition assistance programs, but one benefit the Guard offers – the Student Loan Repayment Program – can pay down balances on Federal student loans a Soldier already has.

CPT Peter Brookes, the Enlisted Incentives Program Manager with the Army National Guard, explains: “The gist of it is that we pay 15% or $500 a year of the overall Federal student loans you have when you join the Guard, up to $50,000, inclusive of interest for a 6 year commitment.”

The most important caveat for the program, says CPT Brookes, is that the money goes to the lending institution – not the Soldier. Also, it’s not a one-time check to the lender. For example, for a Guard member who has $50,000 in Federal student loans, the Guard would pay 15% per each individual loan of that balance, up to $7,500 per year.

The Student Loan Repayment Program (SLRP) applies to only Federal loans. State loans and private loans do not qualify.

There are also requirements associated with a Soldier’s status within the Guard. Different standards apply for new Soldiers coming in with no prior service, Soldiers who have prior military service, and those who are already serving in the Guard.

CPT Brookes says for anyone new coming into the Guard, there are three basic eligibility requirements for SLRP – Soldiers must be high school graduates who are moving into a vacant position in the Guard and have a minimum Armed Forces Qualifying Test score of 50 and established Federal student loan debt.

As of this writing, CPT Brookes says new Soldiers can pick one of three incentives between SLRP, the Montgomery GI Bill Kicker, which is $350 a month that goes to a Soldier who’s enrolled in college, for up to 36 months, or a Non-Prior Service Enlistment Bonus for $7,500.

Some of those incentives can be combined with the Guard’s education benefits, which CPT Brookes describes as “unparalleled.”

“When you consider that for the vast majority of us, [Guard service] is a part-time job, it’s pretty phenomenal, he says. “I can’t even think of a civilian equivalent out there for education benefits for a part-time job.”

Not only can Soldiers take advantage of potentially earning free degrees through State Tuition Assistance Programs (programs vary by State), “you can still go and get your [Montgomery GI Bill] Kicker as well,” says CPT Brookes. “So basically you’re getting paid to go to college.”

NationalGuard.com outlines all of the Guard’s benefits, but CPT Brookes says recruiters are the best source for information on benefits, incentives, or bonuses that apply to each State.

Your local recruiter can also help you decide on the job you’ll train to do in the Guard, called your Military Occupational Specialty (MOS). For more information on Guard careers, check out our job board, where you can research more than 150 options in fields ranging from administration, to infantry, engineering, military intelligence, and more.

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State Spotlight: South Carolina

Guard Staff Sergeant Saves Lives as a Soldier and a Civilian

SSG Jessica Thibeau, with the South Carolina Army National Guard’s 59th Aviation Troop Command, observes from a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter during efforts to fight South Carolina wildfires in November 2016. Photo by Army SSG Roberto Di Giovine.

CHARLESTON, S.C. – Soldiers join the military for many reasons, including family tradition, stories they’ve seen in the media, or to make their childhood dreams come true.

For South Carolina Army National Guard Staff Sgt. (SSG) Jessica Thibeau, exposure to the military came from all over – a family filled with combat veterans, a community full of Vietnam veterans, and a television show.

“No laughing, but when I was 4 years old I loved a show called ‘Emergency.’ It was based on the first paramedics in the U.S. out in Los Angeles County, California,” said SSG Thibeau.

“That was in 1974,” she added. “There were not any female firefighters back then. My mom, however, never told me that. She always told me I could be whatever I wanted. I actually got a ton of Tonka fire trucks and ambulances that year for Christmas because that is all I wanted. Becoming a combat medic was just a natural progression.”

After having served on active duty and 20 years as a civilian paramedic, in 2005, SSG Thibeau decided to join the Army National Guard, and offer her combined civilian-military experience in trauma response and emergency/critical care to the Guard, which has a dual mission of serving the Nation and responding to State emergencies like floods and fires.

Initially, SSG Thibeau became a combat medic (68W Healthcare Specialist) with the Maine Army National Guard, 133rd Engineer Battalion. Next, she joined a Medevac unit with Charlie Company, 1st General Support Aviation Battalion, 126th Aviation Regiment, also in Maine. She later transferred to the South Carolina Army National Guard as a critical care flight paramedic with the 59th Aviation Troop Command.

Throughout her 18 years of military service, SSG Thibeau has saved numerous lives, including two while serving on the South Carolina Helicopter Aquatic Rescue Team. 

SSG Thibeau also flew numerous fire containment missions during the Pinnacle Mountain wildfires in Northwestern South Carolina in November 2016, and she has saved countless lives as a paramedic. As a civilian and a Soldier, she exemplifies positivity in her community and serves with dedication and proficiency in the military.

“I do love walking in on someone’s absolute worst day and making it a little, if not a lot, better,” SSG Thibeau said. “This job gives you a positive outlet to get that adrenaline rush while having a positive impact on others.”

“Whether it is saving their home, their loved one having a heart attack, or bringing another Soldier home from combat to their family, there is no greater feeling in the world to me than knowing you made a difference.”

So if you’d like to make a difference in your community, consider joining the Army National Guard, which offers more than 150 careers. Check out our job board to search opportunities in fields like medicine, administration, or infantry. Your part-time service comes with many benefits like money for college or vocational school and low-cost health and life insurance. Contact your local recruiter to learn more.

From an original story by Army SSG Roberto Di Giovine, 59th Aviation Troop Command, which originally appeared in the news section of NationalGuard.mil in April 2017.

 

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Spotlight on: Part-time Service

The Balancing Act Between Citizen and Soldier

Established in 1636, the National Guard is the country’s oldest military branch and has fought in every major conflict in American history. Soldiers of the Army National Guard have always been citizens who served as the Nation’s first line of defense when duty called. Fast-forward to today and it’s the same: Everyone who becomes a Citizen-Soldier® still must find that balance between day-to-day life and military obligations.

Sergeant Brian Calhoun attends a South Carolina Army National Guard Warrior Leadership Course at McCrady Training Center in Eastover, SC, on April 7, 2015. (Photo by Courtesy Photo)

Sergeant Brian Calhoun attends a South Carolina Army National Guard Warrior Leadership Course at McCrady Training Center in Eastover, SC, on April 7, 2015. (Photo by Courtesy Photo)

Like Sergeant Brian Calhoun. Currently a photojournalist in the 108th Public Affairs Detachment, South Carolina National Guard, he has learned to master this balancing act for years.

“I initially enlisted in the South Carolina National Guard when I was a senior in high school,” said Calhoun. “I would go off and train on drill weeks, which made my senior year experience much different than my classmates’.”

Calhoun joined an Air Defense Artillery (ADA) unit that was brand new at the time and hadn’t even fielded its equipment yet. He trained to become an Air Defense Artillery Command and Control System Operator-Repairer and was assigned to Headquarters Battalion 1/263 ADA. When the unit was deactivated seven years later, Calhoun was at the end of his enlistment and decided to leave the National Guard.

“When my original unit deactivated, it was a good time for me to take a break from military service,” said Calhoun. “I had just completed mortuary college and was beginning my professional career as a funeral director. My new job would require me to work weekends, and I didn’t want weekend drill or annual training to interfere, so I decided to take a short break.”

Calhoun’s “short” break ended up lasting 16 years. “I never intended to be away from the Guard for that amount of time, and I always missed it. I think once you become a Soldier you never stop. A part of me was missing, and I wanted to get back in the Guard to fill that huge hole.”

When he decided to re-enlist in 2010, Calhoun turned to the Internet to find the perfect military occupational specialty (MOS) for himself. “I wanted my new MOS to be more like a hobby for me. I also wanted my new military skill to benefit my employer. When I found public affairs and photojournalism, I was surprised. I didn’t know the Army had this, and I was certain the South Carolina National Guard didn’t have this – or so I thought. I started making phone calls and the rest is history.”

Calhoun said he knew right away that being a public affairs professional skilled in writing, public speaking, photography, print layout and design, and managing social media would be an asset to his employer.

“Not only am I able to serve my Community, my State, and our Nation as a public affairs specialist, I am able to provide these same skills to my company and the families that we serve here in Charleston.

“I am very fortunate to work for a company that has embraced my desire to serve my country,” he added. “They have never hesitated when I have asked for time away to attend training or to answer the call.”

Like earlier this year when Calhoun attended and graduated from Warrior Leader Course (WLC) at McCrady Training Center in Eastover, SC. WLC is the initial leadership course for noncommissioned officers. During the month-long course, Specialists and Corporals prepare for the rank of Sergeant by learning skills to lead smaller groups of Soldiers.

“I knew my class would be full of young Specialists, or newly minted Sergeants, so I could not compare myself to them physically,” said Calhoun who is 43 years old. “But I went into the course and gave it 100 percent.”

As it turned out, Calhoun believes being older actually gave him an advantage.

“When it came to preparing a brief, giving a block of instruction, or being graded on leadership, I always received the highest marks because of my confidence. I believe my age and experience led to those qualities.”

On top of holding down a steady job, Calhoun also has a wife and two children. His family had as much to do with his re-enlistment as did his own personal desire to be back in uniform.

“I wanted my kids to witness, first-hand, me sacrificing time away from home for the benefit of the greater good. I wanted them to know that the benefits we have as Americans are not free and do not come to them without a cost.”

The National Guard responds locally to natural disasters such as floods, hurricanes, forest fires, search and rescue operations, and more. At the same time, the National Guard has a Federal mission to maintain well-trained units available for mobilization during war or national emergencies.

“There is no doubt that being a Soldier benefits me every day. It gives me pride and confidence as a person, and it reminds me that I am a part of something that is much bigger than myself.”

 

If you think the Citizen-Soldier balancing act can benefit you the way it does SGT Calhoun, learn more about the National Guard by visiting our jobs board and contacting a recruiter today.

Original story by MAJ Jamie Delk was published in the news section of nationalguard.mil on Aug. 7, 2015.

 

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