Getting the Military Back to School

On March 8, 2013 the United States Armed Forces discontinued Tuition Assistance. The program, which provides up to $4,500 a year for service members working towards a higher degree, was scrapped in response to the cuts mandated by the sequester. That day, for all the Army, Airforce, Navy and Marine personnel who go to college – or possibly joined to military for the purpose of going to college – the DOD just stopped paying.

Personally, I learned about this only two weeks ago at a friend’s party. A soldier in his Freshman year of college, weighing whether he should take a year off to voluntarily deploy to Afghanistan so he could serve with his friends, told me about it. He also told me that, when it happened, he looked forward to congress collectively getting its head bitten off and the field day the media would have ripping politicians apart. He was looking forward to some big, righteous, military news. But there wasn’t any, and no one really knew what he was talking about.

I told him I’d spread the word. I went on Facebook and Twitter and posted something. The soldier had remarked that I knew “a lot more than most civillians”; I like to think my friends are the same. Still, no one I know really knew about it either. Pretty sad.

The troops aren’t just important because they protect us from harm or defend our nation’s vital interests. They’re not just important because they risk their lives for people they don’t know or serve as a symbol of bravery. They are important, as well, because they reflect how we, as a society, value sacrifice, bravery and really hard work. A rich person with a sex tape can launch a clothing line and make millions. One and a half million people who risk their lives, spend months away from their family and friends and fight so that little girls in Central Asia can go to school can have their own school taken away from them. Why, exactly, is that? Dumb luck?

When there’s a really good first round draft pick, we know about it. When a TV star gets pregnant, or maybe just so fat it’s confusing, we know about it. When Arrested Development gets canceled we know about it, and dammit, we complain until it gets picked up again. Then we commemorate the success of its return with a good week of social media posting.  When Congress decides not to drop student loan rates to the .75% banks pay, or the military cuts Tuition Assistance, did you know about it? A lot like the existence of AD, it’s a choice.

It’s Memorial Day. It’s nice to say something nice about the troops but, if you really want to commemorate their service, get involved. Pay attention every day, watch how they’re used as pawns by grandstanding politicians and, for the love of all that’s holy, examine deeply the reasons we send them to fight, kill and die, and vote about it! It may seem far away compared to your taxes, your healthcare or your own tuition, but everyday people are sent to die for you and it takes more than two days a year to think about why they do it and who they are.

On April 10, 2013, without much fanfare or public knowledge, Tuition Assistance was reinstated through Fiscal Year 2013 (which ends in September). Better than nothing.