Tuesday, May 07, 2013

My educational journey: Take control of your future, now!

by Staff Sgt. Michael Baty

5/7/2013 - KIRTLAND AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. -- My name is Michael Baty. I grew up in North Charleston, S.C., and graduated from North Charleston High School in 1995. I had completed one year of Navy ROTC but decided a military lifestyle was not for me and elected not to do a second year. Following graduation, my grandmother offered to put me through college and I reluctantly accepted. After one month of being intimidated by the much larger amount of dedication, commitment and work that came with being in college compared to being in high school, I dropped out, breaking my grandmother's heart and wasting her hard earned money. So, I decided to go to work instead.

I knew someone who was a little bit older and had a job as a framer building houses. I thought that sounded fun, so I followed suit and built houses. I enjoyed it a lot initially. In fact, I still love to build things. However, I noticed after a couple years that my body had endured a lot of physical abuse from carrying hundreds of pounds of lumber, swinging a hammer (bad for your elbows), climbing stairs, getting injured and having a few close calls of falling anywhere from three to five stories down to the ground. So, after a few years, I decided to find something different. This went on for nearly eight years. I had several different jobs to include a few really good ones. Some of them included Scout Boats, telecommunications, alarm and H-Vac installation, Hyman's Seafood and Pepsi to name a few. I even started my own lawn maintenance/landscaping business called "Immaculate Lawns."

During the two years that I did that, I made decent money, met hundreds of people and changed hundreds of yards from a sore view to a pleasant one, bringing smiles to homeowners. The area I was lacking was the business know-how due to my lack of education. So, instead of evolving into an owner who moved away from the intense labor to allow my employees to do that while I expanded the business to establish Immaculate Lawns as a serious competitor, I stayed at the same level I had maxed out at and was becoming exhausted.

By that time, I realized I was a "Jack of all trades, but a master of none." However, the worst thing about all of this was that I wasn't working my way to retirement, nor earning a degree, nor increasing my savings, nor building a family nor doing anything else I should have been doing for the previous eight years. I had no structure in my life and was chasing my tail while burning both ends of the candle. So, there I was at 25 years of age, engulfed by the vast amount of experience, knowledge and miles I had put on myself with nothing to show for it. It was that moment I decided it was time for a change.

I joined the Air Force in December 2002 when I was 25 years old, and before I graduated tech school, I had turned 26. In other words, I was the old man on the block. Once I graduated, I got stationed at Charleston AFB, S.C., in 2003. Yep, that's right, five minutes from where I grew up. At the time I was focused on learning my trade as an aircraft structural maintenance technician and enjoying the Air Force while being close to my family and friends that I had grown up with. Education was the last thing on my mind. Yet again I wasted so much time. After two and a half years had gone by, I had only taken one class, Spanish 101, before PCSing to Kunsan AB, South Korea, in September 2005.

I arrived at Kunsan with high expectations and a vision of getting my Community College of the Air Force degree during the year that I would be there. After all, it was the perfect place. No distraction from family and friends, no vehicle to go cruise the streets with and no excuse not to go to school. Ready for the same story? Twelve months later I was PCSing to Hickam AFB, Hawaii, without having taken a single class. I was "living the now" and not for the future. Who cares, right? I was heading to paradise without a worry in the world, looking forward to great food, hiking, and some of the world's greatest surfing. A few years had gone by and it was time for another PCS. By this time, I was married with kids. The good news is that I did manage to go to school, if you want to call it that. I took two classes in the 36 months I was in Hawaii.

Let's recap shall we? Nearly seven years in the Air Force with access to $4500 per year of tuition assistance to go to school. Let's see, seven times 4500 equals $31,500. WOW! That's a lot of money. Now, what did I use? Three classes at anywhere from $600-$725 (the cost has increased yearly so these are just estimates) equals $1,800-$2,175. That's pathetic if you ask me. I didn't even use 10 percent of what was available.

I landed at Kirtland AFB, N.M., in October 2009. I got settled in and switched to a temporary position for a few years. I met someone who asked me to take a speech class with him. I didn't really feel like it but I figured at least I would know someone in the class. So I agreed. That event changed my life.

Fast forward just a few years to today -- I am preparing for my CCAF graduation this month and only have a handful of classes to go for my bachelor's degree in Technical Management. It sure feels great! There were a few hiccups over the past few years such as deployments, vacations, life, etc., but I have come a long way.

In conclusion, I am now 36 years of age with a wife, two kids and one on the way. I am proud of my accomplishments, but if I had taken control of my life when I graduated high school, I would be three years away from retirement with a bachelor's at the least, while moving towards a master's. I could have accomplished all of this and more in the first few years of being in the Air Force while TA was readily available before all of the "force cuts," sequestration, and talks of cutting TA, forcing one to use the GI Bill instead of saving it for a family member. In today's military, we don't get to enjoy the job security we once had. Today our military is becoming much leaner and expected to do more with less.

So, take advantage of your TA now! We all already have college credits just by graduating boot camp and tech school. After that only three to five classes are needed to obtain a CCAF degree. Once, you do that, you are on a roll -- so don't stop! Because, trust me, the older you get, the harder it is to go to college due to added responsibilities, family additions, and the cobwebs that develop in older folks' brains such as mine. By earning your degree, if your career field is cut, or you are forced to choose a career outside of the military, you will be a prime candidate for the top jobs in the civilian market. Take control of your future and do it now!

Throughout my career, the Air Force has truly been amazing to me in numerous ways. However, for the first seven years I over looked what I consider the greatest thing the Air Force offered me -- unlimited access to TA for education, providing me limitless opportunities while on active duty and after active duty. On top of that, through the GI Bill, the Air Force has also provided unlimited opportunities for one of my dependents. If you ask me, that is priceless, and I say thank you to the Air Force.

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