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593rd Sustainment Brigade troops use education program in effort to stay in Army

JBLM Soldiers hit the books

Photo by Staff Sgt. Dan Balda

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"The Army is looking to retain those who exceed expectations," Sgt. Maj. of the Army Raymond Chandler III said recently. "Specifically, being a part of tomorrow's Army will require a willingness to stretch beyond one's comfort zone in order to grow as a competent Soldier and leader."

Twenty-nine Soldiers assigned to the 593rd Sustainment Brigade are showing that willingness by attending the Basic Skills Education Program (BSEP) held at Stone Education Center, Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

With the Army drawing down there is a focus on keeping Soldiers in the Army who are smart, flexible and motivated. Some of those Soldiers are in Military Occupation Specialties that have too many people and are being left with the choice of either changing their jobs, or separating from the Army.

To change careers, some Soldiers need to raise their General Technical (GT) score. The course focuses primarily on math and English, two subjects that are mainly represented on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery. The BSEP class is available to those Soldiers who need to raise their scores, but more importantly, have shown the talent and promise to be recommended by their chain of command for the opportunity to take the class.

The 593rd had a number of Soldiers who were eager to take the course, but had to be placed on a waiting list for the class. The unit was coming up on a deadline to reenlist a number of Soldiers and came to an agreement: they would provide the instructors and the students, Stone Education Center would provide the curriculum and the classrooms, said Ann Hampton, a BSEP instructor at Stone.

One of the first teaching volunteers for the course was Maj. Kristen Arney, 593rd Sust. Bde. intelligence officer. Arney spent three years teaching mathematics at the United States Military Academy.

"The reason why I got involved in this course is that it combines three of my passions: teaching, mathematics and Soldiers," Arney said. "For me, when the opportunity arose, it was a no-brainer to ask the commander and come in here and teach."

The 30-day class serves as the primary place of duty for enrolled students.

"It helps a lot not having to go back to your unit or having them pull you for something in the middle of the training," Spc. April Vick said. Vick is the Schools NCO for 21st Cargo Transfer Company, 13th Combat Support Sustainment Battalion, 593rd Sust. Bde., from Goldsboro, N.C. "It helps me focus on the class, since I haven't taken math in eight years."

Vick said she desperately wants to attend Officer Candidate School or Warrant Officer Candidate School and realized that she would have to raise her GT score to be selected for either.

"The Army is a great career and I would do anything in my power to stay here," she said.

Arney said a Soldier like Vick is exactly the reason she signed up to teach the math portion of the course.

"What I hope to show someone who might be apprehensive about taking a math class is that math can be fun, it can be understandable, it's something that we need every day, it's applicable and it's something we can all enjoy," she said, "and if you don't enjoy it, at least understand the usefulness of it.

"This is honestly the best thing I've done since I arrived at (Joint Base Lewis-McChord) because I'm able to share something I love with Soldiers who really want to learn. They are so receptive, so open, and it's nice that I can give them something that I'm good at and share that with them."

Hampton said that she has seen a serious improvement in the Soldiers who have taken the course. She's seen the average GT score raised by 15 points and the brigade was able to retain 20 of 25 Soldiers who took the BSEP class. Seeing Soldiers being able to put in the work to maintain their Army career is music to Arney's ears.

"Watching the expression on the Soldiers' faces when they finally understand how to complete a math problem is amazing," she said. "Knowing that they are putting so much work into something that is going to benefit the Soldier, the unit and the Army is awesome."

Photo caption: Maj. Kristen Arney, 593rd Sust. Bde. intelligence officer, teaches fractions during the math portion of the Basic Skills Education Program at Stone Education Center, Feb. 7.

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