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One-stop shop places education within reach

(U.S. Air Force graphic)

(U.S. Air Force graphic)

TUCSON, Ariz. -- It's no secret that higher education is as important to an Air National Guard career as it is to the civilian job market. It may be surprising to some Airmen, however, to learn that they are closer to earning their degree or trade certification than they think.

Capt. Celeste Snyder, the 162nd Fighter Wing's education and training officer, is passionate about educating unit members about... education. Her mission is to help members and their families achieve their academic goals.

She assists Airmen with completing their Community College of the Air Force degrees, offers guidance for those seeking appointments to the United States Air Force Academy, reviews individual transcripts to compile credits for degree programs, and she helps members and their families find and apply for financial aid and scholarships.

"Sometimes people look at education as something that isn't attainable because they don't have time or because they are focused on work. Part of my job is to show them that it is attainable," said Snyder.

Increasingly, formal education is a requirement for promotions and therefore affects retention, and it's not an issue that affects junior members alone. For those approaching retirement, education is becoming equally important. Entering the civilian workforce after a military career during difficult economic times requires workers to be more competitive.

According to Snyder, many military members already have what they need to document college credit.

She encourages members to visit her office to review training records, transcripts and other skills that may translate into credit toward a CCAF degree or a bachelor's degree from any number of accredited colleges and universities.

She also touts the benefits of the College Level Examination Program, or CLEP, through which Airmen may simply take an exam to earn credit in specific college-level courses.

"Someone could test out of Spanish if they are already proficient in the language. It's free for all members and these are credits that can go toward a degree without ever stepping into a classroom," she said. "Before I was commissioned I was missing public speaking and, in retrospect, I could have CLEP'd that course."

Resources online such as www.getcollegecredit.com have practice tests available for students who want to see how they would perform on a CLEP test before taking it.

The assistance offered at the base education and training office goes well beyond degree programs, however.

According to Snyder, the GI Bill offers additional funds for trade certifications. "Let's say a wing member is a plumber or electrician in the civil engineer squadron, the GI Bill can pay for them to apply their military training and experience toward certifications that can be put to good use in the civilian world," she said.

Snyder's vision for base education is centered on outreach. She intends to work with unit commanders and supervisors to make visits to the numerous sections on base to meet with members and answer questions.

In the meantime, the wing is changing the way it recognizes new CCAF graduates.

Grads who were formerly recognized during the wing's annual awards program, will now be offered their own graduation ceremony. The first is scheduled for Sunday, July 15, at 1 p.m. in the wing auditorium. The wing commander will preside, refreshments will be served, families are invited and graduates will be able to wear their regular duty uniform.

"The importance of this is to ensure everyone's hard work is recognized," said Tech. Sgt. Don Byrd, a force development technician with the 162nd Force Support Squadron. "We want to present these degrees properly because the work that each graduate puts into tech school, 5-level training, 7-level training, [professional military education], and formal college courses is significant."

Captain Snyder may be reached during unit training assemblies at (520) 295-6195, or via email at celeste.snyder@ang.af.mil.