AL ASAD, Iraq -- For some 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing Marines, deploying to Iraq has been an empowering-- albeit challenging-- educational opportunity.
The rather austere living conditions of a combat zone are unsurprisingly limiting, but with more Internet cafes and increasingly wired workspaces, online degree programs are realistic choices for Marines.
“Despite some technical difficulties in Iraq, such as slow Internet connections and time zone differences, with some adjustment, a work schedule can accommodate online education,” said Staff Sgt. Alaina J. DioDonet, embarkation chief, Marine Wing Headquarters Squadron 3, 3rd MAW, who is pursuing her online bachelor’s in “eBusiness” with the University of Phoenix.
The Houston native said she is motivated by the growth of online business and her desire to start her own business one day. Not having a family for the time being allows her more time to focus on school.
“With this degree and the skills gained in the military, I will be a valuable asset to any company until I start my own,” said DioDonet.
Despite the “e-hurdles” related to deployment, for some, being in Iraq is another opportunity for further growth.
“I recently just started my Masters in Leadership and Information Technology with Duquesne University,” said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Thomas P. Mangan, band officer, MWHS-3. “I completed my Bachelor’s of Science in Business Management online as well after starting it years ago as a young lance corporal.”
Mangan said the absence of normal considerations back in the rear, such as family, work and daily routines is helpful, but even hard duty in Iraq presents options.
“Even with the heavy workload associated with duty here in Iraq, Marines still have a fair amount of opportunity and off-duty time to pursue college degrees online,” said the Huntingdon, Pa., native. “There are an increasing number of schools out there with online degree programs and many are rather accommodating to military servicemembers.”
For Marines like Mangan, whose wife is also pursuing her online graduate degree while he is away, deployments present unique challenges and benefits.
“Time zone issues can sometimes present coordination problems when working on group projects, but at the same time it is easier to focus out here without the distractions of home,” Mangan said. “Knocking out homework assignments is easier.
“There are computer connectivity and software issues. The Internet connections out here are not always reliable, but if you are relatively computer literate you can succeed if you apply yourself and can work the coursework into your schedule,” he mentioned.
The hard work and diligence required to complete a college degree is also not without its tangible career benefits for Marines.
“Not only do you earn points toward promotion with college courses, but, for my own career development, the degree helped set me apart from my competition when I applied for the warrant officer program,” said Mangan. “It really rounded out my (warrant officer) package.”
For Marines looking to become more marketable, whether they stay in the Corps or work in the civilian workforce, taking advantage of online courses can provide substantial rewards.
“On a more personal level, working on my online degree was also very satisfying,” added Mangan. “I will always be a lifelong student and I try to push higher education on my Marines because I know how beneficial it can be to their future development, whatever their life goals are.”
DioDonet also said she believes online education is good for Marines and well worth the effort.
“If you have no college education but have plans of one day taking classes, do not procrastinate,” said DioDonet. “The military pays 100 percent tuition assistance, so there are not many legitimate reasons to not start.
“Research the school you are planning to attend and find out which of the credits you currently have are transferable before enrolling,” she continued. “Good time management skills are a must, and when you're not able to hang out socially, realize that school is not an inconvenience; it's an investment in your future.”