By Sgt. Joshua Syberg
Indiana National Guard Headquarters
Nothing is free. Unless it’s actually free.
With a few basic requirements and a common access card reader that’s exactly what the Army Credentialing Assistance program’s $4,000 per year is — free educational assistance for soldiers.
National Guardsmen have the responsibility of not only progressing in their military career but also their civilian career and education. However, traditional college may not always be the path soldiers need to further their career.
Do you want to drive a semi-truck, weld machine parts, fly a plane, work on computers, sell real estate or edit photos? If you know what a PHP, CLT, CPT, CW, CDL or a Lean Six Sigma is, you might be exactly who needs $4,000.
If you haven’t heard of the program, don’t kick yourself too hard. It’s only been available to the Indiana National Guard since Jan. 1, 2020.
Prior to interviews for this story, I had never heard of the program either.
This new program increases the soldier’s value and competitiveness by helping them attain industry recognized credentials. Credentialing soldiers improves Army readiness through retention of quality soldiers, enhances soldier career progression, and provides soldiers with skills and capabilities reflective of civilian qualifications. The CA program has a vast online catalog of courses and certifications for all kinds of different interests.
“I believe the Credentialing Assistance program is a wonderful opportunity for soldiers to enhance skills that they already have in their tool box and to apply these skills in practical ways that will in turn assist them in becoming successful and marketable civilians once they decide to separate from the Guard,” said Sharma Wolfe, the Indiana National Guard credentialing assistance program manager. “With over 1,600 credentials to choose from, the Credentialing Assistance program really makes it easy for soldiers to jump start career paths that they would like to pursue in the military and beyond.”
The program was modeled after the Tuition Assistance program, which enables Guardsmen to request training to attain academic degrees and certificates through GoArmyEd. As with tuition assistance, credentialing assistance is open to all eligible officers, warrant officers, noncommissioned officers and enlisted soldiers. But here's the big difference — in support of credentials, the Army will pay for training courses, books, materials, fees, the credentialing exam and recertification.
“So far, it's been pretty great,” said Spc. Ryne Bessler, a motor transport operator with Indiana’s 1638th Transportation Company. “It’s been pretty seamless. At first I didn't know a whole lot about it, the whole process and paperwork and whatnot. But once I was able to get in touch with the correct people, they were able to get me pushed along and everything signed up and registered.”
Bessler used the program to pursue a program management certification, but he doesn’t plan on stopping there, being an addict to learning.
“I finished my master’s degree last year,” Bessler said. “I just knew I needed to take a little bit of a breather after my master's thesis. I would love to pursue a Ph.D., but I just knew that while I'm a lifelong learner, I needed to kind of take a break from the heavy duty full-time grad work. Then I could pursue one of these smaller milestones that I've always wanted.”
Soldiers can use the program to augment their professional skills and qualifications in their own specialty. However, like in Bessler’s case, soldiers can also use CA during their off-duty time to pay for credentials listed in Army COOL that do not necessarily relate to their military occupation.
Although, in other situations soldiers may use the program to not only further their civilian career but also to prepare themselves for new missions within the National Guard.
“I used the program for SANS Institute,” said Sgt. Dave McKenzie, an infantryman with Indiana’s 2nd Battalion, 152nd Infantry Regiment. “Which is the top of the line cybersecurity training and certificates. The training I was looking at would have cost me $7,200 plus travel expenses, but due to COVID-19, SANS discounted it down to match the CA programs funding.”
McKenzie plans to join the Indiana National Guard’s new 127th Cyber Protection Battalion that was activated in October.
Since starting the program McKenzie has been working with others and encouraging them to use the program as well.
“I have been an advocate ever since,” McKenzie said. “I know guys that want to get into information technology that are working in warehouses here locally. I just laid it all out for them and gave them all the information. Now they are trying to work on getting an A+ certification using the CA program.”
To see what the program was all about and how difficult or easy the process was, I myself applied for certifications using the program’s funding.
I can tell you that with a little patience it’s well worth the effort.
So get a CAC reader, go to cool.osd.mil/army to get some idea of certifications you’d be interested in, then go over to armyignited.com and login using your login.gov, create a credentialing path, request CA funding and submit.
Your New Year’s resolution: get a free certification.