Holy Cow Batman! Learning is Forever

by By Col. Michael J. Underkofler
514th Air Mobility Wing commander

12/22/2011 - JOINT BASE MCGUIRE-DIX-LAKEHURST, N.J. -- I was recently reminded by my two sons about how nervous they were to start second and first grade at a new school after a fun-filled summer of swimming lessons, camp, and a family vacation.

The younger one spoke for both of them and boldly asked his mother and me, "How many grades do we have to attend and how much homework do we have to do before we can get jobs and make money?"

I quickly blurted out, "You and your brother can get jobs after you graduate from law or medical school."

Luckily his mother stepped in and refined my answer by gently reminding him and his brother of all the things and words they had learned that summer through reading story books or by visiting interesting places--even without having to take a weekly vocabulary test. She introduced the concept that learning was a lifetime event and offered proof by pointing out all the studying done by our neighbors. One was studying for a medical board certification, one was sharpening his knowledge to teach at his church, and another just liked to study American history every chance he got. Incorporating fun while considering career paths seemed to satisfy one son.

But our younger son adamantly stated his desire to join The Justice League, the fictional crime-fighting team of superheroes who work to keep our streets safe. He said he had never seen Batman or any other superhero studying in any cartoon or comic book. Holy Cow Batman! I'm going to have my hands full with this one I thought.

I recently served on a promotion review board where my belief that education and training are life-long and key to career success was reinforced, yet again. Along with career-specific training, the mid and senior enlisted members meeting this board had impressive records of continuing education.

Most had worked in several career fields, each requiring its own course of study and credentialing process. Most had undergraduate degrees, several held graduate or professional degrees.

These Airmen--members of our Justice League--had indeed spent a lot of time in and out of the classroom studying. Classroom time went hand-in-hand with their careers.

Continuing education and training are hallmarks of the profession of arms. Simply said, we won't defeat the enemy if we don't have a well-trained and well-educated fighting force. This doesn't translate to just a force of highly trained "techies". Knowing how to manipulate a computer program, for example, is great but in the words of Shakespeare, is not the "be-all and end-all". I believe we need warriors who possess analytical thinking and sound writing skills gained through the study of many disciplines. Each field of study can bring different skills and strengths to the fight.

Besides the personal joy of learning something new, formal continuing education has been shown to improve one's quality of life by reducing stress, delaying the onset of dementia, and improving longevity. Other personal benefits are readily apparent.

Well-trained and well-educated warriors consistently rise to the top of an organization. Both in and out of uniform, promotions and earnings are closely tied to learning. Studies continue to show the earnings gap between high school and college graduates is widening.

Given that learning is fun, healthy, and profitable, why not answer the school bell next month? At great expense the nation, and particularly the military, has built an extremely respected, flexible, and responsive post-secondary education system. Even if the area you live in doesn't have the program or field of study you are interested in pursuing, the web is full of cyber classrooms and resources never once imagined. No matter your age or previous educational experience, opportunities abound.

Where do you first turn to return to the classroom? I'd suggest your unit's training manager and the base education office. They are well suited to explain most of the training opportunities within your career field and advanced military and civilian education programs. They can also provide suggestions for ways to cover the expense.
It might seem impossible now, but follow the lead of many others who continue to work and learn while juggling family obligations too. Follow one course with another. I've seen it repeated many times. A couple courses turn into a new hobby, career opportunity, or degree. You'll be intellectually stimulated and will bring a new set of combat tools to your unit.

Now, if I can only get a couple comic strips showing Batman cracking the books, I know I could get my future Justice Leaguer convinced that learning is forever.