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Joining Uncle Sam’s team

POSTED March 18, 2011 7:51 p.m.

Three plus years ago when I left the Navy, I remember thinking “I will never tell anyone to join the military.” I thought the only thing I learned from my five years in the Navy was that I could accomplish a lot without having to deal with the rigors of military life.

While that proved true, I must admit — this will come as a shock to my friends and family — I was wrong. I would whole-heartedly recommend joining the military to a young person today.

Looking back the military paid for my three children’s birth in world class medical facilities, paid for a year-long technical education and paid me to go on a ship and visit more than 20 countries in Europe and the Middle East and visit countless cities across the South, East Coast and Southern California.

With higher education being slashed by budget cuts and a damaged economy, it seems as if college — although still a great option — is not the only path to success in any way shape or form. I have countless friends and cousins that went to CSU, UC and private colleges and, outside of a few ultra-successful friends, I am one of the few to have a viable career that I have stuck with for a considerable amount of time.

And on top of that, those friends and cousins are drowned with debt upon graduation. I got paid pretty well to learn a skill in the Navy and then I applied it to the civilian private sector.

As if this wasn’t enough, the new GI Bill, known as the Post 9/11 GI Bill, is the best deal for young people around. It easily beats any Cal/ Pell Grant or student loan program.

The Post 9/11 Bill is for veterans who joined and served after Sept. 11, 2001. Under the bill a veteran can attend a public college tuition free and receive $1,000 a year for books, and in some cases, $500 a year for travel expenses. Veterans can also attend private or technical colleges such as Fresno Pacific or ITT Tech under the Post 9/11 Yellow Ribbon program. Basically, a private college agrees to pay the difference of the max tuition amount allowable under the 9/11 GI Bill — which varies from state to state. Typically, the maximum is the cost of the most expensive public college in the state. The overwhelming majority of private colleges in California participate in the Yellow Ribbon program.

On top of free tuition and money for books, veterans receive a housing allowance equivalent to a mid-ranked active-duty service member with dependents (E-5, for those who are familiar with DOD pay scales). The housing allowance varies by the physical location of a school. So, if a veteran attends Modesto Junior College at 7-12 units a semester they would receive no bill for tuition, money for books, and about $1,300 a month for a housing allowance. The Post 9/11 GI Bill lasts for three years.

Of course, this is obviously the best deal around; except for one thing — you have to be a veteran. This means you have to serve your country for a period of time. I believe the minimum enlistment for any branch of the armed service is four years.

While four years may seem like a long time, think of it this way; if you were born in 1993 that would make you about 18 now. With the advances in medical science it is foreseeable the average person’s life expectancy will increase to more than 90 years. Four years of 90 years is about 4 percent of your life time. So if you’re 18 when you join, you get out at 22, then go to college and graduate by the time you’re 26, with little to no debt and training from the military and college. The world is at your feet with nothing to hold you back!

Now back to my friends who took the college route. I’d say out of a random sampling of 20, only 10 are working REAL jobs in professional or technical trades. The others are waiters, retail employees or just not really doing anything productive for society.

Of the 10 that are working in professional careers, all of them have some sort of debt, be it from student loans or living expenses (i.e. credit, mortgages).  Now the smartest friends of mine, who are doctors and dentist and engineers, are doing well. They make a good living, have a good life and are on their way. But the universal similarities between all 10 of those successful people are 1. Debt; 2. Still single; 3. No kids; and 4. All are 30 years old or pushing it.

For my friends who are ultra successful, they make a lot of money but they have a TON of debt. I have a friend who went to the University of Pacific and is now a dentist. That person makes a lot of money but they told me that they have over $200,000 worth of debt. My other friend went to USC and is now a doctor. That person also has six-figure debt. My cousin went to San Diego State and is now an engineer. That person has $20,000 worth of debt.

I’m not saying that college isn’t the way to go here. What I am saying is that young people should explore options available to them and parents should encourage them to do so. The military is not easy, just like college. And the reality is, if you join certain branches of the services, it is highly unlikely you would be put into dangerous situations. (Even though all uniformed personnel are in a potentially dangerous situation whenever they go abroad). Anyway, you get my drift.

Being in the military can also give you a platform to “start your life.” I knew my wife way before I joined the military but it was the security the military gave us that allowed us to have three kids while I was in. I knew I wasn’t going to get laid off, I knew we had a place to live and I knew it wouldn’t cost us anything in terms of medical bills and on-going doctor visits (which can seem endless with three babies).

My friends who went to college are all just now “starting” their lives. I did it in my early to mid 20s, while they are doing in their early to mid 30s.

Again, both ways to “start” your life work. Neither is any better than the other. My point is this, life doesn’t last forever and the faster you get it “started” the more you can enjoy it. In my case, my decision to join the Navy afforded me the opportunity to “start” my life, get paid to learn a career and I escaped my 20s debt free.

Because of all of these advances I’ve gained from my service I can now offer my own children a better life than I had as a child. Food for thought.

To contact Jonathan McCorkell, e-mail jmccorkell@turlockjournal.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2015.

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