Educational benefits… read the fine print

  • Published
  • By Chief Master Sgt. William Hammerli
  • 509 Operations Group chief
When the opportunity arose to write an article for the Whiteman Warrior, I considered many topics to address. The issue that I felt was most important was the lack of understanding of requirements to receive benefits for the Montgomery GI Bill.

If you are one of the individuals who fully understand what it takes to keep your MGIB benefits intact, congratulations! If not, I think you'll find this information very helpful especially when counseling individuals who are headed down the wrong path and hopefully will help them correct their course.

Over the past few years I've had the opportunity to talk with many young enlisted personnel and ask the question why they joined the Air Force. There were a number of different answers, but the vast majority joined out of patriotism, to get away from home or the promising educational benefits. The surge of patriotism is easily understood especially after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 on our homeland. I can still remember that day like it just happened, a day that will always be seared in my memory. We were in the middle of a nuclear exercise here at Whiteman and had to rapidly switch to a conventional posture after it became clear what had occurred with the terrorist attacks. The wing was at a heightened sense as we prepared to respond. Excitement and energy was running extremely high and patriotism was clearly evident.

Patriotism and the defense of our great nation is one trait all of us who decided to serve and wear the uniform posses. For some it may not be the main reason they decided to serve, but it's still an important ingredient even when some just wanted to get away from home. Once away, most go back during their first year. Going home is an experience all of us remember, especially after technical school. Do you recall that day? Do you remember the pride you felt? Why did you decide to enlist for four or six years? Always remember this goal. When traveling back home to see family and friends, the excitement of serving and letting others know about our experiences was a hot topic. Many were amazed to see how they changed both physically and mentally, as they were transformed into professional airmen.

Being professional Airmen takes time, energy and dedication to a common purpose. Since we're all our part of the greatest Air Force in the world, our overarching purpose is crystal clear. However, we all have different reasons why we joined the service and that's totally understandable. For many, the main driving factor was getting money for education. For those who entered the Air Force after the mid 1980s, the education plan offered and still available to new recruits today is the MGIB. For those who entered the Air Force before the MGIB was offered, referred to as those old timers, these individuals were given the opportunity to change over from the Veterans Educational Assistance Program to MGIB if certain conditions were met.

The MGIB was available to provide a substantial amount of funds, if member agreed to a payroll deduction of $100 per month for 12 months. For a $1,200 investment the government would provide over $30,000 in educational funds. Not bad, but I hope you read the fine print of
the DD Form 2366 MGIB Enrollment Form when you signed the paperwork. To be eligible for the educational benefits, a member must serve three years of their enlistment and also receive an honorable discharge. Seems easy enough, right? Whether we have decided to serve four or 20 or maybe even 30 years, our goal should be to leave the service with an honorable discharge. For most this will be how their service period is characterized, but for others they may receive a general discharge (under honorable conditions) or lower. A general discharge is normally given for a member who's being discharged for a number of minor disciplinary issues. What is the impact? How does this affect our airmen? They will not only lose the $30,000 plus in educational benefits but also the $1,200 paid into the program. The $1,200 is considered a payroll deduction and not a contribution. This is why anyone who separates before three years of service or with less than an honorable discharge after three years will not obtain the benefits they were hoping to get when they enlisted.

What can you do to help ensure these educational benefits are available when you leave the service? Let the Air Force Core Values of Integrity, Service Before Self and Excellence In All We Do be your guide to success.

Former NFL Coach Vince Lombardi of the Green Bay Packers once said, "The difference between a successful person and others is not a lack of strength, not a lack of knowledge, but rather a lack of will."

Have the will to be the best you can be and set your sights to leave the service with an honorable discharge. Patriotism, getting away from home and education are great reasons for starting a career in the Air Force but vastly more important is how others and you will view the characterization of your service to our great nation.

Do you have what it takes to be successful on our team, the greatest Air Force in the world? Finish on top with an honorable discharge! If you perform at this high level, this will ensure your MGIB benefits are kept intact and your future plans are secured.