By Maj. Gen. Lee Tafanelli The Adjutant General Benjamin Franklin wrote 'An investment in knowledge pays the best dividends.' This is a fact that the leaders of our state and nation have long recognized. This is why way back in 1944 the U.S. Congress passed the Serviceman's Readjustment Act, aka the GI Bill, which included stipends to cover college or trade school expenses for U.S. military members returning to civilian life after serving their country. This need to invest in knowledge is as true today as it was at the end of World War I.
] Recently, the legislature passed measures that expand educational benefits available to our Guardsmen, including 100 percent funding for tuition and required fees for up to 15 credit hours per semester at in-state institutions for Guardsmen seeking a certificate, associate's or bachelor's degree. This benefit is available to all Kansas Guardsmen who do not already have a bachelor's degree, including newly enlisted personnel and warrant officers. This is an investment our state is willing to make because our leaders know education not only serves the interests of the individual, but those of the state and nation. Kansas National Guardsmen come from all walks of life and a wide variety of civilian careers ' doctors, mechanics, law enforcement, emergency medical, pilots, teachers, firefighting, business owners, food service, warehouse management' There is hardly an occupation you can name that is not represented among our ranks. The expertise these men and women bring from their civilian careers benefit the missions of the Kansas National Guard in many ways. In return, the skills they learn and use in the Guard serve them well in their chosen civilian professions and, by extension, the communities they live in. By helping our Guardsmen get a degree, we are making them better citizens and better service members. Our investment in the education of our service members does not stop with tuition assistance. In recent years, the Kansas National Guard has pursued opportunities with community colleges that allow Kansas Guardsmen to do their military drills on campus while working toward their degree. They enjoy all the benefits offered by the college and the college benefits from having a National Guard presence on campus. In May, the first two graduates participating in this program received their associate's degrees under the Task Force Broncbuster program at Garden City Community College. Building on this unique opportunity to help our Guardsmen achieve their academic goals, the Kansas National Guard's Regional Training Institute and Salina Area Technical College entered into an agreement this past fall that allows Kansas Guardsmen to earn dual credits toward a technical associate degree. The goal of the Synchronous Training and Academic Credit program is to streamline the educational experience for service members, concurrently providing a portion of their military training and academic credit, thus enabling them to progress toward an associate's degree while completing their military training requirements. This commitment to investing in the education of Kansans does not begin when someone joins the Kansas National Guard. Since 1992, the Kansas STARBASE program has worked with over 74,000 Kansas elementary students to increase their knowledge and create an interest in science, technology, engineering and math. At our STARBASE academies, the students delve into the physics of rocketry, robotics and other topics that provide them with a sound foundation for a successful career in civilian life or the Kansas National Guard. Many of our Kansas Guardsmen volunteer to serve with this program, imparting their knowledge to these youth while providing a strong, positive role model to look up to. Investing in the education of our Guardsmen is important to us and vitally important to the success of our units and our communities. This includes educating the public on who we are and what we do. As part of this effort, our Recruiting and Retention Battalion hosts a series of community outreach events to help educators, government officials, business leaders and other influential individuals across our state better understand the value the Kansas National Guard brings to their community. They, in turn, are helping spread the word about us and about the many benefits derived from becoming a Kansas National Guard Soldier or Airman. Perhaps someone reading this column is reflecting on their life, what they hope to accomplish, and what role they can play in their community. The Kansas National Guard may be able to help them find answers. Give us a call. Your future is waiting.