Students, soldiers balance two identities in higher education

Passage of the Post-9/11 GI Bill continues to open doors for vets

By Lara Szott

John Herbert, 28, began his military career as a freshman at Virginia Tech University when he joined the Army ROTC and the Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets.

It was something he’d been planning for 14 years.

Herbert had been raised in the small town of Southampton, Pennsylvania, and didn’t come from a family with a strong military presence. His father worked for a company dealing with military contracts and his mother worked for a religious non-profit. Herbert’s parents were hesitant about him joining the service, he said.

April 2012: John Herbert while stationed in Kandahar, Afghanistan

April 2012: John Herbert while stationed in Kandahar, Afghanistan

But September 11, 2001, at the age of 14, Herbert’s future was forever shaped.

“I actually remember the next day, a friend of mine was talking about Osama bin Laden and I had no idea who he was talking about,” Herbert said. “He was the first person I ever heard say that name.”

Time made an impression. “Both of those days had an impact on me, and I instantly wanted to serve,” Herbert said.

As a junior pursuing a bachelor’s in biology, Herbert was commissioned to the U.S. Army Reserves as a second lieutenant, which earned him a scholarship that waived tuition and supplied a monthly stipend.

Upon graduation from Virginia Tech in 2009, Herbert meshed together his undergraduate studies with training and began working as a field biologist conducting ecological research while also serving as an active member in the U.S. Army Reserve.

February 2010: Herbert conducting field research research before deployment to Kandahar

February 2010: Herbert conducting field research research before deployment to Kandahar

At roughly the same time, Capt. Rick Frantz, 28, was attending Virginia Military Institute pursuing a history degree.

Frantz grew up in Houston, and didn’t spend much time elsewhere until joining the Air Force in 2010. He describes the educational experience for those pursuing a career in or around the  military as standard, but “you’re a college student when you’re in class, but when you’re not, you’re a military cadet essentially 24/7.”

In 2011, Herbert was transferred to the 668th Engineer Company in Orangeburg, New York, as an executive officer, which is second in command behind the commander. In December of the same year, this unit deployed to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.

After spending six months in Kuwait, Frantz, has been on active duty for the past five years, three of which he is on assignment in Washington. He is currently an associate professor of aerospace studies and teaches ROTC at Howard University.

“I love teaching people things and seeing the light bulbs go off like that,” Frantz said as snapped his fingers. “You find something you’re good at and you see that it helps people and you just wanna keep doing it.”

With the help of the Post-9/11 GI Bill,  Frantz will start his second master’s degree at George Mason in Cyber Security

Herbert began his master’s degree at University of Arkansas when he returned from serving a year in Kandahar in 2012.

However, Herbert and Frantz weren’t aware of a way to continue service while earning a higher degree until a friend mentioned it.

The opportunity was the ability to further his education and serve his country while giving back to not only himself and family but the community as a whole, Frantz said.

“It’s a win-win all around for the military, me, my family, my education,” Frantz said.

Members who began service on September 10, 2001, are eligible for a number of benefits under the Post-9/11 GI Bill. Various resources provide financial assistance, and the most famous is the Montgomery GI Bill.

Frantz describes the benefits of the Post-9/11 GI Bill as “awesome” and wishes more people knew about the opportunities it offers for education. “Not everyone can just afford a degree or afford to take on so much debt,” he continued, “It opens up doors.”

Herbert is currently teaching biology at Tulane University while he conducts field research for his Ph.D. Prior to starting at Tulane.

“The military helps people get back into education after leaving active duty and they are continuing to improve on this topic,” Herbert said.