Knowledge, education key to success Published Jan. 18, 2011 By Command Chief Master Sgt. Zefrem Smith 14th Flying Training Wing COLUMBUS AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. (AFNS) -- Have you ever stopped to think about the price of learning? Technical training in the civilian world can be expensive. Civilian trade schools can cost in upwards of $35,000. In the Air Force, learning is your job, so your education is free. Men and women who enlist in the Air Force today immediately begin receiving a paycheck, with benefits, to the tune of about $2,400 a month. It is the essential framework of our success in the Air Force. We are afforded a variety of unique and specialized programs geared to help each Airman meet their targeted educational goals and reach their true potential. From exclusive colleges and universities to technical training and firsthand experiences, you'll be able to enhance your education throughout your military career. Please permit me to share with you just a few "in case you didn't know" data points on enlisted education that could benefit you or someone desiring to enter our Air Force in the future. In case you didn't know, the Community College of the Air Force is America's largest community college. You are automatically enrolled once you join the Air Force. Not only is it America's largest community college, but it is also the only degree-granting institution in the world dedicated entirely to Airmen. In addition, the Air Force now expects all master sergeants to have a CCAF degree in order to be considered for senior rater endorsement on enlisted performance reports. This is critical to the furtherance of promotion to the rank of senior master sergeant and chief master sergeant. So, CCAF can be considered one source of meeting your targeted educational goals. In case you didn't know, enlisted commissioned programs are alive and well in the Air Force too. Here are a few I'd like to highlight for you. The Airman Education & Commissioning Program allows members to remain on active duty and be subsequently reassigned to an Air Force ROTC detachment. There, you go to school "full time" as your job, and receive tuition and scholarship fees for up to $15,000 per year. Additionally, you may attend for up to three years. There is also the Airman Scholarship & Commissioning Program, which almost mirrors AECP, with a couple of exceptions. You are released from active duty and placed in the Air Force Reserve, with scholarships available for two and four years. Airmen with "some" or "no" college credits may apply, and you can use your Montgomery GI Bill benefits as well. Leaders Encouraging Airman Development is another great program that allows commanders to seek out outstanding and deserving qualified Airmen for appointment to the Air Force Academy and Air Force ROTC scholarship programs. There is also the Academy Preparatory School. It is designed to academically, physically and mentally prepare qualified young men and women to enter the Academy. One of our very own enlisted members was selected and recently graduated from the prep school. There are several other ECPs. Our education office can provide you with information, including whether or not you qualify. Enlisted commissioning programs can be considered another source of meeting your targeted educational goals. In case you didn't know, the Air Force has money designated to assist you in attaining higher learning as well. The Air Force tuition assistance program is a great way to go to school for literally no out-of-pocket cost, minus books at some institutions. TA officials pay 100 percent (up to $250 per semester hour or equivalent) of the cost of college tuition, with a $4,500 cap per fiscal year. Courses and degrees may be academic or technical. The Post-9/11 and Montgomery GI Bill are pretty common programs, but have you ever heard of the college loan repayment program? It is designed for all non-prior-service persons considering enlistment in the Air Force. If they have taken college courses and accumulated debt along the way, this program may be beneficial to them. The member can sign up when signing his enlistment contract. What a great tool to use as a recruiting talking point. We are all recruiters, you know! As you can see, there are several programs designed and tailored to meet your targeted educational goals. Whether it is enrolling in and completing your CCAF degree, pursuing higher learning through the various enlisted commissioning programs, using the various "pots of money" you have earned by raising your hand to support and defend this great country, or finally, using educational tools to recruit our country's most important treasure -- "her sons and daughters" --through avenues like the college loan repayment program. We have a duty and responsibility to strive for excellence in everything we do. Education is no exception. It is definitely to your advantage to complete it early in your career. As job responsibilities increase, you take on a family, or your current family grows and time just becomes less available, getting it knocked out early pays huge dividends. I leave you with one of the challenges all Airmen have been given by Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force James A. Roy: "It is our duty to deliberately develop ourselves and our Airmen through the channels of experience, education and training." Education is power! Continue to pursue it whenever and wherever you can. This biblical scripture holds true for all: "...people perish for lack of knowledge."