My nephew and I began at the same time. He chose the University of Washington for his Bachelor degree. At the end, it cost him $40,000 and four years. I began in March 2006 and was done by November 2006, while working full-time. It cost me about $5,200 in tuition and fees. I would take two full-time college courses each semester and study for the CLEP or DANTES exams I had laid out. In the end, I took about 21 of those exams. Some rated 3 hours and others rated 6 hours, such as Biology. The TESC online courses were terrific because you had interaction with the professor and your fellow students in classroom discussions and papers to be submitted. The hardest part was that it was pretty much strictly regurgitation. They didn’t really want new insights; they needed to be sure you read and understood the information they were teaching and could feed it back to them in decent form via college papers. I made some excellent friends and we still correspond to this day. Due to the way the school year and graduation was set up, my degree was awarded in March 2007.
But, I was hooked, thoroughly hooked on school and decided to go on to my Master’s degree through American Public University System, which has two colleges, American Military University and American Public University. I chose to study Strategic Intelligence – Intelligence Operations.
You do not CLEP or DANTES out of a Master’s program. A Master’s program makes a Bachelor degree look like child’s play. The first semester was a shock. A minimum of 200-400 pages of reading and a paper, plus class discussion papers every week in each course. It was as though someone had turned a fire hose on and I was supposed to drink from the fountain. But, oh, I was jazzed by what we were studying! No regurgitation here. You had to contribute to an ongoing body of knowledge by research and analysis. My fellow students averaged about 30-35 years of age and almost all of them, I would guess maybe 90% of them were in the military, stationed all across the world and they provided some of my best learning based on their input as they were on the lines fighting Al Qaida, et al. These were the courses I took:
Intelligence in Low Intensity Operations (COIN)
HUMINT (Human Intelligence)
Propaganda and Disinformation
Capstone – Thesis
My thesis was a comparison study of warfare – Information Operations vs. Asymmetric – as conducted in Iraq to determine how perception shaped events and impacted the styles of warfare. I am proud to report that it was nominated and accepted for AMU/APU Best Masters’ Theses & Papers for 2009.
It was a lot more expensive than my Bachelor of Arts degree and a heck of lot more fun and tough. I graduated with a 3.97 (that first semester gave me an A- in one of my classes). From March 2006 to August of 2009, I went from no degree to two degrees while working full-time as a legal assistant.
I had kept in contact with the State Emergency Operations Officers (SEOO) during the four years I was out and, due to one SEOO being called up for reservist duty for six months, they had a temporary opening for an SEOO and asked if I would be interested.
Mind, all that college education was supposed to increase my earning ability by at least $25,000 – $70,000 per year. I’d been making about $49,500 as a legal assistant (Washington pays considerably lower than Los Angeles, California). The SEOO is ranked as a “professional,” and earns from $42,588 to $55,836, depending on grade and time in position. A similar position at the federal level earns between about $60,000 to $90,000 per year. I earned $44,712 annually, though I was initially brought in for only six months, which extended for just over two years. The amount of responsibility compared to my previous responsibilities was about 100 to 1 with lives dependent on our decisions. It was one of the best and roughest of jobs I have ever had and a multitude of stories could come just from that experience. Here’s a partial job description of what we did:
SEOOs routinely make notifications and coordinate response activities for hazardous material incidents, search and rescue operations, weather events and wild land fire fighting, as well as a wide variety of other emergency situations. SEOOs are prepared to implement contingency plans in the event of earthquakes, volcanic activity, tsunamis, flooding, severe weather, incidents involving the Chemical Stockpile Emergency Preparedness Program (CSEPP), the Fixed Nuclear Facility (FNF) at the Department of Energy in Richland, as well as many other emergency conditions that potentially could impact Washington State. Total Missions for 2012: 4,470.
I have not been employed since. Part of that is due to the difficulty of truly explaining what we did. There is a saying in the AWC that if you are an SEOO for more than two years, you will continue in that position until retirement. When I left, one of the SEOO’s was close to 70 years old. Part of it is due to all the returning veterans. Federal positions have a grading system and any veteran gets additional points for their service (as they should) and they were far more up to date on the new systems in Intelligence. It also has to do with my age. Not from a whining perspective, but literally, they have a rule that states you cannot enter certain intelligence professions if you are older than 37 years at the time of application. And, by now, it’s been five years since I was a legal assistant. In 2011, I was diagnosed with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) and stress plays a major factor in breathing, no matter how great a stress expert you are. You cough a great deal as well with COPD and that is not good for telephone work. However, I am still outstanding in organizational skillsets and, as proven by this website, perfectly capable of writing and typing for long periods of time. :) So, the adventure continues.
Was it worth it going back to school, running up college loans and coming out with two degrees? Oh, yes. Yes, it was. My analytic skills have been honed and polished, and I proved to myself that I could be the equal of anyone, especially with the two magic pieces of paper that say that this Straw Man rings solid.
And, the Wizard’s solution?
If this hadn’t happened, would I ever have begun ChasingRabbitHoles.com? I have been so richly rewarded for doing so, it seems churlish to want to make money, too.