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Earning Your Degree While Serving – An Interview with a Marine Vet

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In this video, InMilitary Managing Editor Wes O’Donnell interviews Marine veteran of 24 years, Dr. Larry Parker. Larry is a highly sought-after speaker on business, logistics and military topics.

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AMU’s Freedom Grant empowers active duty armed forces with the freedom to pursue your undergraduate and master’s education at American Military University for ZERO out-of-pocket tuition. The Freedom Grant is AMU’s military tuition grant, which now includes masters-level education, in addition to undergraduate education.

*This applies to active-duty military using TA.

Transcript

Wes O’Donnell:

I’m here with Dr. Larry Parker, Program Director, School of Business, and recently separated Marine for 24 years, was it Larry?

Dr. Larry Parker:

Yes. 24 years.

Wes O’Donnell:

Yeah. Well, of course, I have to say as a fellow veteran, thank you for your service. And I think between us, we have almost 40 years of active duty service.

Dr. Larry Parker:

Incredible, incredible. And thank you for your service as well.

Wes O’Donnell:

Yeah, it was my pleasure. I like to say that I actually got more from the military than I ever gave to the military. They paid for my education and gave me the discipline that I needed when I was a kid.

Dr. Larry Parker:

Exactly, exactly.

Wes O’Donnell:

So I’d love to talk to you about getting your education while still on active duty. And we definitely live in some very challenging times. I know there are some active duty folks who are getting close to separating, and they’ve looked at the economy, the COVID economy, and they’ve decided, no, I think I’m going to re-enlist one more time. Or I think I’m going to extend my retirement. For you I would probably ask, how has education, whether it’s education on the job training or actually in the classroom, how has that been empowering for active-duty military members?

Dr. Larry Parker:

For me, I saw it early on because as a platoon commander, you recall that we often signed off on our younger servicemen taking their education or getting an education. And once I graduated from college, I never thought I would actually go back and continue education much more than just military schools. But it was great to watch a lot of my service members sign up for classes, and it pays or it benefits them towards promotions. And just to watch them month after month brings me the registration forms and watch that individual grow and see the military reward them for it. That was incredible.

Wes O’Donnell:

Yeah. I think in the Air Force, it was like an unwritten rule that if you’re a senior enlisted and if you’re going to get promoted to chief, you need to have a master’s degree. It was just … there wasn’t any regulation that said that, but it was sort of-

Dr. Larry Parker:

Exactly. And it’s funny, I think that’s through all the services. And as officers, you start to hear that if you didn’t have your graduate degree, you better be someone that was really performing to some high degree that they would overlook it because it was expected. What were you doing with your extra time? If there was such a thing.

Wes O’Donnell:

Right. Right. So we live in this current COVID-19 environment. What job sectors do you think continue to see this gap in skills and employees?

Dr. Larry Parker:

Well now, of course, I’m always going to say my bread and butter of transportation and logistics, and first and foremost, because there’s such a jump in technology right now. If you were to look at what are some of their greatest innovations going on right now, it’s the electric car. It’s some form of transportation that’s breaking records or doing something further and farther than ever before. And so people need to be skilled in logistics. But I will say automation, software, technology, in general, is something that individuals need to be skilled in because whatever sector you’re in, that’s the way of the world. We’re automating and we’re advancing, making things a little bit easier in the sense for the business world. And if you’re not skilled or you’re not at least familiar with things, that’s going to be a challenge.

Wes O’Donnell:

Yeah. I would imagine it’s probably a great time to be in supply chain or logistics right now because the entire industry is having to relearn or retool how to get away from this just-in-time delivery that failed us essentially early in the pandemic.

Dr. Larry Parker:

Absolutely. That was one of the cost-cutting measures years ago, and everyone saw it as being the perfect way to do business because it just kept your costs low. But no one could have imagined something this large scale affecting just our everyday life. And so anyway, just as a way business was moving, supply chain logistics was starting to move to the forefront because that’s the next cost-cutting area for most businesses. So yeah, just now this pandemic just really brought it to the forefront, put it in the mindset of most organization leaders.

Wes O’Donnell:

Yeah. That’s interesting. There are a lot of colleges right now that are, frankly, they’re struggling. There’s a college right down the street from where I live that just laid off 18 program directors. And they’re having a lot of trouble with filling the classroom up with students this year. And I think COVID has a big role to play in that. With so many colleges struggling to provide this level of education during coronavirus, and you hear these stories of colleges not being able to fill seats, at least in my area, I hear that a lot in Michigan, what are the advantages of access to an online education for military folks?

Dr. Larry Parker:

Well in the military, our life is just so dynamic. You never know where you’re going to be and you know from experience that you literally can be called up for orders or directed to do something within almost overnight. We’ve probably all experienced something like that. But with that, it’s just an online education allows you to adjust your hours, even if you’re not traveling, if you’re not moving in any place. And just a quick sea story for myself is I remember preparing to go out on a MEU, a Marine expeditionary unit, that we were going to go out to sea and we’re were doing workups. And so you can imagine this, jumping in the back of the truck, somebody runs in and screams, ‘Hey, XO we’re getting ready to go.’ And I literally can see the truck out the window, and I’m finishing up a paper. It allowed me to do that work. And even while we were out on ship doing maneuvers out off the coast of California, I could still do my work and not fall behind.

Wes O’Donnell:

Yeah. I think that’s a huge advantage. And you have a lot of these universities now painfully making the shift to online, but AMU is one of those organizations that’s been doing it successfully for 30 years.

Dr. Larry Parker:

Absolutely. And you always want to go with someone who has all the, as I would say the bugs worked out, or just know how best to support you. Being the program director, yes this is a promotion of the program, one of the largest in the country, and it’s just because those that were in my field know that there are practitioners, people who have done it themselves, that are both taking the education here and teaching it as well.

Wes O’Donnell:

Yeah. So I’m a graduate of AMU also with my MBA. And one of the things that impressed me the most were the instructors and the professors were experts in their fields. They weren’t necessarily purely academics where everything is theory. These are folks that are actually out there that are walking in your shoes as the student. They’re living your life. They’ve been there and they’ve done that. So to put you on the spot personally, what do you bring to the table as a veteran, as a leader to these students that you’re now teaching, who many of them may be active duty?

Dr. Larry Parker:

Well, and I appreciate that, I have one of those unique careers that actually is providing me the opportunity to serve jointly. So not only have I served in the Marine Corps, there’s been a number of assignments where I’ve worked side by side with every other service member, both forward deployed. And my last assignment here at CENTCOM on MacDill Air Force Base so I spend a lot of time here around Air Force members and actually saw a few of my students here. So for me, I’ve been able to be around the world, see what it was like to pursue an online education on ship. Because the antenna was broken one time and literally only getting internet when the ship turned in a particular direction. So I have had the challenges that a student could have, but then as I was saying, practitioner. I’ve actually put hands-on and utilized these skills real world. And that’s what I bring to the table.

Wes O’Donnell:

Yeah. That’s excellent. So you teach in this logistics supply chain field and in business as well over at AMU, what differentiates AMU’s logistics program from maybe somebody else?

Dr. Larry Parker:

Well, one is the actual emphasis to try to align ourselves with some of the leading professional organizations in the world. We prepare. We actually have courses within the university that prepare you for certification exams, and we’re continually pursuing other affiliations. So as you work on our education, whether it be in supply chain or transportation and logistics, and just want to be clear, we have two distinct programs that I’m the Program Director for, but we also have a reverse logistics program. So you can get the total gamut of logistics and specialize here. And that’s one thing, a number of faculty members when they interview, which I’ve just hired a few more because we’re doing phenomenal, they say, ‘Hey, I never knew someone would specialize so much.’ And that’s the one key thing here.

Dr. Larry Parker:

If I could just one more thing, we’ve actually done well across the university to explain how logistics actually ties to a number of other specialties. So you can be in hospitality, you can be in a number of other fields, but you can get specialization in logistics because most likely your organization will be affected.

Wes O’Donnell:

No, that’s absolutely right. I mean logistics is one of those things that touches every business. I can’t think of a business that logistics don’t touch in some form. So that seems like a great concentration to focus on.

Dr. Larry Parker:

Absolutely.

Wes O’Donnell:

Okay. So let’s talk about tuition assistance real quick. And my personal story, when I was in the army, I must have earned a couple of dozen college credits just from various universities and ended up transferring all those credits into AMU when I joined the Air Force and used my tuition assistance then to earn my degree without spending a penny out of pocket. Why do you think it’s important for active duty folks to get the most out of their TA? And I say that because there were a lot of folks that I serve with that weren’t interested. They were just like, I’m not going to use this benefit. I’m like, are you nuts? It’s free money.

Dr. Larry Parker:

And that’s the craziest thing, but I will tell you, again, another sea story, some people have their own personal hangups. I wasn’t the most stellar student in college. I was great coming out of high school, but I got there in undergrad and I struggled. And I told myself, as I said earlier, I’m done. Once I accepted my commission, I was done. And actually, and here’s a shout out to Corporal Sam, probably went on to be Master Guns or probably came over to become an officer. This young Marine brought me his tuition assistance on a regular basis. And I’m signing off and I’m sitting there as his platoon commander and I’m watching him complete his bachelor’s. Then, later on, he brings in paperwork, he’s pursuing his masters, and I’m watching this Marine in front of me eclipse me in education, and it’s all being paid for. And I’m looking around and he’s the only one that’s truly taken advantage of this benefit but it removed all my excuses.

Dr. Larry Parker:

Back then we had to sign off for it because we said that the Marine could actually go to education, and that was really my driving force. And I really am so thankful because my MBA was paid for and a great deal of my doctorate. And so yeah, I completed my Ph.D. on active duty, and I just can’t imagine why someone wouldn’t want to because it really puts you so much further ahead of others when it comes time to transition.

Wes O’Donnell:

Yeah, that’s exactly right. And I think the same thing sort of applies to the GI bill also. I recently learned that I have enough GI bill left to spend it on something, but I only have three more years. In my case, I can only use it 15 years after I’ve separated to use it. And I was recently accepted into law school, although I haven’t decided whether or not I’m going to go. There’s a local college called Western Michigan University that has night classes, so that I’d still be able to write for the university during the day, AMU, and try to be, because if there’s one thing the world needs more of its attorneys.

Dr. Larry Parker:

Absolutely. Absolutely. But congratulations on that if you decide to pursue that. Again, that’s just like you said, free money. And well, I’ll flip it again. You earned it with everything that you put in and your service. I don’t know why more service members wouldn’t use this benefit for any institution that’s making it possible for you to pursue your education. Doesn’t make sense. Especially as we see with the world as it is now, those credentials are most valuable to organizations.

Wes O’Donnell:

Yeah. And you’ve made sacrifices, you’ve missed birthdays, you’ve missed holidays, get what’s owed to you and use that tuition assistance or GI bill if you’re separated.

Dr. Larry Parker:

The one thing that we would always say when we would deploy, and I’ve said this a couple of times when I was taking my unit to Afghanistan, I want you to come back better than when I took you. I want to bring you back safe, but while we’re there, you’re saving money, you’re getting an education. You’re doing something to make yourself better because there are going to be times in the military, it’s the hurry up and wait. So there’s a lot of times where we’re doing great things, but then there are some times that you are waiting to go do that great thing. So get your education.

Wes O’Donnell:

All right, Larry, can you tell us a little bit about the Freedom Grant and how it can help active duty service members looking to earn their education?

Dr. Larry Parker:

Absolutely. And as we’ve talked about during this interview, if there weren’t enough reasons to pursue your education, the Freedom Grant makes it even more palatable. It removes all possible excuses. Tuition assistance for many may not cover everything. Depending on what program you’re in, there may be books. There might be a few other costs that are on top of that. As you and I both know, tuition assistance only covers up to a certain dollar amount for each period of time. But the Freedom Grant covers those things above and beyond that. And the one good thing about AMU, we’re really pushing for open educational resources where a number of our courses don’t even have additional costs beyond, for book costs, but the Freedom Grant makes it possible that anything that you might’ve been reluctant to sign up for because you knew that there might be an additional cost, this covers it. So it’s a great opportunity. It’s a nice add on to what you already have in the form of tuition assistance or payments for your education.

Wes O’Donnell:

Yeah, that’s awesome. That’s an excellent program.

Dr. Larry Parker:

Absolutely.

Wes O’Donnell:

Awesome. Well, thank you so much, Larry, for hanging out and chatting about getting your education while still serving on active duty. It’s always a pleasure speaking with you.

Dr. Larry Parker:

Absolutely, Wes. I appreciate it. Thank you. Thank you for having me.

Wes O’Donnell:

All right.

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