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Program allows active-duty Airmen to study full time

  • Published
  • By Crystal Toenjes
  • 72nd Air Base Wing Public Affairs
The Airman Education and Commissioning Program is one of the best kept secrets in the Air Force.

AECP allows active-duty enlisted members to attend college full time without loss of pay or benefits, graduate with a degree and earn a commission.

"It's one of the best programs in the Air Force and unfortunately it's not one a lot of people know about," said Maj. Gregory Nelms, an instructor and the admissions officer with the University of Oklahoma's Air Force ROTC, Detachment 675.

"Enlisted members basically (make a permanent change of station) to a university on active duty to go to school full time," he said. "Given deployments and their duty responsibilities, it can be really difficult and this gives them the opportunity to focus on completing their degree."

The program gives eligible Airmen up to three years to complete a technical, nursing, foreign language or area studies bachelor's degree and then be commissioned as a second lieutenant.

"When they graduate, they have a slot waiting for them at Officer Training School," Major Nelms said.

"It's hard to go to school full time and do 10-hour shifts on the flightline," said Staff Sgt. Zachary Fair, who was stationed at Tinker AFB before being accepted into the program to study computer engineering at the University of Oklahoma.

Master Sgt. Susie Beard was stationed at Tinker AFB when she first learned about the program and was excited to have the chance to pursue a life-long dream by attending nursing school at the University of Oklahoma.

"I always wanted to be a nurse even when I was a little kid," she said. "But with all the deployments, you just can't go to nursing school in the Air Force."

Besides a college education, the program allows Airmen to continue to provide for their families' needs because they continue to receive their full pay, health benefits and access to all services on base.

"I actually live on Tinker," said Staff Sgt. Kim Friesen, who is studying nursing at Oklahoma Baptist University. "I'm active duty, and it's just like I was stationed at Tinker except my job is to go to school."

Sergeant Friesen was serving as a surgical technician at Kirtland AFB, N.M., before being accepted into the program.

"We have spouses, and some of us have children, so keeping medical, housing and other allowances while going to school really makes it possible to do this," Sergeant Fair said.

To qualify for the program, applicants should have at least one year time in service and time on station, although waivers are an option, as well as at least 30 earned college credit hours.

Applicants for the technical, foreign language and area studies majors who reach age 30 by the date on their application will need to submit an age waiver for review to assure they can complete their studies and commission before their 35th birthday. Nursing major applicants can be commissioned prior to age 47 with an age waiver.

When school begins, Airmen are promoted to the rank of staff sergeant, or continue to receive pay and allowances at the level of their enlisted rank if it is greater than staff sergeant. Airmen attend school year round, including summer terms.

Airmen don't have to worry about paying off any student loans when they are done. AECP cadets receive a scholarship for tuition and fees up to $15,000 per year and an annual textbook allowance of $600. The school they attend must be at or below the $15,000 cap for year-round tuition and fees.

Last year, 74 out of 94 applicants were accepted into the program across the Air Force. Major Nelms said the acceptance rate is based on Air Force needs, but has been pretty high over the past several years.

The Airmen agreed the most difficult part of the process can be completing the paperwork to meet all of the application requirements.

"It's very doable, and definitely worth the effort," Sergeant Parker said. "It's definitely within reach of most Airmen out there."

Applications for fall 2007 enrollment must be postmarked no earlier than Feb. 1 and no later than Feb. 15.

"If you've done well in your off-duty education, you can do this and really achieve something many people feel is out of their grasp," Major Nelms said. "In less than a year, you can be a full-time college student."

Major areas of study include engineering, computer science, meteorology, mathematics, physics, nursing, foreign languages (Arabic, Chinese, Persian, Russian, Hindi, Pashto, Armenian, Georgian, Azeri, Kazakh, Indonesian, Swahili, Hebrew, French and Turkish), and area studies (Middle East, Africa, Asia and Russia/Eurasia).

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