Student Soldiers Earn Degrees While Deployed

By Mark Geary, Reporter

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By Kelli Sutterman

FORT IRWIN, CALIFORINIA – Soldiers on this National Guard deployment learn life lessons every day.

Specialist Emily Keating of Iowa City, 20, and serving with the C. Company of the 334 BSB, also studies more traditional subjects. Whenever she has a free moment, she hits the books.

"While we're rolling down the street and nothing's blowing up, I'll be doing my homework,” Keating said. "Sometimes, at night in the bay, if I know I don't have to get up at 4:00 a.m., I'll stay up and do homework then, too."

Keating will take University of Iowa classes online throughout her time in Afghanistan. She is majoring in Exercise Science and dreams of becoming a personal trainer. At first, the deployment seemed to interrupt her plans, but that isn’t the case anymore.

"It's a nice distraction and I definitely work better under pressure. I get a lot more done when I know I don't have time,” Keating said.

Training and working all day for the military and staying up all night studying wears on her. However, professors have been sympathetic.

"If I tell them I was up for 24 hours straight and didn't get it done, they usually say, 'Ok, that's fine,'" Keating said.

At least 22 University of Iowa students are currently in Afghanistan. The University also has about 400 veterans or active duty military students on campus right now.

Sgt. 1st Class Jesse Boland of Iowa City, 32, and serving with the 322 Engineer Company, said, "Each class has been slightly different for what they require and what they expect, but all of them have been helpful. I haven't run into any roadblocks." Boland is in the Army Reserve. He previously deployed to Iraq from 2003-2004.

Boland will deploy to Afghanistan in the spring. Before he leaves, he’s working with the University of Iowa to complete his degree. "I’m just trying to stay focused on what's ahead of me, taking things one step at a time and trying not to get worried about things," Boland said.

The University of Iowa already has a program in place to help students like Boland. Top administrators are in the process of adapting that program to accommodate all of the National Guard members currently deployed while they’re overseas and when they return to Iowa.

"I don't believe there is any professor that wouldn't make that accommodation. If there was someone out there that wouldn't, I'm sure the Provost would be more than happy to talk to that individual," Assistant Provost for Enrollment Services Larry Lockwood said. "We'll go out of our way to make sure everything is done for the benefit of the student. The highest level of this university is interested in what happens to our veterans."

Back at the training ground, Keating finds comfort with her fellow soldiers.

"It's not, apart from the weapons, all that different from a college setting,” Keating said. "The camaraderie is pretty much the same."

Even though her Afghanistan assignment adds stress to her school work, it will all be worth it when she finishes her deployment with a degree.

"I'd love to have a job when I get back home,” she said.

Plus, she doesn’t have to worry about student loans. The military covers the cost of all her classes.
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