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Free Tuition Lures Guardsmen back to School

The Tennessee STRONG Act will provide 100 percent tuition reimbursement to Tennessee Guardsmen for a first time associate or bachelor's degree. (U.S. Air National Guard photo illustration by Master Sgt. Jeremy Cornelius)

The Tennessee STRONG Act will provide 100 percent tuition reimbursement to Tennessee Guardsmen for a first time associate or bachelor's degree. (U.S. Air National Guard photo illustration by Master Sgt. Jeremy Cornelius)

Nashville, Tenn. --

The Tennessee STRONG (Support, Training, and Renewing Opportunity for National Guardsmen) Act, which went into effect in in the summer of 2017, reimburses 100 percent of tuition for Tennessee National Guardsmen working towards a first time associate or bachelor’s degree, and has caused quite a buzz amongst the state’s service members.

“I was interested in it as soon as it came out,” said Staff Sgt. Amanda Bishop, a financial management technician for the 118th Wing who began using the STRONG Act in February 2018 at Trevecca Nazarene University. “Getting a bachelor’s degree was something I thought would take me much longer without the STRONG Act.”

“I think I was one of the very first people to submit,” said Senior Airman John, a member of the 118th Wing. “I attend South College and I was their first STRONG Act candidate.”

With the STRONG Act freeing Guardsmen from the burden of tuition, it allows them to really focus on progressing in their educational goals.

“I would have obtained my (Community College of the Air Force) [degree] because I have to get promoted, but I probably would have stopped there,” said Master Sgt. William, a member of the 118th Wing using the STRONG Act to attend Motlow State Community College. “But because of the Tennessee STRONG Act I will keep going.”

While the reasons people may use the STRONG Act are different, it all boils down to making yourself a better version of yourself.

“Once I receive my degree I do plan on commissioning,” said Bishop. “On the civilian side I would like to pursue my own business.”

“So the master plan is I want to use these classes to transfer over towards CCAF, as well as to make me a more well-rounded Airman” said John. “Even though it’s not required, if you can get college education, why not take advantage of it?”

Whatever the reason someone may choose to get their degree, the message from Tennessee National Guard leadership is clear, use the program.

“Leadership has done a really good job of keeping us involved and pushing for this, and making it apparent that these resources are out here for us,” said John. “If they don’t get used by us, someone else will take them, or maybe they will cease to exist.”

“This program is for real, we are paying 100 percent, you just have to utilize it,” Tech. Sgt. Joseph Wilson, the state tuition assistance manager for the Tennessee Air National Guard and STRONG Act manager. “The more people we show that are using the program and are actually obtaining degrees, then we are more likely to keep it after the four years are over with.”

The STRONG Act is a four year pilot program, and can be used at any college in Tennessee offering an associate or bachelor’s degree program.
“Anybody in the Guard, Army or Air, who doesn’t have an associate or bachelor’s degree and wants to get one, that is our target audience,” said Wilson. “We want anyone who doesn’t have a degree and wants a degree to apply for the program.”

For more information on how to apply for the STRONG Act, contact Tech. Sgt. Joseph Wilson at 615-313-0849.

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