They’re back – National Guard troops return from Iraq

About 3,500 troops from Anchorage deployed to the Middle East are returning home this semester, UAA Military Programs reports. This week, more than 500 Alaska Army National Guard troops are coming home and UAA’s second session is starting at Fort Richardson and Elmedorf Air Force Base.

“Will they start class?” said Mel Kalkowski, director of Military Programs for UAA Community and Technical College on the fort and base. “A lot of them will, yeah. Military puts a lot of value on classes.”

The class sizes on the base and fort campuses are limited to about 30 students, he said. In the spring semester, those sizes won’t change, but “we’re ready for it,” he added.

The sudden population burst on base being caused by the 500 members of the 3rd Battalion, 297th Infantry Regiment’s return shouldn’t cause the classes to overfill, he said. Most active-duty personnel take classes at UAA’s main campus.

“What we offer out here are the lower-division courses, primarily,” he said.

The 3rd Battalion’s return home comes after serving 15 months in Iraq. It arrived at Camp Shelby, Mississippi, in mid-October. Classes start on base and at the fort Oct. 24.

The 3rd Battalion consolidated in July 2006, bringing soldiers from more than 80 communities across Alaska together to form the largest mobilization of the Alaska National Guard since World War II, according to the Municipality of Anchorage.

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The battalion is being offered military program courses through UAA’s Community and Technical College. Their course options include math and science classes, some of which they were already taught in Iraq or on a Coast Guard cutter, Kalkowski said.

Seven types of students attend classes on base and at the fort: active duty personal, their spouses, National Guard, National Guard Reserve, Department of Defense civilians, military retirees and civilians, he said. Course registration opens first to active duty personnel, then their dependents and last for civilians.

There are 841 students learning on base and at the fort, and about 2,500 credit hours are being taken this semester in 60 courses.

“That’s pretty consistent. That’s the way it’s been for a long, long time,” Kalkowski said.

To get higher-ranking positions, enlisted personnel increasingly need to have baccalaureate and associate degrees, he said. To help further their careers, most courses offered on base and at the fort are given during the evening, while normal job duties are performed during the day.

Tuition is paid out-of-pocket and through programs including Air Force Aid, a spouse tuition program, Kalkowski said.

How civilians can take classes on base or at the fort

Four colleges offer classes on base and at the fort: UAA, Wayland Baptist University, Embry Riddel University and Central Texas College.

Civilian students can take the same classes as active duty personnel, such as introductory biology, Western civilization, black history and rise of civilizations.

Both the base and fort have similar security requirements for civilians to meet to drive onto the base or fort, including having an Alaska driver’s license and car insurance, Kalkowski said.

Civilians taking classes could be restricted from the base or fort at any time, Kalkowski said. After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, classes were moved to locations off the base and fort property.

Wang Choe, an accounting sophomore and civilian student taking classes at the fort, said the professors who teach at the fort are worth dealing with extra security to get to.

“I went to RateMyProfessors.com, and I heard good things about my teacher,” he said about his environmental geology course at the fort.

Courses at the fort require a lot less homework, and there’s less traffic to deal with, he said. The only hassle is that it can take three to four weeks to get a semester-long pass onto the base or fort. Waiting for clearance means it’s a daily struggle getting through the gate.

On-time clearance is issued four weeks before the start of class, Kalkowski said. Students can also get day passes at Fort Richardson’s front gate if they register late. Class changes and refunds are similar to what students experience on the main campus.

Tonya Shook, a civilian and senior majoring in English, said she’s taken classes at the fort for a year.

She started because classes were closer to her house, and “the personal service at the main campus is just horrible. You’re just a number,” she said.

Parking at the fort is a breeze, she noted, and that puts her in a better mood before she gets to class.