Soldier spends time taking online classes

West and Spc. Brad Cooper, right, return to camp after a convoy. His company is scheduled to return to the United States at the end of June, but it may be delayed until July 4.

Special toThe Chart

West and Spc. Brad Cooper, right, return to camp after a convoy. His company is scheduled to return to the United States at the end of June, but it may be delayed until July 4.

Jessica MacIntosh

Many servicemen wait until they have finished their service to finish their education, but not Pfc. Duane West.

“I think it displays the power of distance learning,” said Dr. Jack Spurlin, vice president for lifelong learning, “that it really doesn’t matter where you are at and what you are doing. If you have access to a computer, you have access to an education.”

Stockton native West, sophomore undecided major, has been serving in the U.S. Army for 16 months and is taking nine credit hours.

“Education has always been an important priority in my life, so I am continually striving to learn,” he said. “Education and the pursuit of a degree is a great goal to set whether you are serving overseas in a combat zone or working full time in the states.”

West said he joined the military because of his brother-in-law, who served two tours in Kosovo and one in Iraq.

“I guess I felt like it was an opportunity to do my part,” West said.

Leaving Fort Bragg Nov. 13, 2004, and arriving in Afghanistan on Nov. 16, he was assigned to the Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force-Afghanistan at Bagram Airfield.

For his education, West said he did research on different colleges and decided on Southern. West attended Southern for the 2002-2003 academic year and was accepted into the honors program.

“I got accepted and gave up scholarships to other colleges to be a Lion,” West said.

He re-applied online, and after his acceptance, he contacted the Distance Learning Center to sign up for his classes. After being deployed, he kept in contact with the University. Southern informed him of his tuition, which the Army paid for, and the bookstore shipped his books to him.

“Everyone that I had contact with was a great help and got me squared away quickly without any problems,” he said.

Before the semester started, West contacted his instructors about his situation.

“I wanted to make sure that they understood where I was, what I could be doing,” he said, “and that, although the course work would get done, first, last and always, I am a soldier.”

He said the instructors have been understanding and were “excellent about working around unavoidable events.” He also said his classmates have been supportive.

“I get e-mails and message board posts from people thanking me for what I am doing,” West said. “It really makes you feel good.”

Spurlin said he met West online on a site called the “Coffee Shop,” designed for only distance learning students.

“I thought this would be a way for students with like interests, like problems [and] like concerns to have an opportunity to visit with each other,” Spurlin said.

He said on about the second day the site was open, West started talking about serving in the military. From there, other students who have husbands and sons in the military started talking.

“They right away bonded with Duane,” Spurlin said.

Spurlin said it has been a “neat experience” talking to West.

“You know what’s exactly happening in Duane’s life,” he said. “He is a very articulate and intelligent young man.”

Spurlin said he is “amazed” with what can be done with education and how it can be brought to any part of the world.

“That was kind of our motto ‘any where, any place, any time,'” he said. “This just kind of proves that even in a combat zone, You can still work on your education at Missouri Southern State University.”

West’s family supports what he is doing, both being overseas and taking online classes.

“They tell me all the time that they are proud of me and what I am doing,” he said. “I think it eased their minds a little bit thinking that if I have time for college courses, then I must not be in too bad of shape.”

While being in the military, West thinks taking classes online can be difficult.

“Even though getting a civilian education helps make you a better soldier, the completion of the mission must always come first,” he said.

One of the problems with balancing the time between studying and serving is a mission arrives after taking materials out to study.

“You end up going over the same material twice just to get a grasp on where you ended last,” he said.

He also said another problem is having relief of duty so he could go take tests.

West said the command works around a soldier’s schedule so he or she can have time to study. Personnel or shift changes can be done if the mission allows it.

“Other soldiers are really good about working a little extra for someone who needs to get something done,” he said, “swapping back and forth depending on what a soldier needs.”

If no missions or tasks arrive, West finds the time to study while he monitors equipment and between private time and sleeping.

He said there are other soldiers who are taking classes online, enrolling in designed programs made for those serving overseas.

“Distance learning is a good way to work toward a degree,” West said. “And it helps you stay busy when it’s quiet in combat zone.”

He said taking classes online is an “advantageous” way to spend the free time when there are no missions.

West’s approach to studying is the “feast or famine work load,” where there is too much homework to do or too little work to do.

“Use the times of ‘famine’ to the best advantage, even moving ahead if you know the future coursework,” he said, “because when the ‘feast’ of work comes you will not have much time to study.”

He said taking classes at Southern is better than being in the combat zone. He thinks there are more resources, and the advantage is the learning atmosphere. In the combat zone, it is different.

“While in the combat zone, you never know when there will be an attack,” he said. “There is a mind-set of mission accomplishment and survival, and when you get down to it, classes can wait, especially when you have a job that needs to be done in order for people to live and get back home.”

West said what he misses about not being in the United States is his family and friends.

“[I miss] the little things like being able to get away for awhile, drive around, just not think or worry about work or an attack,” he said.

West said he has been told his company will return to the United States the end of June, but factors may push that date back. He hopes to return July 4.

West thanks everyone for being supportive to the soldiers fighting overseas.

“If there weren’t people back in the rear supporting us, then our job would be for not,” he said. “Patriots at home are needed just as badly as patriots on the front.”