ABOARD USS KEARSARGE AND USS PONCE --
While many college students migrate across the United States spend time with their families, friends and relatives during this Thanksgiving holiday, the forward deployed troops of the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) are attending college classes in unconventional classrooms. While patrolling the Arabian Gulf aboard warships like the USS Kearsarge, USS Gunston Hall, and USS Ponce, many Marines and sailors like Cpl. Jonathan M. Davis are using this time to better themselves and collect college credits.
“I took some advanced math classes in high school, and when I took the placement test, I was stunned to see how much you forget. You might retain it, but you have to exercise your brain to get it out,” said Davis, an Atlanta native.
“The first day of class, it took me about 15 minutes to get my gears turning again, but once they started turning it went pretty good,” said Davis. “I was making simple mistakes, but it’s good because it’ll get my mind prepared to go to college.”
One of the class instructors, 1st Lt. Jason M. Townsend, admitted that the Introduction to College Math class is a review for many of his students, but his intent is to provide the MEU personnel aboard the Kearsarge the opportunity to further their education.
“It’s not really learning the material; it’s refreshing their brain with the material,” said Townsend, platoon commander of the Combat Logistics Battalion 22 Motor Transport detachment. “I gave them a pre-test before we began, which was basically the final exam on the first day, and I want them to see the difference between getting one answer correct on the first day of class to getting 90 to 95 percent correct on the final exam.”
Though he expects the transition to college to be a tough one, Davis sees it as a challenge he is willing to take. He will soon be surrounded by new people who lack the familiar military discipline and training he has come to expect, but he has learned to deal with the unexpected.
“The transition to college will be hard, because I’m used to working with Marines, but I don’t think it will be too hard because the Marine Corps prepares you to face different challenges,” said Davis. “I’ll just go and figure it out when I get there.”
The shipboard courses are accredited through Park University in Havelock, NC, said Townsend. The students will receive college credit at whichever college they choose assuming the college offers the same course.
Before re-entering the Corps after a brief hiatus, Sgt. Nicholas Brown, of Rhinebeck, NY, attended night classes while working day shifts. Brown quickly discovered that the taxing schedule wasn’t working for him.
“The biggest difference is that these classes are on the training schedule, so during the day you go to classes and at night you are free to study,” said Brown, a field artillery cannoneer with Guns Platoon, Battalion Landing Team, 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, currently aboard the USS Ponce. “The classes are way more flexible than in the civilian world.”
In addition to college level math, instructors are teaching other general education level courses. The macroeconomic course being taught aboard the Ponce has given Lance Cpl. Ryan Vogel, of San Antonio, Tex., a good overview of how the world’s economies work together, he said. He looks forward to furthering his education as much as possible while in the Marine Corps to make the transition back to “the real world” as seamless as possible.
“I want to go to college when I get out so I want to get as many credits as I can now. Instead of spending four more years in college, maybe I’ll only have to spend two or three,” said Vogel, a rifleman with 1st Platoon, Lima Company, BLT 3/8.
The 22nd MEU (SOC) is currently on a scheduled six-month deployment. The unit consists of Ground Combat Element, BLT 3/8; Logistics Combat Element, CLB-22; Aviation Combat Element, Marine Medium Helicopter Squardron 261; and its Command Element.