CAMP H.M. SMITH, Hawaii --
Pursuing a college education is no easy feat and added to the demands of a Marine Corps lifestyle, it’s a challenge that involves high levels of dedication, perseverance and sacrifice.
Three U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Pacific command security branch noncommissioned officers decided to push themselves to their limits and motivate one another to achieve their goals of higher education.
Sgts. Jake Isberner, Mitchell Oshkeshequoam and Wayne Welty, walked across the stage at the Waikiki Shell here for the Hawaii Pacific University commencement ceremony Jan. 14 to proudly claim the degrees they had poured hours of writing, stress and studying into. The three Marines had been anticipating this day since they planned for it three years ago.
“It’s unique for a command to have a group of Marines within one section walk across the stage at the same time,” said Timothy Roy, MarForPac command assistant security manager. “They have set an example as NCOs, not only for the NCO Corps, but for junior Marines. Their potential to achieve great things in the Marine Corps has grown ten-fold because of that pursuit of higher education.”
The path there was no walk in the park, as the graduates can agree.
“We were all determined to finish. We had no social life and sometimes it meant taking five classes at a time,” said Welty, from Findlay, Ohio.
The Marines frequently put in long hours at their shop after work, in what they called a “study hall.” They used each other to keep on track and even offered each other some friendly competition to keep their grade point averages up.
“It’s important to surround yourself by people who have the same goals and values as you. That way you constantly keep each other in check and push one another to do good things,” said Welty, now in possession of a bachelor’s degree in justice administration.
While it was a long road to becoming college graduates, they have no doubt it was worthwhile and felt it was necessary to take advantage of the opportunities the Corps laid out before them to fulfill their personal aspirations.
“The cost of education for the average college student is expensive. We are fortunate to get 100% tuition paid for,” said Isberner, a native of St. Cloud, Minn. “When I first joined it was 75%, so we have it good now. It’s unfortunate that some Marines don’t use it.”
Isberner, 26, is no stranger to the stresses of college and the rewarding feeling of earning a degree. He earned his bachelor’s degree early in his Marine Corps career and just completed a master’s degree in business administration.
Oshkeshequoam always knew this was a challenge he would take on and found his inspiration not only in Isberner and Welty, but also back at home.
“Other than these guys, my biggest motivation has been setting an example for my family and representing my nation,” said Oshkeshequoam, a member of the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin.
Now that he has achieved a bachelor’s degree in business administration, he feels he is ready for what’s next.
“It’s a relief that I’ve jumped over that hurdle. Now it seems like I can get over any obstacle that will come up in the future,” said Oshkeshequoam, a Keshena, Wis. native.
The three agree that higher education is a necessity to move forward in any profession, including the Marine Corps. In their opinion, education is something all Marines benefit from by expanding their horizons and creating well-rounded leaders.
Feeling empowered by the pursuit of knowledge, they have taken their junior Marine into their world of learning. Cpl. Timothy J. Wehrli, MarForPac information security clerk, is well underway on his journey to becoming a college graduate.
“Since the day I checked in at this command, they have been pushing me to strive to be the best. Not only do they make sure I succeed in the areas of Marine Corps knowledge and knowing my job, but also in pursuing off-duty education,” said Wehrli, 21.
Isberner said they made sure he was set on a path to be on track with his peers not in the military, where he could earn a bachelor’s degree by the time he turns 22 years old. The three helped him along with the process, ensuring he was ready for the road ahead.
“The initial paperwork and office visits can be daunting. It discourages a lot of Marines. We made sure he got through all that,” said Welty.
With their experience and knowledge, they make sure the young Marine has all the tools he needs to succeed. They offer him advice, help and words of encouragement, knowing the extra little push goes a long way.
“We completely understand the distractions Marines face, but you make sacrifices. In the end, it’s well worth it,” said Isberner.
According to Wehrli, he didn’t expect more than to do what he had to in order to complete his four-year enlistment. But, seeing what his mentors were doing made him want to pursue all the opportunities he could.
“I am fortunate to have them as my leaders. I know I wouldn’t be where I am now without their help,” said Wehrli, now just credits away from an associate’s degree.
Now that their hard work and determination have brought them this far, the trio will keep pushing on.
“We’ve been going to school for so long, it’s become a lifestyle,” said Welty, who aspires to earn a PHD and eventually become a college professor. By March of 2010 he plans on having completed a degree in intelligence studies. “I’ve made it this far, so I’m going to keep learning. Why not? It’s free.”
Reflecting on the stressful times they endured together and the endless nights they shared, their feelings of happiness and pride on graduation night made it all worthwhile.