|Tomorrow's Techno Savvy Soldier |
Tomorrow's Techno Savvy Soldier
By Kathy Hoffman, Special to Army News Service.
Washington, Army News Service, July 11, 2000 -- Secretary of the Army Louis Caldera yesterday announced a $600 million distance-learning initiative to help soldiers complete college "anytime, anyplace, anywhere they can take their laptop."
Caldera called on colleges and universities, Internet companies, hardware and software companies and others to prepare and submit bids to the Army offering technology and extensive curriculum for soldiers.
The resulting program - Army University Access Online - is expected to help soldiers to obtain college degrees or technical certifications through Internet-based courses while they serve using laptop computers and vastly expanded learning opportunities.
"The Army's greatest competition in recruiting and retaining soldiers is not the hot economy but the desire for and availability of higher education to today's young people," said Caldera.
Making the announcement at Washington's high-tech Ronald Reagan building, Caldera said the revolutionary distance-learning program will run initially at two or three selected installations to be announced later this summer.
Distance learning is an increasingly popular form of schooling that uses communications technologies to harness the vast array of educational resources available and stimulates the development of life-long learning skills.
The Army has budgeted nearly $50 million for AUAO and its website, eARMYU.com, in Fiscal Year 2001, with another $550 million over the next five years. Caldera's goal is to see the program implemented Army-wide.
The potential to reach students is overwhelming at 1 million-plus possible students. The program will be available to all active-duty, Reserve and National Guard members. Soldiers will be provided with such resources as tuition assistance, textbooks, laptops, printers, Internet access, academic counseling, help desk, course offering and a command climate that creates a true life-long learning community.
Expansion of the program could eventually make it available to Army families as well.
Caldera will host an Industry Day Aug. 2, also at the Reagan Building, to seek ways to achieve the plan. A preliminary Request for Proposal will be issued Aug. 11 to prospective industry and education providers. A final Request for Proposal will go out in September, and officials expect a contract to be awarded in December.
"We have specific requirements that need to be met," Caldera said. "For example, we need to wire barracks and other facilities where soldiers can get easy online access. We also need to provide the optimum technology package to students - equipment that is durable and portable, and ISP service that is reliable and accessible."
Potential vendors must provide a technology package that will include a laptop computer, printer, Internet Service Provider account, maintenance and warranty of equipment and help desk assistance to each soldier who enrolls in distance-learning courses.
"We also want to maximize the number of educational programs available to students, so that they can reap the benefits of competition, including increased choice, reduced cost and improved program quality."
An information-age Army provides improved national security, according to Caldera. His desire is for the Army to be viewed by potential recruits and the world as high-tech trained and ready for the 21st Century's digital battlefield.
"A well-rounded soldier results in a better Army," he said. "An educated soldier is tomorrow's advanced Army. Enabling soldiers to accomplish expanded education via on-line access from anywhere they are sent will insure knowledge of vast issues ranging from math, science and history to electronics and psychology. This well-educated soldier will be more apt to succeed in military training, leadership and mission."
Under the current Army Continuing Education Service, soldiers pay for their books and for 25 percent of a school's tuition. Caldera hopes to provide 100-percent funding for the distance-learning program. The eARMYU.com website is not designed to eliminate the traditional classroom but to compliment the current system.
"Army educational enrollment statistics for last quarter indicate that enrollment in distance-learning programs has doubled since the previous report," according to Susan Johnson of ACES.
Caldera's vision is that this program will communicate to today's young people and their parents "that America's Army is a technology-oriented Army that values education and self improvement."
This latest "learn-while-you-serve" option is the third such initiative brought online by the Army in the last year. Last fall "GED Plus" was introduced to help soldiers who did not finish high school get their GED while on active duty. Earlier this year, the Army introduced "College First," which enlists high school graduates to active duty, but lets them attend college for a certain time period before serving.
Caldera expects an increase in retention "by improving in-service education opportunities, soldiers can better achieve their personal educational goals and do not have to leave the Army to get an education or use their GI Bill." Additionally, the program will assist in producing a better educated, Information Age-savvy soldier who will be better prepared for the challenges of tomorrow's military.
Asked if he was concerned that once soldiers reap the benefits of this program, they might leave the service for civilian jobs, Caldera said he is "not concerned with the possible loss of a few soldiers to the civilian sector." He said the program will help ensure the Army "keeps the soldiers it wants and returns great citizens to the community."
(Editors' Note: Kathy Hoffman is a freelance journalist and contributing writer to the Belvoir Eagle, Fort Belvoir, Va.)