Reflections on Working in Higher Education with Soldiers Downrange by Karen Lofgren

Image of Karen Lofgren

Karen Lofgren, bottom right, with other Education Center Staff members and students December 2007

 

Position: Jan 2008 to present, CTC Field Representative

Location: Djibouti

Other Positions with CTC:

  • Jun 2006-Jan 2008: Field Representative, Army Learning Center Operator & Local Program Manager, FOB Salerno, Afghanistan
  • May 2005-May 2006: Field Representative - Kandahar, Afghanistan
  • May 2004-Apr 2005: Field Representative - Heidelberg, Germany

 

Very often, when soldiers are deployed, they are overwhelmed by the change in lifestyle, location and most importantly by the host of dangers they encounter on a daily basis. Taking college courses typically does not enter their sphere of thinking, and if it does, it tends to be fairly low on their list of priorities. However, education centers at deployed sites strive to make their classes relevant by reaching out to soldiers and showing them not only how important an education is, but also that it can help them deal more successfully with these difficult times. CTC fulfills one of the more significant roles on a base because it boosts the morale of soldiers and allows them to better themselves both as people and as soldiers, and in this way significantly enhances the effectiveness of their mission.

However, making soldiers aware of these benefits is not an easy task. It takes a savvy marketing strategy to be able to compete with the many challenges a soldier faces while deployed. Working for CTC has helped me gain the skills and determination necessary to meet my objectives both in my professional and academic endeavors. Never have I had a more challenging, yet rewarding, working experience.

It is difficult to find time to reflect on the work we do at deployed sites due to the enormity of the task of offering classes downrange, the long hours and hectic schedules. However, as I was sitting at the FOB Salerno Passenger Terminal getting ready to depart Afghanistan for good, I noticed the memorial plaque for a fallen US soldier whose name was given to the Salerno runway. I hadn’t known this soldier, but its symbolism struck me clearly and called to mind a soldier from Kandahar with whom I worked who was later killed. It occurred to me then that while I had initially come to Afghanistan for something new and a chance to make some extra money, I had gained so much more by being able to serve those who make so many sacrifices to keep us free.

I made my way to the dusty landscapes of Kandahar, Afghanistan for the first time in May of 2005, and was immediately greeted by soldiers eager for an outlet from the stresses of war and the need for some form of betterment. I mentored soldiers to help them navigate the post-secondary education process, and adamantly searched for more instructors to broaden their opportunities with diverse class choices. Negotiating with commanders to structure classes to flex with the mission was undoubtedly one of the hardest parts of my job.

Nothing made the soldiers more proud of their own accomplishments than seeing them reach the magic number 6 with CTC, having that evaluation done and then seeing their eyes light up at having those college credits. This feeling is indescribable and simply made me glow inside.

I continued my work of bringing educational opportunities to the troops at war in May 2006 when I headed to FOB Salerno. This assignment was even more demanding because the unique missions kept the soldiers spread out all over the area. Only the traits I had been acquiring, flexibility, enthusiasm and endurance, enabled me to keep the soldiers informed and give them the opportunity to enroll in as many courses as they could.

As I left Afghanistan, I realized I had learned many important aspects about being a human being. When continually faced with the threats of rocket attacks, disease, and when dealing with soldiers who face war on a daily basis, one learns never to take for granted being alive and enjoying life. I try not to let the little things bother me anymore, and I consider myself lucky to have the life I have every day. It is an old adage, but I can honestly say that while in Afghanistan I learned to live every day as though it is my last. I am proud to serve with the fine young men and women who serve the United States. This is the inspiration that drives me now to Djibouti, Africa, as I continue my educational outreach with the US military.

Karen has an Associates of Arts in Management Studies from UMUC-Europe and a BTEC National Diploma in Nursery Nursing from Stockport College of Technology

She is originally from Manchester, England

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