Military Blogger Contest Entry: Kyle Provost
I left the Navy on August 14, 2007 after six years of active duty in the Post-9/11 world. As I would learn the hard way over the next twelve months, this was exceptionally bad timing to venture out into U.S. economy as a civilian.
Upon leaving active duty, I went to work for myself as a freelance web site developer and consultant. My position in the web development market was unique in that my operating overhead was very low, which allowed me to take on small projects with budgets that were considered unattractive by advertising agencies and commercial web development companies—or so I thought at the time.
For the first ten months or so, business seemed to be going quite well. As I would soon find out, though, there was a hidden evil at work that I was just too inexperienced and naïve to recognize. What I learned rather quickly was that these small-budget, one-off projects I had been doing all along don’t really exist in the web development market at large. The organizations that were hiring me to develop their web sites were ones that normally would have had the budget to retain a commercial agency, if not for the fact that the rapidly-declining economy had taken the proverbial axe to their revenues.
I thought that I had found a market niche that would allow me to avoid the recession’s effects, when in fact I was just riding a small wake of collateral spending that was about to subside very suddenly. The mainstream web development market had already fallen off a cliff, with web development companies laying people off left and right. Generating business on my own quickly became an uphill battle as well. In the year between July 2008 and July 2009, my small business generated less revenue than it had in just the first six months of 2008. That party, clearly, was over.
Going back to school started to look like a good option. I’d heard about the new Chapter 33 (Post-911) GI Bill, but for whatever reason I thought it wasn’t going to take effect for a few more years. On a day in late June of 2009, I went to the VA’s web site and read that it was going to take effect in August of that year. At that point going back to school started to look like a real good option. In fact, all of my excuses for not going back to school were rendered moot in about two seconds.
This new benefits package doesn’t just make it safe and supportable to go back to school—it incentivizes the pursuit of higher education to such a degree that any eligible veteran would be an absolute fool to not take advantage of it.
That very day I went to Truckee Meadows Community College and enrolled in their business transfer program. It’s a program in which the student first earns an AA in Business from TMCC, and then can transfer to the University of Nevada as a junior.
I was very excited to get back into the classroom environment and reignite this stagnant gray matter that hadn’t been used for much of anything in quite some time except for writing computer code—and worrying.
The Post-9/11 GI Bill got off to a slow start, with no payments being dispersed for about the first six weeks of the Fall 2009 semester. Like most vets who’d just registered for the program, I had no idea what was going on. Did I do something wrong on my paperwork? Did the school’s VA coordinator need more documents from me? Has the program been changed or delayed? We just didn’t know.
I was able to scrape together the money to buy my books for that semester, but as we got along into the second month of class and I was still receiving emails from the controller’s office saying that I owed about $1000 in tuition and fees, I began to think that perhaps this had all been a big mistake. “I should have been out looking for work instead of taking classes,” I thought.
I was just about ready to pack it in and go job hunting when word came out that the VA was going to be issuing emergency advance payments at all of the regional VA offices beginning on October 3. As it turned out, the response to the Post-9/11 GI Bill had been overwhelming, and the delays were simply a matter of the VA making their way through some 280,000 applications. Secretary Shinseki made the call that he didn’t want any more vets to drop out of school for financial reasons, and he directed the VA to begin issuing $3,000 checks to any vet who came to the VA regional office with their proof of enrollment. You could’ve cut my relief with a knife.
Within six weeks after that round of emergency payments went out, the new GI Bill was fully implemented and I was receiving those direct deposits in my bank account on the first of every month. Not one month has gone by since then in which I could have made ends meet without it.
For many Americans, the cost of higher education is the most daunting and stressful financial burden they will ever encounter. With the Post-9/11 GI Bill, that burden is eliminated. I can just confidently focus on my studies and enjoy the college experience. It gives me a tremendous sense of empowerment and motivation to have this benefit on my side. This program has opened up a world of opportunity to a guy who might otherwise have never gone to college. The fact that I’m only able to drum up about 20 hours of work each week is no longer a problem, because the GI Bill fills the financial gap as well. The Post-9/11 GI Bill, in every sense of the phrase, was my bailout.
I lack the words to relate how grateful I am to the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America organization for designing this new program and presenting it to congress, to congress for passing it, and to the American taxpayers for supporting veterans with such a tremendous benefit.
The only way that I can repay the American people for giving me this opportunity is to put this education to work, and that’s exactly what I’m going to do by growing my business, creating some jobs, and giving back to the community for many years to come.