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Duty. Honor. Education. Sgt. Maj. James Grady's college degree and 3.73 GPA earned him a peak promotion and hefty pay raise.


GETTING A COLLEGE DEGREE WAS JAMES GRADY'S TOP PRIORITY UNTIL HE WITNESSED a suicide bomber self-destruct from some 200 yards away. After that, "I put my education on hold," says Grady, 40, a National Guardsman who was deployed to Afghanistan in 2009. He found that taking care of his soldiers "was more important then. I was the first sergeant of the medical company in Kabul. Our unit treated 18 personnel clue to the attack. After the bombing, things got so busy that I knew I couldn't devote enough time to my studies."

His break from school didn't last long. Once stateside, Grady, then a master sergeant, hit the books and earned his degree in organizational management last April. A year later, his education literally paid off when he received a promotion to logistics sergeant major of the Georgia Army National Guard, achieving the highest enlisted rank he can hold. Sgt. Maj. Grady received more than a change in status with the promotion: His annual pay jumped from $64,290 to $89,000.

"I wouldn't have received the promotion without my degree," says Grady. "Once you reach a certain level in the military, promotions are very competitive. You receive points for different accomplishments. The points I received for my degree, along with points for military education, made the difference between first and second place for the position of sergeant major."

Grady's journey to the logistics apex of the Georgia Army National Guard's enlisted ranks began more than 20 years ago, when he graduated from high school and enlisted in the Army. For nearly a decade Grady was in the "active Army," as he puts it, rising steadily from an E-1 (private, earning less than $12,000) to an E-6 (staff sergeant, earning around $40,000), "Along the way," says Grady, "I picked up a certain amount of education. Every military base I went to had a college where I would take courses. There were Army courses I took that related to my military responsibilities. However, because I wasn't focused on one area of study, those credits didn't always transfer."

Tired of moving from base to base, Grady made an important move of his own--to the Army National Guard. "It's still active duty," he says, "and it's still a full-time job. With the National Guard, though, you get to stay home unless you're deployed overseas, so I wasn't being moved to a different base every few years." A married father of three, Grady welcomed the chance to stay in his native Georgia, where he now lives in Jonesboro.

The promotions kept coming: to E-7 (sergeant first class) and E-8 (master sergeant or first sergeant). However, the pyramid narrowed as Grady approached the peak. "There were more than 40 E-7 positions in the state in my career field at that time," he says, "and only about seven E-8 positions." At the very top, the Army National Guard has only one E-9 slot in Georgia.

"The Army and the Army National Guard had been emphasizing education," Grady recalls, "so I believed that my best chance for another promotion was to complete the course work I needed for my college degree." At that time, Ashford University sent a recruiter to his base, and Grady liked what he heard.

Ashford has a campus in Clinton, Iowa, and an extensive distance learning curriculum, which offers students the opportunity to earn credits online. Grady, based in Georgia, opted for distance learning.

"Even though you learn online," says Grady, "you have lots of interaction with other students. Classes might have 20 students enrolled at the same time. When you write a paper, you send it to the instructor and to all the other students. Then you get comments, from at least a couple of the other students. In fact, your grade in each class is partially based on how well you respond to the other students' work."

Grady began his online studies in 2008. He already had management responsibilities as a first sergeant; the promotion to sergeant major would make him senior logistics sergeant for the state for all logistical support for 14,000 enlisted military personnel, including both full-timers and others who mainly report on weekends. Logistical support entails transportation, supplies, food services, and a lot more, says Grady. He decided that a degree in organizational management would be valuable. "You can't just be technically proficient," he says. "You need to be a manager, too."

The 10 Wealth for Life Principles

1 I will live within my means.

2 I will maximize my income potential through education and training.

3 I will effectively manage my budget, credit, debt, and tax obligations.

4 I will save at least 10% of my income.

5 I will use homeownership as a foundation for building wealth.

6 I will devise an investment plan for my retirement needs and children's education.

7 I will ensure that my entire family adheres to sensible money management principles.

8 I will support the creation and growth of minority-owned businesses.

9 I will guarantee my wealth is passed on to future generations through proper insurance and estate planning.

10 I will strengthen my community through philanthropy.


* Research tuition options: Tuition assistance is given to soldiers at a rate of $4,500 per year. "When I initially joined the military I paid $1,200 into the Montgomery GI Bill program but, in turn, I received $36,000 to be used for my tuition. These two programs could not be combined. So when I ran out of the GI Bill, I could use the TA money." Today the Post-9/11 GI Bill helps to cover more than just tuition, so those in the military should do their research at the United States Department of Veterans Affairs website to get a better understanding of the program.

* Schedule your time. "Juggling school, family, and a full-time job takes organization," says Grady. "If you want to succeed at schoolwork, you must set aside enough time for it." Grady says he devoted several hours a day to pursuing his degree. "In order for me to complete my degree I had to have a personal commitment to success as well as buy-in from my family and friends. First, I prioritized my entire day. I purchased a calendar that broke the days down to hours. Then I scheduled each part of my day so that I would have time to exercise and complete my job and schoolwork. I dedicated at least four hours a day to studying and schoolwork. This was necessary for me to provide for a family of four [his oldest child is independent], do my military job, and take care of myself physically."

* Learn from classmates as well as teachers. "I had tunnel vision," says Grady, "from being in the military. I got orders and carried them out. Many of the other students looked at things differently, which I could tell by their comments. Learning to appreciate the differences has helped me to be a better manager, especially when I'm working with people who also have civilian jobs."
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Title Annotation:Wealth For Life
Author:Korn, Donald Jay
Publication:Black Enterprise
Date:Jul 1, 2012
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