Duty. Honor. Education.
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 due 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.”
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