Soldiers at Fort Hood, Texas, will be the first to test a program that will provide up to $4,000 a year to help them earn credentials designed to assist in a successful transition to a civilian career.

This pilot program will allow participants to pursue civilian credentials regardless of whether they’re related to a soldier’s military occupational specialty. That change, and the $4,000 that can go to a range of credential-related costs, set the pilot apart from the service’s current credential program, which began in 2015.

The new program is expected to roll out Army-wide in late 2019. The inability to quickly get certification in their career fields, including fields in which they already serve as military experts, has long been an obstacle for service members after they leave the military.

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The benefit is similar to the tuition assistance program in terms of rates and eligibility, but it offers more flexibility in what the funds will cover: Registration costs and other academic fees, tools and specialized equipment, learning materials, and even “boot-camp” pre-certification training.

Soldiers can use both the tuition assistance program and the credentialing assistance program, with a combined annual cap of up to $4,000. There’s no limit to the number of years the credentialing assistance program can be used, said Mike Engen, the education services officer at Fort Hood — good news for those in fields where credentials must be renewed every two or three years.

More about the pilot:

  • Every soldier stationed at Fort Hood is eligible to participate, as are Army National Guard and Selected Reserve soldiers who serve in Texas.
  • Starting Sept. 6, Fort Hood soldiers will be able to speak with education officials about course requirements and make registration requests. Courses can’t start until Oct. 1 and will be subject to availability of funds. Engen said soldiers are required to visit the education center to help identify the potential training providers associated with their desired credential, and they must submit their paperwork at least 30 days before the course begins.
  • Soldiers will be able to choose from 28 different credentials in the pilot, but they’ll eventually select from the more than 1,600 credentials offered on the Army’s Credentialing Opportunities Online website. A few examples of pilot-program offerings include certifications for computer systems security analyst, personal trainer and emergency medical technician.
  • The program will consider many nonaccredited training providers, putting them through a rigorous training process, Engen said. They must be approved by the Army before they can provide training via the program.

The program will better prepare soldiers for the civilian job market, said Col. Sam Whitehurst, director of the Army’s Soldier for Life program, in the statement. “Whether the emphasis in the marketplace is on an educational degree or whether a certificate or license," he said, "this program is going to ensure our soldiers are well-rounded as they enter the civilian workforce.”

Maj. Sean McEwen, director of Soldier for Life education and training, cited the health care field as an example, saying that infantrymen interested in that career path can pursue "some professional entry-level credentials ... while they’re still in.”

Over the years, about one-fourth of Fort Hood’s 40,000 soldiers consistently use tuition assistance and/or participate in other education programs, officials said. Overall, about 25,000 soldiers take advantage of credentials offered by Army Training and Doctrine Command and Army Medical Command each year. The new program will expand these opportunities.