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Sergeants Major Obtain Leadership Degrees

June 10, 2020 | By stephendmartin

by Maj. Gus LaFontaine, Kentucky National Guard Public Affairs

Jennifer Miller (left), State Education Officer, Command Sgt. Maj. Aaron Lester (center), and Sgt. Maj. Chad Jones (right), pose for a photo in front of the Kentucky Emergency Operations Center at Boone National Guard Center in Frankfort, Ky. May 28, 2020. (U.S. Army National Guard Photo by Carrie Rogers)

Command Sgt. Maj. Aaron Lester helps coordinate training for Kentucky Army National Guardsmen from the state’s G3 section. Usually, he is part of the efforts to build training activities for Kentucky Guardsmen. Recently, he’s been on the other side by being the recipient of the training. Over the last two years, Lester went back to school to complete a bachelors degree in leadership. He graduated last weekend.  

“Twenty-two years ago I joined the Kentucky Army National Guard for college and I’m still here,” Lester said. 

Over the last 22 years Lester has progressed through the enlisted ranks, deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, married, and now has a daughter and two stepsons. 

Lester referenced two of the challenges that came with going back to school during a later stage in his career. 

“It was challenging because the family wanted to go do things but I’d stay at home and work on class modules or writing assignments,” said Lester. “Joining the Guard for the education, not achieving that, and having the determination to go back and complete it was one of the hardest things about going back to school.”

Lester completed his degree with a fellow Kentucky National Guardsmen, Command Sgt. Maj. Chad Jones. Jones also obtained his degree in leadership last week.

Jones discussed the benefit of completing his degree with Lester. 

“It was helpful to have a battle buddy. I’d consult with Aaron. He’d encourage me,” said Jones. “Just knowing that you can reach out to someone else and get advice and that they have your back helps you feel that you can do it.”

Jones is nearing the end of his military career in the Kentucky Army National Guard. He was asked about his motivation for returning to school to obtain his bachelors degree. 

“Everyone in my family has a college degree. My dad was an educator. I had a lot of encouragement from my wife. She helped me realize that education never ends,” said Jones.

He offered advice for anyone seeking to continue their education. 

“Talk to the counselors at the school you’d like to go to. The Kentucky National Guard’s education office can also give good advice. It might not be college. It might be trade school. College might not be the path for everyone but trades are included in continuing your education and building skills.”

Jennifer Miller is the State Education Officer for the Kentucky National Guard. She discussed how her office can help service members continue their education.

“We want to help Soldiers succeed and give them the support system needed to succeed on their track. We listen to the Soldier about what it is they’re interested in, what they have a  passion about. They are going to be much more successful when they’re passionate about something and they have that support system. We try to do a really good job of staying involved with our Soldiers and mentoring them through the process.”

Lester encouraged Kentucky Guardsmen to complete their higher education during the beginning of their career.

“It’s much easier if you knock this out when you’re younger before you get a family. It also opens up opportunities for you. Then you have the rest of your life and career to focus on what you want to do,” said Lester. “It opens so many avenues for you to get your education and become a lifelong learner."

Jones agreed, “The longer you put stuff off, the harder it gets. Life is hard, life it tough, but it’s tough for everybody.”

However, he offered encouragement for those that start schooling later like he and Lester.

“Being older has the advantage of being more mature and being able to manage your time better.” said Jones. “I don’t think education has an age. Many people think 18-23 is when you go to college. No, you can be 48 or 58 and go back. Anything to better yourself and give yourself a sense of pride and accomplishment is going to pay dividends in the future.”

The state education office can be reached at

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