By Carrie Rogers, Kentucky National Guard Public Affairs Office
From state tuition help to the G.I. Bill, education is a central tenant of the National Guard's investment in a well-equipped force.
The latest effort to help Guardsmen continue education at home is the DoD's Credentialing Opportunities On-Line or COOL. COOL is an online workforce professionalization tool for active duty, reservists, and civilian personnel. The platform provides Service members and civilians with an opportunity to learn what credentials are available to them for their military or civilian careers.
"The COOL program is an amazing tool for our Servicemen and women. Not only can they log on and see more than 1,500 credentials available to them, but the Army will provide the financial assistance that for many people, will make that possible," said Jennifer Miller, State Education Officer for the Kentucky National Guard.
The Army's Credentialing Assistance (CA) Program provides Soldiers with the funding to get any of the 1,500 credentials listed on the COOL website. Each Service member may use up to $4,000 per fiscal year for course-related expenses ranging from course enrollment fees to exit exams. State and federal tuition assistance only covers tuition.
While the program provides Service members with ample opportunities to take part in training that aligns with their military occupation, it is not limited by their MOS. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Miller encourages users to view the COOL system as a broadening opportunity.
"With limited opportunities for social gatherings, travel, etcetera, many of us have found we have more time on our hands than usual," said Miller. "Why not use this time to learn something new? You can take a course that will help you with your military career path or learn a new skill that relates to something you're passionate about."
There are a variety of certifications available. Commercial Driver License (CDL), Project Management Professional (PMP), and Certified Personal Trainer (CPT) are just a few. The 1,500 credentials listed on the site aim to provide something for everyone.
Sgt. Samuel Boutilier of the 2061st Multi-Role Bridge Company knew he wanted to pursue a career in cyber security, but without a bachelor’s degree in the subject, he felt at a loss. While attending a retention and benefits seminar, Sgt. Boutilier heard a presentation on the COOL program and learned he might have an answer.
The COOL program offered him the subject area credentials to better develop his portfolio and make him more appealing to future employers.
Despite being intimidated by the thought of adding more to his plate, he gave the system a shot.
"I have a full-time job on top of my Guard responsibilities. It was hard to find the time to make continuing education a priority. But this was simple and flexible. I could enroll in the program I needed, complete it in one week, and take the exit exam on my own time," said Boutilier.
Boutilier plans to continue to take advantage of the stackable nature of the credential system. The CA program allows users to get multiple certificates per year, building their education attainment, as long as they do not exceed the $4,000 allotted that year.
"My experience with COOL was seamless," said Boutilier. "I'm already undergoing the process to complete a second credential this fall."
To learn more about the COOL program and its benefits, visit www.cool.osd.mil or reach out to the Kentucky Guard's Education Office at (502) 607-1138.