Minnesota Guard members thrive through education benefits

March 11, 2022 (COTTAGE GROVE, Minn.) — From a saxophone player in the South Dakota National Guard to a United States Military Academy West Point graduate, Active-duty officer, enlisted, and now serving in the Minnesota National Guard, Army Capt. Jessica Haugaard has had an interesting career to say the least.

In addition to graduating from West Point, she received a master’s in business administration from the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Business in 2021 and is currently working towards a master’s degree in supply chain management.

“The military environment is so much more different than civilian life,” she said. “Going to school helps to bridge that gap.”

Throughout her career, Haugaard has served in many roles on several missions, most recently on the Minnesota National Guard’s Task Force COVID. Haugaard and the team used statistics to determine what missions were coming up and how many service members would be necessary to support them.

“Having an education gives you a different lens to interpret the mission,” she said. “It probably makes me the biggest nerd in the room at times, but it’s interesting to be able to justify recommendations to the commander using facts, not just personal experience.”

She began her second master’s degree program in August of 2021 and will complete the supply chain management program later this year. Her course is designed for working professionals and more than a third of her class are either veterans or currently serving members.

The current guard members come from a wide range of backgrounds including both Army and Air Force, part and full-time, male and female, and even a variety of ranks.

For the 133rd Airlift Wing’s Air Force Master Sgt. Tony Hallen, this course has been a challenging yet rewarding experience.

“The biggest challenge is having five us that have drill,” said Hallen. “It’s all about learning how to budget your time, how to lean on somebody and then let them lean on you. The group mentality has helped a lot.”

Hallen works full-time as the 133rd’s distribution superintendent. He enlisted when he was 20 years old after struggling for success in college. The military gave him the discipline to go back and finish what he started.

“It’s a long journey,” said Hallen. “I graduated high school in 1996 and went to North Hennepin Community College. The wheels were not meeting the pavement on a lot of things and in ‘98, I decided I had to do something different. I just lacked discipline, that’s when I made the decision to enlist.”

After completing his initial training, he went back to North Hennepin to finish his associates degree and in 2011, later completing his bachelor’s degree at Bethel University.

“I think it’s important to have different outlets in your career,” said Hallen.

For him, having a degree gives him a sense of pride and accomplishment. However, after a minor surgery last year, it dawned on him that he might not be able to continue serving, asking himself ‘what happens if I have another significant surgery and I have to get out?’

“You have to be marketable,” he said. “I have to do something to make my resume a little more competitive.”

The Minnesota National Guard offers a variety of ways to gain experience and knowledge to help build a resume. Education benefits such as State Tuition Reimbursement, Federal Tuition Assistance, the G.I. Bill, Minnesota G.I. Bill, and the Army Credentialing Opportunities On-Line, financially support service members throughout their educational journey, regardless of what it looks like.

“As you reach various education goals, there are a variety of benefits to take the next step,” said Sgt. 1st Class Teresa Anthony, the Minnesota National Guard’s education noncommissioned officer in charge.  “For example, if you have a bachelors’ degree, a certificate in your area of study may enhance your potential for career growth. You can use these benefits for something other than a degree.”

Both Haugaard and Hallen will walk away from the program without any debt.

“Not having debt is so huge,” said Haugaard. “It’s such a blessing.”

Throughout the course, they have learned how to budget time, work with others, and be a member of a team.

“Having education, especially through any public institution is going to bring a different dimension to the Soldier or the Airman,” said Hallen. “Anytime you can do something outside of the norm or outside of military confines, it only adds to you and to the unit.”

Even though the two guard members, haven’t worked on a project together yet, their time in class has been impactful. Haugaard took time to help Hallen with his resume, something she is willing to do for other service members as well.

“You have to always be prepared for the next stage in life, whatever that stage is,” said Hallen. “It’s amazing on how a resume you can tie your little piece of the pie to the larger pie itself.”

According to Haugaard, you will not regret getting more education.

“It will help you financially,” she continued. “It will help you emotionally and it will help you be able to see a bigger picture.”

By Army Sgt. Mahsima Alkamooneh
Minnesota National Guard Public Affairs