This commentary is by Staff Sgt. Jose Flores, who currently is serving as motor transportation chief with SPMAGTF in support of Operation Inherent Resolve in Iraq.
It was a promise I made my parents during my senior year of high school that has pushed me to pursue an associate, bachelor’s, master’s and now doctoral degree — all while enlisted in the Marine Corps.
I was 17 when I enlisted, and needed parental consent. My father and mother were hesitant, but we finally reached an agreement: They agreed to sign for my enlistment, with my promise to pursue college while serving as an active-duty Marine. It didn’t matter where in the world I was, my mother said, even if I was at war, I was to pursue and complete my education.
My parents did not have the opportunity to attend college due to a lack of funding, so it was imperative that I made family history and complete a college degree. It also was vitally important for me to be a role model to six siblings.
After I enlisted in 2008, I quickly started pursuing my education with the assistance of the programs available to service members. In 2010, I completed my associate degree in general studies from Central Texas College while attending classes on base, stationed at Camp Hansen, Okinawa. I completed the degree with a final GPA of 3.6. I can recall leaving work, grabbing a snack and heading directly to the education center to attend my night classes.
In 2012, I completed by bachelor’s in psychology from Ashford University with a 3.8 GPA, graduating with magna cum laude honors. I also worked on this degree while being deployed to the Middle East in 2011, which is why I switched to an online degree plan. Following my bachelor’s degree, I decided to shoot further and pursue a master’s degree. This presented a daunting challenge as I volunteered to serve as a recruiter being stationed in New York. Despite the adversity, challenges and crucial time management necessary, I completed my master’s degree in organizational management with an emphasis in organizational leadership with a 4.0 GPA, earning the prestigious summa cum laude honor.
Simultaneously, I also earned the title of 2014 Marine Corps Recruiting Command Recruiter of the Year.
Currently, I am deployed to the Middle East once again, while I pursue my doctorate of education in organizational leadership from Grand Canyon University, also funded by my GI Bill. I started the doctoral journey in 2015 while still serving on recruiting duty as a station commander in Recruiting Sub-Station Ridgewood in Queens, New York. Returning to the fleet and rolling straight onto a deployment did not phase me nor delay my educational goals, which is to reach the peak of my educational journey as a doctor. At no time did I have any break in service — I have served active-duty my entire career.
Other than a few college-prep, dual-credit courses in high school, I had never stepped foot on a college campus prior to the Marine Corps. I am married and have an 8-year-old daughter and 8-month-old son, so balancing fatherhood, marriage, work, church and school has forced me to be a great multitasker. I have five classes and a dissertation left before I finish my doctorate.
Pursing college in the Marine Corps has in no way been an easy task. I’ve had very late nights, limited social life, and have written hundreds of essays, with thousands of hours of research and reading.
Since I was a lance corporal, I have been advised by many mentors to pursue the officer route. However, I desired to stay enlisted and prove that the enlisted side of the Marine Corps also has college graduates that can excel both in the Corps and in the classroom.
From late nights of writing essays in the field when I was attached to 10th Marine Regiment artillery units, to the streets of New York, to the deserts of Kuwait and Iraq, I refuse to stop pursuing my education. I cannot recall the number of times I have heard someone say, “It can’t be done.”
I want to serve as a living and serving testimony that it is possible to pursue a college education while serving in the Few, the Proud. If you remove the excuses and distractions, you will be surprised at what you can achieve when you set your mind to it.