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To better understand Marines, lace up your combat boots


Will Austin (left), president of Warren County Community College, participates in rope-climbing activity as part of Marine training at Parris Island during a special program for educators.

Photo: U.S. Marine Corps

​Last year, Warren County Community College (WCCC) in New Jersey launched a program that allows military veterans to earn college credits for their service-related experiences. As with other programs at community colleges serving military veterans and other servicemembers, WCCC’s Veterans In Pursuit of Educational Readiness (VIPER) requires, in part, helping them understand the college environment.

So when an opportunity came for educators to sample what it’s like to be a Marine, Robert Sintich, who created the VIPER program, took the opportunity. He also recruited another college official to join him for the week of training at Parris Island, S.C.—WCCC President Will Austin.

“I have a great deal more respect as to what these recruits go through,” Austin said. “They are being trained to be intelligent warriors. They are being very well educated.”

Early to rise

For nearly a full week, Austin, Sintich, and about 75 other New Jersey educators—guidance counselors, principles, athletic directors, and history teachers, mostly from high schools—got a taste of what recruits go through and an overview of the Marines and its goals. Days began at 5 a.m. and went into the early evening. While they did not go through the full Marine training experience, they did get simulations of just about every aspect of the routine.

“We got to participate in a lot of activities; we ate like Marines, we marched around with them, we were treated like recruits," Austin said.

For the Marines, the main goal of the Marine Corps Educators Boot Camp is to educate the educators.

Helping veterans complete college is the main goal

“We are aware that there is a bit of a disconnect between the military and the education system, and this program’s goal is to connect the two because their missions are very similar in nature,” said Sgt. Samuel Nasso, a spokesperson for the Marine Corps Recruiting Station in New Jersey.

Educators have a lot of influence on young men and women’s lives, and the Marines want to show educators how their philosophy connects with education and the types of training they receive that can convey to civilian life, Nasso said. One of the Marine Corps philosophies is the concept of continual professional growth, he said.

“Since day one a Marine is in training to the day the Marine retires, the goal is to strive to be a better Marine and a better individual in all facets of live,” Nasso said. “We want the educators to see the benefits of what becoming a Marine really entails so if a young man or woman approaches them they can speak on the matter knowledgably.”

That message came across to Sintich and Austin.

“I was very impressed with the whole program,” Austin said. “The drill instructors we dealt with were very professional, very honest. I have a great deal more respect for what they do. We got a great understanding of how a Marine thinks and the new high-tech training standards that they go through. It was very in-depth.”

A faster path to a degree

The trip to Parris Island was also an opportunity for Austin and Sintich to speak to the Marines about the VIPER program, which WCCC launched in conjunction with Thomas Edison State College.

“These men and women are being trained in many essential skills that truly are educationally based,” said Sintich, whose son is a Marine. “By experiencing the Marine program first-hand, it helps us to get a better understanding of the whole picture—and lets the Marines understand our program better, too.”

Through VIPER, veterans are eligible to receive up to 34 credits for their military training, plus up to 11 credits for courses directly related to one of six programs of study:

  • automotive technology
  • business
  • computer science
  • criminal justice
  • fire science
  • food and beverage management

This means they could graduate with an associate degree in as little as one semester and then, if they so choose, seamlessly transfer to Thomas Edison to complete a bachelor's program.