From Iraq to A&M, Soldiers Get Ready to Teach

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Coming up with a list of complaints of typical graduate school students might be easy, but four men who have been going through a Texas A&M program certainly cannot be considered "typical."

Capt. Shawn Bault, Maj. Damon Wells, Capt. Adam Hodges, and Capt. Scott Blanchard are some of the first soldiers to go through what's being described as a fast-track master's program. The end result: a teaching gig at the United States Military Academy at West Point.

All but Blanchard graduated in December, and will start their teaching this month. Blanchard still has a semester to go.

"Everybody thinks of a PE teacher as, 'ah, that's PE,'" Blanchard said, "but I don't think they really have an appreciation for the level and the knowledge that goes into being an instructor."

One-third of West Point cadets' grades have to do with physical education courses, meaning those instructors have critical roles. The Army has but a few programs like A&M's where they get soldiers the education they need to teach the next generation of soldiers.

"In our early conversations with West Point, I was resisting the heavy load we were going to place on these soldiers," said B.E. "Buzz" Pruitt, who teaches in the kinesiology department and heads up graduate studies. "The comment came back that they've been in Iraq and have been shot at for the last several months, so this is going to feel like a walk in the park."

Indeed, each of the four soldiers who just completed the semester in the program have served at least one tour of duty in Iraq.

"This is definitely 100-fold easier than any day in Iraq," Wells said. "Worst day here is better than the best day in Iraq."

Those who go through the young program have to meet tough standards of both A&M and the Army. Then, the typical degree track is accelerated.

"I guess we all had the collective assumption that we were pretty smart and that it wouldn't be horribly challenging," Wells said with a laugh, "but since we got the hardest courses up front, it was a big shock. I think we all ended up doing a lot more studying than we had planned on doing."

However, lessons the soldiers had learned in service came in quite handy in Aggieland.

"We're used to dealing with 100, 200 soldiers and really mentoring, teaching, coaching them: be good people on a day-to-day basis, and also good soldiers," said Bault.

"We've been treated like celebrities at every turn," added Hodges. "The acceptance amongst the student body and the Corps, it's a really good feeling to be a part of."

Plus, each man's family came along for their soldier's education.

Pruitt says he hopes the program will continue on. Another pair of soldiers join Blanchard in classes this month.