A Military Veteran Finds A Rewarding Life Through His Online College Program

The U.S. military serves as a valuable launchpad for many of those who enlist. They gain valuable life skills and often develop characteristics that help shape their future success, such as discipline and critical thinking. At the same time, they undertake myriad risks and make major sacrifices throughout their time of service, and beyond. Many veterans leave their military service with varying levels of education and expertise, and some may not transition smoothly to a civilian career once they return home.

This is where online education can play a crucial role--and where education providers need to step up and support our veterans’ needs. Over the past year and a half, an army veteran who emerged from his service injured but determined to overcome the odds he faced, turned to Penn Foster to advance his skills and employability.

Omar Haughton could not have anticipated what was ahead of him on July 1, 2012. Deployed to Afghanistan just three months earlier, he was carrying out his duties as a 50cal gunner, a job he had mastered prior to his company's deployment. He was happy and confident in his position, but competence does not eliminate the risks associated with military service. When an IED exploded in front of him that day, Omar was stunned. He had sustained a traumatic brain injury that left him with memory loss, headaches and an inability to concentrate. Sent back to the states almost immediately, he realized he was going to have to start on a different path. At that point, he had no idea how. All he knew was that he was facing a nearly two-year rehabilitation period.

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Omar's girlfriend had been on the lookout for an online art course, so when an ad for Penn Foster College came on TV one night touting degrees in the fields of skilled trades, business management, law enforcement and more, they both took notice. Omar decided to enroll using his VA benefits, and 18 months later, he graduated with his associate’s degree in Criminal Justice. Shortly afterward, he got a job with Passport to Learning, where he works in the organization’s Judicially Involved Support Services (JISS) division as a forensic adaptive living skills instructor. He combines his criminal justice knowledge with his personal experience to work with individuals with mild intellectual disabilities who have been recently released from jail.

Omar’s work, which involves helping his clients learn how to adapt to life "on the outside," has provided him with the opportunity to give back in ways far beyond serving his country." One of my two main areas of focus are anger management and recidivism prevention, both which can be intense experiences for clients,” said Omar. “Just in this short time since starting the job, I've come to realize how fortunate I am, despite what happened. I have a motivation that was instilled by my parents--something not everyone has. I use that blessing to motivate others."

In December, Omar was selected as the Penn Foster 2016 Graduate of the Year. We couldn’t be more proud to honor him. Quite simply, Omar exemplifies everything we could look for in a successful student: he is motivated and dedicated, and now serves his local community after serving his country in the military.

More significantly, Omar Haughton is a Graduate of Life. He took what may have looked like an impossible situation and turned it into an opportunity for himself and his family that will likely take him to success far beyond his dreams. The role of online educators is to make even greater efforts to meet veterans where they are--whether it’s someone ready to pursue a master’s degree or an individual who has never taken a college course--and help them apply the life skills and expertise they’ve learned in the field to attaining a degree that will set their career success on an even higher trajectory.


Dara Warn is the Chief Outcomes Officer of Penn Foster Education Group.

The GradsofLifeVoice Forbes team provides thought leadership, research and expert commentary on innovative talent pipelines and related issues such as the skills gap, income inequality, workforce diversity, and the business case for employment pathways. We seek to change employers’ perceptions of young adults with atypical resumes from social liabilities to economic assets. This post was originally featured here.


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