Perhaps the occurrence of downtime is more common on the reserve side of the Marine Corps than it is on Active Duty – I will be better equipped to know the answer to that in a year when I receive my Active Duty orders – but as a junior enlisted Marine I felt that I spent at least half of my day waiting around to do something. The line for supply, the armory, or even just waiting for the next scheduled event of the day was a perpetual state I existed in. The problem with waiting was always that when the NCOs saw what appeared to be Marines with nothing to do, they “found” things for us to do. With that being said, when I became an NCO with a fireteam of my own, I realized the importance of furthering a Marine’s education, training, and ultimately their career. I cannot say that every NCO will be as understanding in regards to college studies, but I would be surprised if military leaders would actively discourage the use of downtime to pursue education, provided it did not interfere with your duties. My advice is to maintain an open line of communication: Ensure your leadership knows you are pursuing a degree, demonstrate that you can manage your courses without it interfering with your job, and makes inquires to see when and if it would be appropriate to study. Even if they understandably do not want you to be spending time typing college assignments, they might be okay with occasional productive studying.
When I found myself with those unavoidable spare moments, I would use it to study. In an online program, you have the advantage of your “lectures” being in the format of readings or books. I would try to carry one of the smaller books in a cargo pocket or in my day pack, and read whenever I had the chance. While Marines played cards or got themselves into trouble, I found a quiet spot to get a head start on my work for the week. Today at my civilian job, I use a Kindle. While opportunities to study in a private sector job are less numerous – I certainly spend less time in lines – I do some of my readings for my Master’s degree on my lunch break or while I have no work to do at the main information desk. This allows me to get a jumpstart, and I set aside the first couple hours after work to finish whatever readings I started and then to write my weekly discussion posts. I reserve paper writing for my days off.
The key for me is to ensure I have my weekly readings set up on Sunday – I acquire electronic copies of my textbooks, and transfer any PDFs onto my Kindle. That way, any spare moment I have is turned to my readings, easily accessible on a small device with excellent battery life. You do not need a Kindle or other similar eReader to take advantage of spare bits of time, although I personally recommend an eReader of the brand of your own choosing for the advantage of having all your books with you at once. The paperwhite Kindle is nice because the screen still has the appearance of a book, without the glare that makes me avoid reading on the computer when I can.
With proper preparation and open communication with your leadership, you can maximize use of your time throughout the day to complete your job while getting a head start on a degree which can further your own career and ultimately enhance the quality of the unit through the knowledge and skills you gain!
By Bradley Hood
Contributor, In Military Education
Bio: Bradley Hood is a Marine Corps Second Lieutenant in IRR status with 5 years of prior enlisted experience. He is a recent graduate of American Military University, and currently is working towards a Master’s degree in Military History through Norwich. Bradley lives with his beautiful wife in historic NJ.