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Welcome to Camp Ramadi University

Sgt. Amanda Gauthier, 81st Heavy Brigade Combat Team

Army Spc. Ryan Severson from Headquarters Company, 81st Brigade Combat Team, Washington Army National Guard, spends his off time working at the Camp Ramadi testing and education center. Severson and some of his friends and co-workers created the testing center after he discovered how few education resources were available on Camp Ramadi, Iraq. Sgt. Amanda Gauthier

CAMP RAMADI, Iraq 05.07.2009

Service members on Camp Ramadi, Iraq, can take college courses and complete exams necessary to receive certifications thanks to a resourceful Washington Army National Guard Soldier with a need, some motivation and a few friends.

Spc. Ryan Severson from Headquarters Company, 81st Brigade Combat Team, WAARNG and a couple of his friends spent countless hours after work and in there down time over several months getting a testing and education center up and running on Camp Ramadi. It can all be credited to Severson's drive, desire to accomplish something during this deployment and frustration with the lack of resources available on Camp Ramadi.

"Coming into the deployment I was bound and determined to go home with more than I came with. Whether that's college, certifications or whatever," said Severson. "Then showing up to Ramadi and finding there's nothing pretty much sucks. But I took some of the Central Texas College courses, fumbled through Go-Army Ed and figured all that out. I was planning to fly to Balad to get [information technology certifications]. I started to look into whether I could just do it here and one thing led to another. I filled out the paperwork and got the approval and it has kind of gone from there. It went from Pearson Vue to Pro Metric to all of this other stuff."

During his down time and at night he decided to work toward the creation of a testing and education center for the entire base. Severson contacted the testing company Pearson Vue and after extensive research and a long, arduous process became registered to open one of only five testing centers in Iraq, according to Capt. Aaron Garner, the assistant S-6 for the 81st BCT and supervisor for several of the Soldiers who created the center. Soon the testing center expanded to offer two separate testing companies, Pro Metric (http://prometric.com/) and Pearson Vue (http://pearsonvue.com/). It now offers certifications in more than 90 career fields including information technology, insurance, medical and real estate, and an education center with a computer lab for studying and homework.

Near the beginning of the process, Severson realized he was going to need some help so he began recruiting volunteers. It wasn't long before he had several.

Sgt. Timothy Kettlewell and Sgt. Bruce Nguyen were the first ones to jump onboard and help out in their spare time.

"I saw a Soldier with a dream and wanted to help facilitate that dream," said Kettlewell.

Sgt. Brian Nelson, Sgt. Tobias Suhr and Chief Warrant Officer Philip Keeler, all from HQ Co., soon stepped up to offer their support as well.

"They put in a lot of long hours, mostly on their own time, to make something happen for the camp that was originally assigned to an officer who got pulled away for other functions," said Maj. Paul Fison, the 81st BCT S-6.

The task of getting the building ready was not easy. Since the group was doing this in their spare time, a lot of the supplies came from unwanted scraps.

"We have had to scrounge computers, parts, chairs, lumber, plug adapters and anything you could think of," Severson said.

Almost immediately upon opening the testing center Severson had service members wanting to take certification tests. In the first week alone he proctored seven tests for Marines and Soldiers on Camp Ramadi.

The education center is a 10-seat computer lab with internet access for education use only. Soldiers, Marines and Sailors can come in and do school work, whether college related, Skillsoft or military development. There are also some materials and resources available to take courses with the University of Maryland University College and assistance with setting up those classes. Army Sgt. Timothy Kettlewell, a volunteer from Headquarters Company, 81st Brigade Combat Team, Washington Army National Guard, who helped get the Camp Ramadi testing and education center started, helps Army Sgt. Nicholas Benfield, also from HQ Co., 81st BCT, navigate through his education choices at the center on April 26.

The testing center offers an opportunity for service members to walk away from deployment with a better outlook for their future, whether they plan to stay in the military or move on to a civilian career.

"In the Army, for example, to be a network administrator, you have to have Security Plus and Net Plus certifications," Kettlewell said. "These are civilian certifications that you are supposed to have as a mandate from DoD to be an IMO [information management officer]. We offer those through Pearson Vue or Pro Metrics. We've had Soldiers and Marines get certified, ensuring that a lot of them meet the requirements of their billet or MOS [military occupation specialty]. On the civilian side, these certifications are bullets that you are required to meet to obtain certain jobs. So the contractors, Marines and Soldiers here that are taking these tests are that much further ahead when they get home. They are doing it while deployed, and that's huge. Like Severson said, 'be able to go out of this deployment with more than you came in with.'"

"It gives me an opportunity to complete some distance learning courses that I can apply toward a graduate degree," said Sgt. Brian Nelson, a currently-enrolled student and certified test administrator. "So when I come away from this deployment I will have accomplished something that will contribute to my self-development. Instead of just spending a whole year in limbo, I am able to progress a little bit."

"[Because of the education center] I have been able to accelerate my civilian career and begin preparation for warrant officer school," said Kettlewell.

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