- I joined the Marine Corps in 1997 and recently retired after 24 years of military service.
- My family was working class, so I knew it was up to me to achieve my financial goals.
- I used the GI Bill to pursue higher education and got a VA loan to buy a house.
I joined the Marine Corps in 1997 as a reservist while studying at the State University of New York at Albany. I decided to join the Marine Corps because I was looking for a sense of adventure and purpose. Although the financial benefits of the military were a tertiary incentive, they were instrumental in my growth.
As a working-class person, my family struggled with the burden of paying my tuition. Beyond that, my parents couldn’t afford to give me money for a down payment on the house. Although my parents were always emotionally supportive of me, I knew it was up to me to step up and give myself a better financial picture than they had.
I enjoyed being in the Marine Corps throughout my college years and decided to go to officer candidate school. I took my oath a few days after graduating from college and embarked on a 20-year journey where I served on both active duty and reserve duty. During this time I served in Okinawa, Japan; Seoul, South Korea; and Stuttgart, Germany, and I also did a combat tour in Baghdad, Iraq.
Not only did I study as a telecommunications officer and travel the world, but I also had the opportunity to use some of the financial benefits of the military. Joining the Marine Corps filled in some of the gaps of not having generational wealth.
There are three elements of my benefits package that have been most beneficial.
1. The GI Bill helped me pursue higher education
As a reservist, I received a limited GI bill for my undergraduate studies, which allowed me to reduce my university costs. Once I was commissioned, I qualified for all Montgomery GI Bill education benefits. I attended graduate school in 2006, before the Post 9/11 GI Bill was introduced.
A regular monthly payment from the GI Bill allowed me to have a full-time year off to focus on my graduate and language studies. It covered my living expenses while I paid for my tuition with savings from my deployment, proceeds from the sale of my first home, and small federal student loans. In addition, being a reservist has allowed me to have an additional source of income while living abroad.
I recently used my last $1,000 in GI Bill benefits to help pay for a digital marketing certificate from Cornell University. My advice is to keep an eye on your educational benefits, as I didn’t know I had this funding available until I called the VA.
2. A VA Loan Helped Me Become a Homeowner in DC
When I repatriated to the United States after studying and working in Europe for six years, I moved to the Washington, DC area. The cost of housing in the DC metro area is one of the highest in the country. However, one of my dreams was to own a small townhouse in Washington, DC proper.
There is no way I could have purchased my DC home without the benefit of the VA loan, which waives private mortgage insurance and down payment. This meant my partner and I didn’t have to spend all of our savings on buying the house. We recently sold our house and made a profit large enough to guarantee our daughter’s generational wealth.
My advice to anyone looking to buy a home with a VA loan is to find a real estate agent and bank that has expertise in this area. My military bank, Navy Federal, provided a realtor who knew how to best serve people with VA loans. We went from contract to closing in less than 30 days.
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3. My VA pension and health care gave me the security I needed to start my own business
When I left active duty, I knew I wanted to continue serving in the reserves. I loved my job in the Marine Corps, but I also wanted freedom of movement, which made it a perfect fit. It also helped me feel confident to start my business because I knew I always had extra income from reserves and access to affordable health care. The Marine Corps Reserve also opens many doors in terms of networking, as many of our members are very well connected.
Last year I retired as a lieutenant colonel after 24 years of service. I will receive a pension when I turn 58 (about a present value of $3,000 per month). As an entrepreneur, knowing that I will have a pension plus VA medical care allows me to take more risks when planning my retirement.
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