By T.M. Beller, U.S. Army Public Affairs Specialist
Manuel “Manny” Vasquez, a charismatic Latino graduated in 1987 from what he believes today is still the best high school in town – Aviation High School in Long Island City, Queens.
Thirty years later, Vasquez – now a chief warrant officer 5 in the U.S. Army – returned to his alma mater for the school’s 2016 Career Day March 2nd, where he united forces with Sgt. Christopher Rivera, a U.S. Army recruiter, to talk about Army career pathways to the student body.
First stop, Ivan Dobis’ technical drawing class in room 534 where a group of 35 juniors were learning to draw spring clips, washers, double U clips, tubular rivets, wing nuts and universal joints on their MAC computers.
“Every day in the Army, I use bits and pieces of what I learned here,” said Vasquez. “For example, what I learned in avionics class helped me fix my radar in the Army, so I could locate where an enemy mortar was fired from.”
While most students were quiet and unsure of what to ask, a handful seemed confident enough to venture into asking questions about salary and benefits.
“Every Soldier gets what is called base pay, and you get more the longer you stay in and if you are married with kids like me,” said Vasquez. “Sgt. Rivera can answer your question more directly as I am not a recruiter like him.”
“Base pay for an enlisted Soldier with two or less years in service earns approximately $18,000.00,” said Rivera. He went on to explain the additional allowances – such as uniforms, subsistence (meals) and housing that can add on another $11,000 or more based on a Soldier’s dependent status.
Additionally, Rivera explained the annual education benefit through the Army’s Tuition Assistance Program is an extra $4,500 for a grand total of roughly $34,569. That does not include the additional benefits available through the Post 9/11 GI Bill.
According to Rivera, the roughly $35,000 total does not include the free medical and dental healthcare for the Soldier and his or her dependents plus all the free relocations between assignments.
Vasquez went on to explain to the students that the U.S. Army funded all three of his degrees.
He used the Army’s Tuition Assistance Program valued at $4,500 annually to earn his undergraduate degree in criminal justice from Austin Peay University in Clarksville, Tenn., and he earned his first master’s degree from the Army’s School of Advanced Military Studies at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., a degree that the Army paid for entirely because he was a student in a military training environment.
Pursuing his education further, Vasquez leveraged a portion of his Post 9-11 GI Bill – valued at $70,000 – to earn his second master’s degree from Long Island University in N.Y., leaving $20,000 remaining for his future educational pursuits, licensure fees, etc., for when he departs service.
Clearly, the Army is a not only a creditable partner in education but also a smart career path given its robust benefits package and increases in rank and pay for eligible candidates.
“I stay in the Army because I love it,” said Vasquez, a husband and father of two. “But not a day goes by where I don’t think about the lessons I learned here and how they help me in my current profession as an Army field artillery warrant officer.”
Vasquez enlisted into the U.S. Army Reserve at 20 years old in 1986, and one year later, joined the active component as a fire support specialist. He converted from enlisted to warrant officer in 1993. His Army experiences have led him to France, Italy, Spain, Indonesia, Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan to name a few.
His children have experienced cultures other than American as they have been fortunate enough to travel all of Europe via their dad’s Army career. “I used the Army to move ahead,” he said. “So, when I was 20 and three years out of high school, and I was still living in the projects, I realized I didn’t have a future or a career. It was time for a change, and if I can save at least one of you guys here from making some of the mistakes I did, then I have been successful today.”
Scheduled to retire within four years, Vasquez’ Army pension will cover his living expenses, so that he will not have to return to the civilian workforce and can enjoy his well-earned retirement days.
If someone you know is thinking about joining the Army, you should help them get informed about their decision. Visit www.goarmy.com for a variety of resources to help both parents and students make the best decisions. Or, call Sgt. Christopher J. Rivera at 917-569-3993 or via email at Christopher.email@example.com