June 19, 2024

I enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1997 as a reservist while attending 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 to my growth. 
As a person from a working-class background, my family struggled with the burden of paying my college costs. Beyond that, my parents could not afford to give me money for a house down payment. Although my parents have always been emotionally supportive, I knew it was on me to get ahead and provide a better financial picture for myself than what they had.  
I enjoyed being part of the Marine Corps throughout my college years and decided to go to Officer Candidate School. I took my officer oath a few days after college graduation and embarked on a 20-year journey where I served on both active and reserve duty. During that 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 earn an education as a telecom officer and travel the world, but I also had the opportunity to use some of the military’s financial benefits. Joining the Marine Corps filled some gaps of not having generational wealth. 
There are three things from my benefits package that have been most beneficial.
As a reservist, I received a limited GI Bill for my undergrad studies, allowing me to keep my college costs low. Once I got commissioned, I qualified for the full Montgomery GI Bill education benefits. I attended graduate school in 2006, before the introduction of the Post 9/11 GI Bill
A regular monthly payment from the GI Bill afforded me a year off full-time work to focus on my graduate and language studies. It covered my living costs while I paid for my tuition with savings from my deployment, proceeds from selling my first home, and minimal federal student loans. Also, being a reservist allowed me to have an extra source of income while living abroad
I recently used my last $1,000 in GI Bill benefits to help pay for a certificate in digital marketing from Cornell University. My advice is to keep an eye on your educational benefits, as I was unaware I had this funding available until I called the VA. 
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 row house in Washington, DC proper. 
There’s no way I would’ve been able to buy my DC home if it wasn’t for the VA loan benefit, which waives private mortgage insurance and down payment. That meant my partner and I didn’t have to pour all of our savings into purchasing the home. We recently sold our house and made a large enough profit to guarantee generational wealth for our daughter. 
My advice to those who are looking to buy a home with a VA loan is to find a realtor and a bank that have expertise in this subject. 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. 
When I left active duty service, I knew I wanted to continue serving in the reserves. I loved my Marine Corps work, but I also wanted freedom of movement, making it the perfect fit. It also helped me feel confident to start my business as I knew I always had extra income from the reserves and access to affordable healthcare. The Marine Corps Reserve also opens many doors in terms of networking, since many of our members are very well-connected. 
Last year, I retired as a Lieutenant Colonel with 24 years of service. I will receive a pension when I turn 58 (around present value of $3,000 monthly). As an entrepreneur, knowing that I will have a pension plus VA medical care allows me to take more risks as I plan for retirement. 

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