Being all they can be
Humanities External Master of Arts Degree (HUX) students deployed around the world still find time to hit the books.

View S U M M E R 2 0 0 3

by Ryan Brandt

Bombs erupted over Baghdad. Saddam's statue toppled like the final piece in a game of chess. Troops struggled to restore order and bring a legitimate Iraqi government to power. And Navy Petty Officer First Class Tristan Cajar continued to study. In the past few months, the world around us has changed dramatically with the invasion and now rebuilding of Iraq. For soldiers enrolled in the Humanities External Degree (HUX) program here at Cal State Dominguez Hills while stationed around the globe, the ability to concentrate in the middle of a world of distractions seems remarkable - boning up on Plato in between operating missions from the Arabian Peninsula,

Above: Tristan Cajar (right) in June, 2004 showing fellow HUX student Tom Duryea the sights in Bahrain. See a larger view on the student testimonials page.

even more so. Whether "keeping the peace" in Kosovo, darting across the South Pacific on supply runs or serving as one of the hundreds of thousands of troops in the Middle East, these HUX students recognize they must take advantage of every studying opportunity they get.

With Iraq 50 miles north of his station on the 240 square-mile island of Bahrain off the coast of Saudi Arabia, Tristan Cajar is a very busy man. At least 12 hours per day, he works as a traffic cop, planning and directing the 300 ships that have occupied the Arabian Gulf, and in the rare moments when he has time to himself, he spends it writing papers and engrossed in philosophy texts.

"Sitting down to write, that's the thing that's missing," says Cajar from his cell phone as sounds of Bahrain's first Muslim prayer of the day are broadcast into the 4 a.m. darkness. "And being able to have the serenity to engage in the coursework is also challenging, I'm just always on the move."

"It's been more of a challenge than I think I anticipated," admits Army First Lieutenant John Nakata from his station at Camp Bondsteel in Kosovo. "I'll set aside certain blocks of time, and then we need to act. Time for studying just gets pushed aside."

There are no Tom Clancy or Ken Follett military spy novels on Nakata's bedside table. No dog-eared copies of The Red Badge of Courage or Tolstoy even. Instead, 60 intimidating hardbound volumes of The Great Books of the Western World collection and a Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy tower stoically over his cramped quarters in piles. Nakata knew he would not have access to a voluminous humanities library in Kosovo, so he brought his resource library with him.
"They probably weigh a couple hundred pounds," jokes Nakata. "But I knew there wasn't a very good library I could get to, and I wanted to complete my assignments as competently as possible."

Distance learning implemented through mail and Internet correspondence, HUX is a master's degree program offering a broad interdisciplinary education in all five areas of the humanities - history, literature, philosophy, music and art - with an opportunity to specialize in one. Because students are never required to come to the actual Carson campus, HUX is ideal for students concurrently involved in full-time careers, and even more so for those entrenched in unpredictable jobs, such as military service. An estimated 25 percent of the 900 HUX enrollees are enlisted in the Armed Forces - a trend the program has maintained over its 30-year tenure at CSUDH.

Extended Education's ability to design the flexible program is only half the equation; the military's longstanding commitment to education is the other.

There are literally thousands of our sailors off the Arabian Peninsula enrolled in courses right now. It's very crowded and very noisy. This is not a Carnival Cruise by any manner.
-Dr. Jeffrey Crowpsey, U.S. Navy Voluntary Education Director

"Offering education delivers on the promises recruiters gave in strip malls across the nation," says Dr. Jeffrey Crowspey, director of the Navy's education programs. Offering learning opportunities and providing tuition assistance - from high school equivalencies to doctorates - is one of the military's most compelling draw cards for bringing in new recruits and retaining those already in the service. In 2002, over 650,000 enlisted men and women took the military up on its promise by completing post-secondary degrees and receiving $187 million in tuition assistance.
"There are literally thousands of our sailors off the Arabian Peninsula enrolled in courses right now," Crowspey continues. "It's not easy for anyone with a fulltime job to complete a master's program, but along with the typical pressures of the average civilian, these men and women get pulled out half way around the world. Then they have to deal with crew quarters where they are lucky if they can jump out of bed and not bump into each other. And regardless of where you are stationed, it's very crowded and very noisy. This is not a Carnival Cruise by any manner."

Certainly, all deployed military students have been forced to get a little creative in completing assignments and finding quiet areas to study, yet they say it is a welcome diversion from their wartime tasks. "It was very difficult at first, but then I realized I could turn my scholarship into a hobby. I am imbuing myself in my work whenever I get the chance. This has been my anchor to sanity," says Cajar.

Motivated simply by learning, to supplement and keep their undergraduate coursework top of mind, or so that they can teach community college courses after retiring from the military, these HUX students have been able to translate their liberal arts education to their highly technical military duties. Cajar learned of a longstanding conflict between two South American countries during a HUX history class. While he was putting the puzzle of war ships together in the Gulf, he saw that his superiors had plotted ships from these two countries to anchor next to each other. He informed his superiors, reorganized the set up and averted a possible feud. On a higher plane, Cajar says the program has contributed to his understanding of the conflict: "The program has given me the understanding that I'm no longer just a cog in the wheel of a war, but a needed part in supporting our freedom."

From Schweinfurt, Germany, Army First Lieutenant Ralan Hill cites from 19th century philosopher J.S Mill's essay, "On Liberty," in explaining the distinct impression his studies have had on his role in the war and as a human being. "Unfortunately, I don't think the world works with as nice clear-cut examples as Mill details, but I learned individuals are the critical element. Being able to adapt with individuals is critical to functioning within any group, whether that is my group, division, the United States or the world."

So as we hunker down in front of CNN to hear the latest update on news abroad, somewhere, a military HUX student is similarly nestled in closet-tight quarters, with books towering to the ceilings, surrounded by the commotion of conflict, and immersed in a music history text. And then after 15 minutes, he's up and back to work again - there's no time to rest for the military HUX student.

Originally appeared in C A L I F O R N I A S TAT E U N I V E R S I T Y,
D O M I N G U E Z H I L L S View, Summer 2003. Reprinted with permission.