A New Chapter: Going Back to School After Transitioning
News While for many, the idea of retirement conjures up visions of poolside piña coladas in Bora Bora or tooling around in a golf cart in Florida, talk to retired Army Command Sergeant Major William Joe Gainey, and you get the sense that maybe that’s just not his style.
“My new mission in life is to talk to my brothers and sisters in the military about preparing for their next adventure in life outside of the military,” says Gainey. Gainey’s career includes a long list of positions from driver, loader and gunner in the Army to Command Sergeant Major. Gainey eventually achieved the highest ranking for an enlisted member in U.S. military history, as the first Senior Enlisted Advisor to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (SEAC).
When he retired back in 2008, it was simply the start of a new chapter in his military career.
Spreading the word
Despite having combat-related hearing loss in both ears and recently overcoming a stroke, Gainey currently travels around the country speaking with the troops, telling his inspirational story and reminding them to take advantage of the tuition assistance offered to them by the military.
“My new mission in life is to talk to my brothers and sisters in the military about preparing for their next adventure in life outside of the military.”
“I go out and speak to these young troops and senior leaders, and I’m shocked at how many of them do not have a degree. In this economy a four-year degree will get you an interview, not a job. I tell them to go out and get their degree, to stop making excuses.”
A different kind of classroom
While Gainey led troops into combat in Bosnia and Iraq, picking up a chest full of medals and awards in the process, he was also continuously engaged in his own education. Gainey earned a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from TUI University, taking classes online while serving under then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Peter Pace.
“It was a running joke on the plane with General Pace. He’d ask me, ‘What are you working on, battle buddy?’ And I’d say, ‘I’m working on a paper comparing Starbucks to Dunkin’ Donuts.’ He got a kick out of that.”
Traveling nine months out of the year and taking classes wasn’t easy, even for a seasoned warrior like Gainey. “Getting my degree through TUI was definitely a challenge—they made me work my backside off. They will challenge your brainpower, and they won’t give you anything. I counted, and I ended up doing 80 term papers in that program, but I earned that degree and I’m better for it.”
“I was speaking a while ago to a young woman named Sergeant Silvia Herrera. She received her Bachelor’s during combat in Iraq and then got her Master’s while she was in the service, and she was getting on me because I haven’t gone back to get my Master’s,” says Gainey.
Since then, Gainey has received his MAED from Trident University and he is now on the Board of Trustees for the University. In addition, he is currently helping the non-profit organization, Centurion Military Alliance (CMA), help our veterans seek employment after they have served. Gainey is continuously reaching out and speaking to men and women that are departing from the service about the importance of getting their education.