What the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill Meant to Me

“I don’t know what to do, man.”

“Just be little more patient, buddy. Trust me.”

My friend Paul Rieckhoff said just a little more patience. I tried to mentally rely on that, but, quite frankly, I’d lost faith in most things.

I left active duty to find an America that had no dream for me to fulfill. I couldn’t find a job remotely close to the one I had before I enlisted. I joined after surviving the World Trade Center attacks. If I had a dollar for every time someone said to me, the months before I got out, I’d be able to “write my own ticket,” I wouldn’t have needed a job.

I did find myself on TV a lot, supporting the mission and fellow veterans as we integrated back into the world. But the truth is I did not want to go on TV. I didn’t really want to do much with the war; I just wanted a job that would, roughly, put me in the same place as if I hadn’t enlisted. I don’t think that was too much to ask, all things considered. But the crony capitalists destroyed the economy. The dream was killed. I had no money. I would go on CNN in the afternoon and sleep in my car at night.

But the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill was going to kick in soon, Paul assured me.

Can it be that good, I wondered?

It is. Paul’s organization Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America spearheaded a benefit that would do for today’s warriors what the Montgomery G.I. Bill did for the warriors of the Forties and Fifties: truly provide education for America’s warriors.

The Post-9/11 G.I. Bill is a government benefit that BOTH sides of the aisle agree is good for the nation. The United States cannot have competing a foreign policy apparatus; we compete with our friends and enemies. The Founding Fathers were very clear that the federal government must provide for the nation’s defense. The Constitution explicitly states that the Federal Government (Congress) “declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water … To raise and support Armies … To provide and maintain a Navy … To make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces.”

As a result, our armed forces must not only compete with foreign nations, but our own private sector for our best and brightest. The Post-9/11 G.I. Bill makes this possible in a new century.

I didn’t join the Marine Corps for the education benefits. I joined to “get some” after running out of the South Tower and hurdling over dead Americans as I ran to the Hudson River.

But after I left the Marines to find the American Dream, at least, had been severely delayed, I must say the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill probably saved my sanity. I went to the 19th best MBA program in the country (Eller College of Management/University of Arizona), and worked, studied, or visited nine different countries. Now I’m completing my Juris Doctorate at Liberty University. So, basically, I’ll have an MBA and a JD with no debt and have even be paid a small salary (living stipend) per month as I complete my degrees.

In 2007, I wrote a very controversial article for Newsweek, arguing for the draft to return, because, America’s most courageous young men and women were in the military, but our most entrepreneurial young men and women were not.

Because of the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill, I think this anomaly has dissipated. We ARE getting America’s most entrepreneurial young men and women now. Who wouldn’t want near-$200K for school at 18?

Paul was right. The wait was worth it. I am forever thankful and blessed to have this benefit, and generations of warriors will share in this blessing.

Mark Finelli was on the 61st floor of the South Tower on 9/11. After surviving, he enlisted in the Marine Corps, and is known to be the only person who ran out of the building and enlisted in the military thereafter.

After serving four years in the Marine Corps infantry and deploying to Fallujah, Iraq, Mark Finelli became an outspoken voice for veteran's benefits, completing the mission in Iraq, and geopolitics. He has appeared on FOX, MSNBC, CNN, and written or appeared in Newsweek and The National Review.

Finelli founded the 100 Mile Hump, a fundraiser for the benefit of the Wounded Warrior Foundation where he and the over combat veterans in the Eller College of Management MBA program hike from Arizona State to the the University of Arizona (120 miles). Mark is currently a J.D. candidate at Liberty Law School in Lynchburg, VA.