BALTIMORE – Between ruck marches, weapons qualifications, and fitness tests, U.S. Army Sgt. Javier Hernandez was not only learning about what it was like to be an infantryman with the 1st Battalion, 175th Infantry Regiment, he was getting an education from his fellow Soldiers.

Hitting the books was not something Hernandez enjoyed when he joined the Maryland Army National Guard seven years ago but then his eyes were opened to other opportunities beyond his service to the state and nation.

“Being around my peers in my unit, I realized there were a lot of medics and cops,” said Hernandez. “They gave me the ins and outs of each profession, which helped me decide that I definitely want to do something in the medical or scientific field.”

Even though he was constantly gaining new knowledge through his military training, he was still figuring out “other things in the real world.” Other Soldiers helped Hernandez understand the importance of college and that he needed to go back to school but he was not sure how to make it happen.

“Before the Guard, I had no aspirations of going to college,” said Hernandez, who was directed to the education office at the Fifth Regiment Armory in Baltimore. “It’s actually pretty awesome using the education benefits.”

Having a free education through tuition assistance made things simple. All Hernandez had to do was maintain a C average but he felt pushed “to get good grades.” He was able to take advantage of educational programs including Federal Tuition Assistance, State Tuition Assistance Reimbursement (STAR), and the post 9/11 GI Bill.

Hernandez is currently a double major in biochemistry and chemistry at Towson University and has a 3.0 grade point average. Initially he hoped to work in a lab making antibiotics to cure the sick but opted to attend dental school. Serving others comes naturally to him.

I wanted to join the Guard to be part of the community; to do whatever I could to help people out,” said Hernandez, who used to work in the same education office that helped him. “I’ve been able to motivate people to go to school and do something better for themselves.”