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Alumni Stories: Creating a Different Life for Many Veterans

By John Robert Morton, Student and Affairs Liaison, and Benjamin Effinger, AMU Graduate

The military provides servicemembers and veterans with several unique benefits. One benefit is education assistance.

Benjamin Effinger, an Air Force veteran and two-time American Military University (AMU) alumnus, used this assistance to help kickstart his journey to working for his local government. Today, he makes a lasting difference to his community and especially to veterans.

Learning Family Values and Hard Work

AMU graduate Benjamin Effinger
Benjamin Effinger, AMU graduate

Benjamin Effinger grew up in the Midwest, raised by a family of farmers and factory workers. His grandparents owned a dairy farm in northern Wisconsin, and they often spent weekends and summers at the farm doing chores: baling hay, mending fences, milking cows, and mucking stalls.

Benjamin started working outside his home at a young age so he could contribute to his family’s income. Early on, his family instilled in him a strong work ethic and an understanding of what it means to earn an honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work.

After high school, Benjamin had limited options when it came to colleges. He excelled at sports and graduated with honors, but financial restraints prevented him from pursuing higher education. Instead, Benjamin chose to enlist in the United States Air Force and left for basic military training nine days after his high school graduation.

Benjamin served eight years as a Security Forces Member, separating from the military as a Staff Sergeant (E-5) in 2010. During his military service, Benjamin completed duty assignments at Minot Air Force Base (AFB) in North Dakota and Andrews AFB in Maryland, in addition to completing a combat tour of Iraq in 2005.

Pursuing Education While on Active Duty

Prior to enrolling at AMU, Benjamin’s post-secondary education consisted of his Air Force training. That training included Career Development Courses (CDCs) for his Air Force Specialty Code (AFSC), classes for Security Forces and two courses he completed through Minot State University’s Minot AFB Education Center. 

As a young Airman, Benjamin was fortunate to have a supervisor who urged him to use his Air Force education benefits. At the time, fitting in-person classes into his schedule proved difficult, so after Benjamin finished his courses at Minot State, he put his education on hold.

In early 2005, shortly after relocating from Minot AFB to Andrews AFB for permanent duty, Benjamin deployed to Iraq. Upon returning from his deployment later that same year, Benjamin decided to focus on his education.

A NCO within his unit was pursuing a degree from AMU. By December of that same year, the NCO convinced Benjamin to complete a transfer credit application (which netted him nearly 50 transfer credits) and to enroll at AMU. This decision set Benjamin on the path to complete a bachelor of science in sports and health sciences with a concentration on coaching theory and methodology.

Benjamin says, “It was amazing to have a degree path and institution that was portable, and I was able to take on temporary duty assignments and did not have to skip semesters or enrollments due to assignments.

“By maximizing my tuition assistance, I completed my degree while on active duty. I graduated in May 2010 and separated from active duty on June 30, 2010.”

After Benjamin transitioned out of the military and secured civilian employment, he couldn’t shake the education bug. In the fall of 2010, he applied his Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) benefits to re-enroll at AMU and pursue a master of public administration degree with a concentration in security management.

Benjamin was working in the field of higher education campus security. Therefore, a degree that related to government and security seemed a natural fit, given his experience and the Security Forces skillset he’d acquired through his military service.

In 2012, Benjamin and his family learned that his father-in-law had Parkinson’s disease, and they drove from Maryland to California to provide care. Despite his difficult family situation, Benjamin still took courses. In February 2013, Benjamin completed his MPA, becoming a two-time alumnus of AMU.

Finding a Place in Local Government

After leaving the military, Benjamin wanted to continue serving his community. After earning his MPA, he chose to pursue a career in government.

Benjamin observes, “Military veterans are uniquely equipped to impact their local communities through service, so it was a logical fit for me. I possess a deep desire to serve others, and pursuing a career in local government would allow me to affect change and serve people in my own backyard.”

Fueled by this goal, Benjamin started to look for any and every opportunity within Southern California. He says, “I just wanted to break into local government. Public service is where I could make the most impact with my newly minted degree and my experience. I set up lists on Indeed and scoured LinkedIn for leads and connections in local government.” 

Benjamin also routinely checked all city and county websites for programs to fit his professional goals. In March 2013, he found the inaugural cohort of the Los Angeles County Management Fellows Program. He applied, made it through the exam process and was subsequently accepted.

Benjamin started his career with Los Angeles County in November 2013. He served in a customer service management role with the Public Service Division of the Tax Collections Branch of the County of Los Angeles Treasurer and Tax Collector. Over the years, Benjamin has served in various roles and is currently the Division Manager and Operations Chief.

In 2021, Benjamin wrote an article for the American Society of Public Administration (ASPA). He described his military and educational experience in “Local Camouflage: Don’t Overlook Municipal Government Employment for Veterans.”

Related: Alumni Stories: Moving into Transportation and Logistics

Helping to Attract Other Veterans to Government Service

In January 2023, Benjamin accomplished his greatest professional achievement so far: the awarding of a Los Angeles County host agreement with the International City/County Management Association (ICMA). This new arrangement opens the door for LA County to actively participate in the military transition process through a formal SkillBridge program in partnership with ICMA. Previously, LA County relied on external programs to attract veterans to local government service.

With this host agreement, more than 40 departments within LA County can now participate in the SkillBridge Program with the Department of Defense (DoD). It will open the pipeline for transitioning veterans to come back to LA and continue public service in their own communities.

Related: Alumni Stories: Saving Communities through Firefighting

Serving Others Beyond Local Government

Education has unlocked many doors for Benjamin, allowing him to demonstrate his knowledge, skills and strengths throughout his career in government.

Benjamin loves to help others – especially veterans – learn from his own, unique experiences. He has published several articles about leadership, management, and military transition through both ICMA and ASPA.

Benjamin is also an active participant of support organizations dedicated to veterans’ and men’s mental health. He is also a member of the Merging Vets and Players Los Angeles Chapter, which promotes peer-to-peer support for combat veterans and ex-professional athletes.

Additionally, Benjamin serves as a mentor and interim Chief Financial Officer (CFO) for a social support start-up, Heare Brotherhood Company. Through the release of their new app, the company is on a mission to build a brotherhood and community where men can be seen, heard, and loved.

About the Author

John Robert Morton is a Student and Alumni Affairs Liaison and has been with the University for 14 years. His bachelor’s degree in European history is from Troy University in Troy, Alabama. He also completed master’s degrees in political science and sports management from American Military University. As a liaison, John Robert enjoys helping students and alumni to achieve their personal and professional goals.

About Our Department

The AMU and APU Alumni Affairs Office is dedicated to sustaining lifelong relationships with university alumni by providing engaging opportunities to stay involved and connected. We work closely with a variety of stakeholders to strengthen the alumni experience and to offer a variety of benefits, services, activities, and events throughout the year.

As a team, the Alumni Affairs team works to build and sustain relationships with alumni along their personal and professional journeys. We actively look for ways to recognize and showcase alumni, telling their stories to motivate and encourage students in the pursuit of their goals.

If you are a member of the alumni community and are looking for ways to remain actively involved, please contact alumni@apus.edu and speak with a member of the team.

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