Colonel Hazel Elizabeth Benn was a pioneer of the voluntary education program within the United States Marine Corps. After the Marine Corps Institute ceased offering “general education” to Marine soldiers, Benn re-institutionalized adult and continuing education as a legitimate Corps function and professionalized the Marine Corps Education Services Branch, creating the intellectual underpinnings for the idea that education is a core activity in the development of the individual Marine within the unique United States Marine Corps culture. The Marine Corps now calls the Education Services Branch that Benn founded "Marine Corps Lifelong Learning” – a reflection of its true nature as envisioned by Benn.
When the other military services were civilianizing their professional workforce, Benn devised an intriguing and unique staffing system for developing a comprehensive Marine Corps education program. Her thorough understanding of the Marine Corps personnel system and her prevailing influence in making the Marine Corps system work to further the education of Marines allowed her to identify, select and send a few highly qualified Marine Corps officers for graduate education at some of America's most prestigious universities. After successful completion of their graduate work, she arranged for those officers to be assigned as Education Services Officers (ESOs) on specific Marine Corps installations, thus gaining support for voluntary education with the Marine Corps command structure. In this manner, the Marine Corps grew its own well-qualified professional military educators, while avoiding federal civil service costs as experienced by the other military services.
After her retirement from the Marine Corps, Benn served as the Associate Executive Director of the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers (AACRAO) in Washington, DC, and served as a member and chair of the Congressionally-mandated Department of Veterans Affairs Educational Assistance Advisory Committee, during the development and implementation of the Montgomery GI Bill.
As chair of the Department of Veterans Affairs Educational Assistance Advisory Committee, Benn brought first-hand knowledge regarding the serious inequities Congress enacted in 1977 by replacing the Vietnam Era GI Bill with the Veteran Education Assistance Program (VEAP). For quality All Volunteer United States Armed Forces to be manned and maintained, a program of incentives had to be developed and instituted that would attract recruits and sustain sufficient numbers of America's high school graduates to accomplish the United States military mission and responsibilities. Under the advisement of her committee, Congress, implemented the Montgomery GI Bill in 1985 allowing for quality education opportunities for millions of American veterans. By developing and implementing credible GI Bill educational incentives, the United States has been able to sustain an “all volunteer force” to defend freedom around the world, while helping its veterans achieve their educational goals.
When Benn died in 2004, her estate established "The Colonel Elizabeth Benn United States Scholarship Fund" through a trust of more than $100,000 within the Fleet Reserve Association (FRA) in her memory. The new fund enables FRA to provide scholarships of $2,000 for unmarried dependent children of persons who have served or are now serving in the United States Navy as enlisted medical personnel assigned to and serving with the United States Marines.
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