July 19, 2023
Story and photo by Joe Vinduska
Colonel (ret) John Lawrence is the Director of Human Resources for Fort Riley. That’s right, the entire Fort. He has a lot to manage, but his lifelong career in the military has made him well-equipped to handle anything that comes his way. While his military experience shaped him, he also attributes his education to be equally as important, and that’s something he started back in the late 80s at Barton Community College at Fort Riley.
“I came into the Army with about 20 credit hours, and I wanted to continue, but I ran out of money, so I joined the Army knowing that they had college benefits,” he said.
Throughout the early 90s, Lawrence took classes through Barton whenever he could, between deployments that had him stationed in Germany and Korea. He eventually received his associate degree by utilizing his military training to fill in some gaps on his transcript. He was selected to Officer Candidate School. In the following years, he got his bachelor’s and master’s degrees, but he always remembers where his educational progress got restarted.
“I always go back to my time at Barton because it started me thinking about my education,” he said. “As a young soldier, you really don't think about education. You think about when you've got to go to the field, how you clean your equipment, and what you need to do for your job to get promoted. The instructors were amazing. Nobody had ever talked to me about how my education fit into my career before. That conversation changed the whole trajectory of my life.”
Lawrence retired in 2018 as a colonel and garrison commander, and after a couple of jobs, he and his wife settled down at Fort Riley. Part of his job is to head up the Education Center at Fort Riley, and he loves being able to teach soldiers about the educational opportunities just like it was done for him because he understands their mindset.
“The opportunities here at Barton are incredible,” he said. “Soldiers can get a scholarship that will pay for that associate degree in full, and I don’t think many of them pay attention to that. Soldiers just have a lot on their minds, especially when they're first coming in, you know, you want to impress your seniors, and a lot of them are looking to start a family. You're out and about, and often times when you come back in from working all day, you're just tired. I just want to encourage young soldiers to push past that to think about your future.”
Lawrence remembers his mindset as a young soldier, and he knows it’s hard to look ahead.
“A soldier is going to be a soldier,” he said. “A lot of them are 18 and leaving the house for the first time, and it’s their first taste of independence, so they're going to maybe get a little wild for a little bit, but at that same time, they need to be thinking about the future. I have so many of them tell me, ‘I should’ve listened to you.’”
Visit FR.bartonccc.edu for more information about Barton’s many programs and services to the public and Soldiers at its Fort Riley and Grandview Plaza campuses.