Retired Army lieutenant colonel to use GI Bill to finance seminary

By Grace Thornton
The Alabama Baptist

Phil Griffith has been in the Army for 21 years. In the past 13 years or so alone he’s moved 10 times, each of those mandated by the Army.

“With each move my family and I have visited a lot of churches,” he said.

And what he saw more often than not was a watered-down version of the gospel. It broke his heart, he said.

“As we looked for a church to settle into in each place, so often we found ‘gospel lite’ everywhere,” said Griffith, who finally found a church where he was comfortable — First Baptist Church, Enterprise. The Griffiths attended First, Enterprise, from 2012 to 2014 while he was stationed at Fort Rucker. “(Still along the way) many churches we visited would study a passage and leave most of the meat still on the bones. I felt burdened for the people in those churches who don’t even realize they’re starving for the gospel.”

Dig in deeply

So he became interested in going to seminary so he could go to those people, dig in deeply to the Word and help them see who Jesus really is. He wrapped up his time in the Army in 2018 and enrolled at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.

And while the classes are intense — so intense that his family was living out of boxes until he could find the time to finish unpacking — Griffith says he’s grateful for the opportunity to pursue his calling.

And starting this spring, Griffith — a retired lieutenant colonel in the Army Judge Advocate General’s Corps — will use the GI Bill to finance his seminary education.

Veteran benefits

The GI Bill, an education benefit established in 1944, has helped millions of veterans pay for college, graduate school and training programs, according to vets.gov. Benefits vary, but a number of options are available.

“For 36 months of class measured in days, I get tuition paid up to $21,000 per academic year. As long as it’s full-time study I’m covered, and I get a housing allowance for the time that I’m in class,” Griffith said, explaining that for the months he’s only in school for part of the month, the allowance is prorated.

“It’s an amazing benefit,” he said.

He also receives a stipend for books.

To be eligible for the GI Bill, a person has to serve in the armed forces or selected reserves for a certain amount of time stipulated by when and how they served. Because Griffith served for 21 years he was able to get his time at West Point and studies at law school covered by his service, and now his seminary covered by the GI Bill.

“It’s a pretty big blessing,” he said. “My girls are 9, 14 and 15, and we felt like this was the time to stop moving and start the next season. This is allowing me to go to seminary while we do that.”

viving spouses and dependents of armed forces personnel or reserves may also be eligible for GI Bill benefits.

For more information about the GI Bill and who qualifies, visit vets. gov/education/gi-bill.