When he graduated from high school in Missouri, Dalton Berry wanted something more in life than heading back to the classroom in college. He wanted something bigger, something that would let him make a difference, some way he could give back to his country.
He wanted the U.S. Marines.
Berry enlisted at age 17 as the first member of his family to join the military. When he took the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, designed to measure skills and predict future success, his score opened doors for him in the signals intelligence occupational field.
That, he thought, would fulfill his quest for knowledge while allowing him to serve with a purpose.
Now, six years later, Berry—a sergeant—is not only teaching younger Marines about cybersecurity and intelligence, but the guy who didn’t want to go to college has completed a bachelor’s degree in computer networks and cybersecurity at University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC) and is well on his way toward a master’s in cybersecurity technology.
In recognition of his work and achievements, both military and academic, Berry has been named UMGC Student Veteran of the Year. He received the honor at the university’s Veterans Day Ceremony held on Nov. 10, in the General John W. Vessey Jr. Ballroom at the College Park Marriott Hotel and Conference Center in Adelphi.
Berry said his training and service led him to understand the new warfare that requires cybersecurity, as well as the value of intelligence from combat soldiers in the field. What combat soldiers are seeing on the ground needs to get to the command center, where it is combined with other intelligence and sent back to the combat team. It’s all about maintaining and securing complex communications, and that has become Berry’s specialty.
“Signals intelligence is just going to become more and more dominant as we move away from boots on the ground and into the cyberspace realm,” he said. “It’s critical that today’s combatant has a solid understanding of what we’re doing and why we’re doing it so that we can get that intelligence from Point A to Point B.”
Cybersecurity is essential to protecting that information from adversaries, he added.
Berry’s preparation took him from a Marine Combat Training School at Camp Pendleton, California, to Intelligence Schools at Marine Corps Detachment at Goodfellow Air Force Base in Texas. He studied to be a tactical signals intelligence operator and special intelligence systems administrator. He was then sent to Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, where he was appointed system administrator.
In his first overseas assignment, in 2019, he was deployed with the command element of Combat Logistics Regiment 25 for Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force–Crisis Response Africa. Serving as a communications chief and responsible for overseeing and maintaining high-bandwidth communications, Berry helped ensure that linguists and analysts could carry out their daily duties supporting the mission’s success.
Berry hadn’t been in the Marines long before he realized that a college education was essential to getting ahead. He heard about the advantages that UMGC offered active-duty personnel. He received credit for work he had done through a community college as well as for his military education, setting him up to complete his bachelor’s degree quickly. Then he segued right into the master’s program.
“I was told UMGC was military friendly and you have access to the classroom anywhere in the world,” he said. “No matter where I am, UMGC allows me to take control of my education.”
Berry said that although his faculty and peers come from a wide array of backgrounds, they pull for one another.
“I have fellow students from other countries,” he said. “It’s insane the experiences I can draw upon, just by being in class with other military members.”
He said UMGC also offers the flexibility a man with a wife and two small children needs.
“It’s pretty hectic here,” Berry said. “But the military teaches time management and being effective in what you’re doing. With a school that really understands the military lifestyle, it’s possible to be successful even with all of those outside distractions.”
Berry has continued to advance his responsibilities within the military. He returned to Goodfellow Air Force Base in 2022 and is now a senior instructor for the Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance Systems Engineer Course while working to update the course and train other instructors how to teach it. His UMGC degrees will open the way for him to make the next big step: Officer Candidate School. It’s the only way he sees to fulfilling his potential.
“I would have been much less set up for success than I am now after attending UMGC,” he said.