How Does “Getting Out” Work?

In a Facebook blogging group I belong to, one member asked if any other bloggers wrote about transition, specifically Army transition.  Even though I now work as a Career Counselor helping Soldiers as they transition from the military, I hadn’t before written anything about how the process works in the military. 

The process (for the Army at least) used to be called ACAP (Army Career and Alumni Program) and – believe it or not – it used to be optional.  This means that those soldiers who were proactive about their transition and who had the support of their units, were the ones best suited to handle transitioning from the military.  After noticing that there were some big problems with vets who hadn’t made adequate plans (unemployment, homelessness, etc), the program became Congressionally mandated.  Now called Soldier for Life/Transition Assistance Program (SFL-TAP), it’s a program that every Soldier must go through upon leaving the Army. Each of the services has a similar program, some of which are just called “TAP”. 

What some people don’t realize is that this program works hand in hand with retention, the branch of recruiting that hopes to hang on to good soldiers and keep them serving.  Some soldiers sign up for the program, and then decide that they don’t, in fact, want to leave the military at all.  Not all soldiers have this opportunity to stay, of course, in the current draw down of the military (don’t get me started on that).  But for many, the program’s emphasis on planning for the future helps them see that remaining in the military is their best bet, at least for now.

It usually starts with a soldier calling the program’s office, though some of them are referred to the program due to the forementioned reduction in forces or due to their time in grade (time they’ve had their current rank).  Soldiers who are within 18 months of their ETS (get out of the Army) date, or 24 months from their retirement date, may apply for services.  They will almost always ask to start the “ACAP” program despite the program name change.  Just as with any program, name changes take time and ACAP is easy to remember.  Soldiers are referred to take an online survey and watch a “movie” that offers an overview of resources from which they can choose to learn more. 

After this video, soldiers meet with a counselor to begin their plan.  Many know what they want to do – work, go back to school (hello, GI Bill!), start a business, learn a trade, etc.  Some have absolutely no idea what they want to do, post-military – and despite what you might think, this undecided feeling can be found in people of every rank and background. 

Even if servicemembers are sure that getting out is the right choice for themselves and their families, they may not know exactly what options are out there.  For Soldiers like my husband, who have never had an adult job outside the military, it can be particularly difficult.  They may know what they enjoy doing when it comes to their time in the service, but how do they apply that to a civilian job?

The 5-day class, or VOW workshop, came about from the same mandate that made the program mandatory. VOW stands for Veterans Opportunity to Work, and the workshop consists of classes that were selected to hopefully give each servicemember the best opportunities to create their personal plan.  The Veterans Administration teaches about their resources and benefits, SFL-TAP helps soldiers work out a plan and understand their transition options, financial advisors (also from SFL-TAP) teach a budgeting workshop, and the Department of Labor teaches about resumes, interviews, and the like.  If this sounds like a ton of information, it is. 

I like some of the catchier terms in this program – Transition GPS (Goals, Plans Success) is pretty catchy, no?  If only we all could have a GPS system to tell us which way we were going in our lives!

Each soldier who comes through the program will create a budget and a workable resume, as well as look into job options and create a list of professional references to use in their job hunt.  Obviously I think the program is important and beneficial – or I wouldn’t be working here.  However, a lot of it depends on the individual soldier, their motivation, and sometimes their “click” with the program and/or counselor.  Sometimes a soldier will hear about a side program through us, and that ends up helping them immensely (such as a fellowship program, a series of classes, or other opportunity).  I LOVE when that happens.

Soldiers come from all sorts of different backgrounds, educationally and otherwise.  Those who are going through the Med board process (MEB/PEB) may have tons of appointments to go to while they are also attending transition services.  Soldiers who are transitioning for other reasons may have a shorter time period in which to take advantage of everything.  There is a virtual center online and a toll free number, as well.  (As a counselor with the program, I find myself saying “Open 24/7 except federal holidays” a whole lot.)

Once finished, the SFL-TAP documentation becomes part of the soldier’s clearing packet to officially leave the military.  Services are available post-military, as well, for at least 6 months.

I hope this helps to explain the entire program to people, both outside the service and those considering the program.  Signing up for “ACAP” doesn’t mean that a soldier has to leave the Army – it means they are looking at all of their options.  (I will say, though, that it’s always nice when they call us later to say they have reenlisted so we can stop sending them “next steps” emails.)  My hope is that, by explaining things from the perspective of stages and steps, from within the program, I can at least let people know what the program is about. 

 

NOTE :  As with all things military, this is how the program works today.  It is subject to change.  Don’t shoot the messenger. 

 

 

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Never a Good Time for Goodbye

There are times that every pet owner dreads, and today was one of them. Precious was nearly 17, had thyroid issues and some form of kitty dementia on top of tummy issues and possibly kidney failure. His dementia was probably the worst of his issues, but he also suffered from arthritis due to his special-ness.  Today, we did the humane and the right and the appropriate thing – and said goodbye.

Today, tonight, my G and I will wrestle with doubt and guilt and questions because even if it was “time,” this is quite possibly the hardest and worst thing that can be asked of us.

Let me tell you a little bit about Precious, our sweet old man. He was born to a pure white Mama kitty who belonged to our across-the-street neighbors when Big G was just 6 years old. All of the kittens were white, and we saw them before their eyes even opened. Precious, a boy, was named by this family’s 9-year-old daughter. He had what the vets later called a “radial dysgenesis,” meaning his radial bone grew over his elbow and curved around his foreleg. His toes on that foot were merged, so he had fewer than the norm. Before we had him declawed (for medical purposes), his claws grew wildly, curling around those pink toes. His eyes were the purest mint green, and his fur was rabbit-soft and long. The tips of his ears were pink as the finest shell.  Precious ran like a rabbit, hopping and catching himself on that bad foot – he ran faster than any of our other cats have.  Visitors would always comment on him, both because of his limp and because of his beauty.

Precious has always been my husband’s cat. My G brought him to us the first time, having heard about the kittens after visiting with our neighbors. He carried Precious in  his Army soft cap, curled up tiny as could be and too small to be away from his Mama kitty for very long. We later brought him home to stay, trusted with his care by this sweet family, in that same cap.  Precious would sleep in my husband’s sandal, face scrunched under the top strap. He did this until he was too big to fit, but always had a special bond with the man who loved him first.

It had to be my G’s decision, this last trip. And for that reason, maybe it took a little longer than it would have for me to make this choice – I’ve been down that lonely road, bringing home an empty cat carrier or pet blanket. My G has not. This is a hard thing, to purposefully, deliberately, and finitely affect something in such a way. It is so final. We prayed he’d pass away peacefully in his sleep, but cats are not known for doing things the easy way. Despite knowing it was the right choice and the humane act, it is still an impossible decision and for that reason we have taken many months to come to this day.

Precious was always a noisy cat, meowing  his welcome and calling to us if he got lonely. Part of his illness included an inability to settle, and a confusion that would result in more cries, more yowls.  When his thyroid went bananas, he would cry like a newborn babe and wake even my half-deaf self from a full sleep.  The house is quiet now, despite my attempts to fill it with dishwasher noise and music and other things. It’s quiet, because no one is letting us know their deep hunger/confusion/loneliness/restlessness. Never has quiet been quite so loud.

As I’ve said, I’ve been down that road before and returned with my arms empty. My cat was the first to go, then Big G’s, then my mother’s dog. When hard times repeat themselves, such as deployments or death or decisions that hurt – they don’t get easier for the repetition. Each time builds on the one before, so the grief is huge and fresh inside us. The scars overlap, and reopen wounds we worked hard to close. Tonight’s pain is dark, and heavy.

Today we went down that road together, though, and we returned home together. Little G used her love language of acts of service, and helped take care of some of the cleaning details that come with having a pet who was ill. We came home to a fresh house, cookies that she saved for us, and the knowledge that we would get through this. One thing that is true about going through hard times, is that we learn how to manage our grief. We learn how to push through, how to hold tight, and how to keep fresh and dear the memories of those we’ve lost.

Tonight I am remembering Precious, of the noisy meow and the fierce insistence that he could do anything and go anywhere any other cat could go. I will remember his sweet soft fur, his funny messed-up foot, his surprisingly strong purr. I will laugh at how he used to bite My G’s toes under the covers, and I will think of his first night home with us when he could not sleep so I cuddled with him on the couch. I will remember his first purr that night, and the fat little kitten tummy he had. I will imagine him with my cat, whom he loved. I will picture him at peace.

 

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And it will both hurt and heal to remember it all.

 

 

 

A Little Time Away

I’ve been off Facebook for a month …

I noticed towards the end of January that it seemed I was always on my phone.  And most of that time, I was on Facebook.  Scroll, scroll, pull down to refresh…  Sometimes seeing the same posts over and over, without really reading or enjoying much of what I was seeing.  It was a habit, and it was beginning to turn into a giant time suck.

In the end, I decided that, for the month of February (both my favorite and the shortest month), I decided I would take a Facebook break.  I allowed myself to keep Facebook messenger, so if anyone wanted to contact me directly they could and vice versa.  I also allowed glimpses if my husband shared a photo or story off his own screen, and one afternoon I looked up two candidates for local office because their main websites had good information but not the details I was seeking.  I told a few friends (including cousins I only ever see on Facebook) about the project, but otherwise didn’t advertise it.

No, it wasn’t for Lent.  🙂  But it was the longest time I have voluntarily given up something I otherwise enjoy since I was pregnant and gave up chocolate and caffeine (for Sam) or caffeine (for Becky, who got ALL the chocolate).

I enjoy keeping in contact with my friends and family. I enjoy the opportunity to learn, to reach out, and to share – and Facebook is great for that.  I’ve tried Instagram (nice, but it misses the opportunity for depth), Twitter (great for news feeds and the chance to connect with people I otherwise wouldn’t), and a couple of other short-lived excursions (Google + just seemed confusing).  I keep coming back to Facebook because of its immediacy, the chance for longer conversations, and the opportunities it offers to simply say “me too”.

What did I hope to accomplish?  Well, I wanted to figure out exactly what I enjoy about Facebook.  I wanted to tamp down the habit, however, and get back to using Facebook as an occasional “check in” and update, versus the knee-jerk tic it was becoming.  I wanted to clear out people, businesses, blogs, and other things that I no longer followed. Much like the idea of tossing out any clothing not worn in a year, I wanted to see what I missed the most during this month.  Who, and what, did I really want to connect with?

On Facebook, I’d been doing the social media equivalent of sending out Christmas cards to people with whom I had only the most passing acquaintance – and the price of stamps, or my time and mental energy, was going up.

I deleted my Facebook app, logged off the site on my computer so it wouldn’t be so easy to just type it in (I’d have to go look up my password), and otherwise made things more difficult for myself to accidentally or habitually “click”.  The first few days were the easiest, honestly – I read a lot more books, I chatted with friends I’d intentionally reached out to, and otherwise did more in-depth communicating in ways that mattered.

The last few days have actually been the hardest, knowing the month was drawing to a close.  This is when I took the most careful stock of myself.  Which blogs and businesses did I wonder about?  Which friends’ photos did I most want to catch up on?  Who did I miss?

Here it is, March 1, and my month is over.  I logged in this morning, and looked into some of the groups I belong to.  I checked on some friends and learned of a horrible car accident with potentially life-changing results – and I saw some photos of kids who are NOT allowed to look so grown up.  I saw letters of acceptance, joyous news, and dog stories that were incredibly sweet.  I also spent some time and deleted some businesses and groups I wasn’t sure why I’d added in the first place.  I have more adding and deleting to do over the next few days, but that’s ok.

What I’ve learned over this month is that I really do enjoy the positive aspects of social media.  I like the photos, and the exchange of ideas and news and special moments.  I like the conversations.

But what I’ve also learned is that my time is valuable.  I need to fill it with things that add to my life, whether that’s reasonable and intentional use of social media – or coloring for a while, or spending time with my family, or watching my daffodils grow.  I wrote more this month than I have for a while, and I read lots of books, and I even played some games because I enjoy that, too.  I have learned that intentionally spending my time respects its value, and adds value to everything else I do.

So I’ll still see you on Facebook.  Just not all the time.

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