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.