A military career is one of the most rewarding things you can do with your life, and it also gives you a fantastic grounding for a second career when you finally leave the service. The skills you’ve learned and the good habits you’ve picked up make you a very attractive option to many employers, so for a properly prepared veteran, the civilian job market is definitely full of opportunities. But there are challenges, too. It can be hard to adjust to a new, very different way of doing things after so long in uniform. The military’s always made an effort to help veterans with this important transition and in many ways that effort has been pretty good – the GI Bill, for example, is the best of its kind in the world.
Almost any system can be improved, though, and following a conference on July 10 at Fort Leavenworth, the US Army will be making some improvements to its own transition program. In fact, the first of these changes are already kicking in; in late June the Army Career and Alumni Program was renamed Soldier For Life: Transition Assistance Program. It’s easy to make cosmetic changes by “rebranding” things – a nasty civilian habit that’s sadly attractive to some senior officers – but there’s real change happening as well and it’s good news for every soldier.
The key element of the new program is the Soldier Life Cycle, and that’s going to start rolling out across the entire Army on October 1. The idea is that transition planning will be a work in progress right through a soldier’s career, starting with an information briefing during initial training. Personal finance lessons will follow during AIT, and then, when they reach their first duty stations, they’ll meet a Soldier For Life advisor to work out a roadmap for their career. This will need to be continuously updated, of course, but it should give a good framework to hang qualifications and financial planning on. Advisors will be able to look at a soldier’s MOS and how it translates into civilian skills – and they’ll also be working with federal and state agencies to see where civilian qualifications can be awarded alongside military ones.
Soldier Life Cycle will split a soldier’s career into two parts – the first ten years, then the remaining time until retirement. The program’s leaders say they’re not looking at civilianizing late-career soldiers, but rather making sure they’re equipped for the change when it does come. Right now transition planning starts a year before the soldier’s expected discharge date, a big improvement on the 90 days allocated before 2012, but even a year isn’t long to put all the career and financial planning in place when the change in lifestyle is going to be so huge.
Soldier For Life is a huge project and there will inevitably be mistakes along the way. That’s bad news, because real people’s lives will be affected. If it all goes relatively smoothly, though, current and future soldiers should get a much better running start in their second career.