Tips from TAP: Five Must-Dos Before Transitioning Out of the Military
Our new column, "Tips from TAP," will feature tips and advice from TAP managers. This issue, we hear from Fort Hood TAP Manager Robert Schumacher.
While there are differences for someone transitioning from the whether they served a single term, completed a Reserve-component deployment, or retired from active duty, transition holds many common considerations.
1. Get the facts about ALL your options and entitlements.
This may sound silly, but the truth is, most veterans leave the military with knowledge of only a handful of the benefits and entitlements they earned while serving on active duty. Many don’t have a full understanding of their transportation, financial, and leave options, let alone what their status as a veteran truly means, along with the entitlements for which they qualify in their state of record. Ensure you allow ample time to meet with transportation, finance, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), and whichever other agencies play into your transition.
The internet is a great resource, as the VA and every state have a website dedicated to their veterans. When you wait until your separation date to ask the important questions, it’s usually too late to amend your plan or take advantage of certain options.
2. Plan early and work your plan, adjusting as necessary. If you’re married and have a family, remember your transition is not just about you. Involve them in the planning and decision-making. How many courses of action does your plan have?
You had a plan A, B, C, and maybe even D, for nearly everything the entire time you were in uniform, but far too many service members ‘wing it’ when it comes to their own transition plan. Your next job may be your choice, but does your family have input on whether you stay where you are or where the family moves?
Start discussing their concerns and options early enough to lessen the stresses and fear the transition may hold in store. The more input everyone has, the better prepared the family is, and the smoother the transition will go.
3. Prepare your current military team for your departure, so you can take time for your pre-transition needs without having to worry. If you lead or are part of a successful team, trust them to handle day-to-day operations in your absence.
Most successful service members don’t want to abandon their team or let them down. Many feel invaluable or irreplaceable. Although this is a worthy aspect of serving in the military, people will come and go. Realizing change is inevitable and preparing your team for the day you’ll turn things over to your successor should give you the confidence to take the time you need without stressing about what’s happening back at the office.
4. Get advice from those who preceded you in transition. Network. Don’t be too proud to ask for resources to help make your transition successful.
Reach out to those you trust, or who mentored you coming up through the ranks. If you’ve stayed in touch with others who transitioned already, ask what they did right and wrong, and what you can do to avoid the mistakes they, and many others, made before you. The ‘buddy system’ transcends far beyond active duty, so don’t be surprised by how helpful your alums will be in offering their best advice. This is one of many amazing things about the military – veterans love other veterans – even those who may have worn a different uniform.
5. Recapture some of your previous civilian self. Be prepared to leave some of your military history behind. Find out what tools you’ll need to succeed in your new role(s).
You were a civilian before the military, so you should be able to figure out how to be one again – a much better and more valuable one. You will not be the same civilian. In order to move forward, there will be things you will need to let go. Military tales are awesome…at the right time and with the right audience. Be proud of your past, but it’s time to write your next story.
As you look back at all your successes (and failures) in uniform, what would you have changed had you known the outcomes in advance? Envision the new career and challenges you’re about to take head-on. How much time, effort, and research have you given this critical step? Do you know what certifications or training would make you stand out from your very first day?
About Robert Schumacher
Rank: First Sergeant/E-8
Branch: U.S. Army
Location: Fort Hood, Texas
MOS: Aviation Maintenance Manager
After 21 years of military service, Robert spent the next 12 years in Corporate America in HR management positions. He has worked with the Army’s TAP program for the past 10 years, as a counselor and marketing coordinator in the center with the Army’s highest transition tempo.
By Robert Schumacher