As the Army reduces its active-duty force, there are fewer slots for senior enlisted and mid-grade officers. Many soldiers who had planned on a military career have to change their plans, but according to retired Col. Walter M. Herd, director of the Army Transition Division at Fort Knox, Kentucky, the Army is prepared to assist them with their transition to the civilian workforce.
“Soldiers who were expecting, and even those who were not expecting to be selected (for the reduction in force), will have more resources available to them for transitional assistance than any other branch of service,” Herd said, explaining that the Army Transition Division has more than 700 counselors in 75 locations. “There are 40 (transition) counselors here at Stewart-Hunter. They all have master’s degrees and a lot of experience. Fort Stewart’s (transition service) is quite a bit higher than the Army average for ensuring that all separating soldiers are assisted with their transition.”
Herd confirmed that officer-separation and early-retirement boards recently selected about 1,100 captains for separation effective April 30, 2015. He could not say how many captains at Fort Stewart-Hunter Army Airfield were selected or what criteria the Army used to make its selections. He said his focus is on helping those soldiers who are leaving the Army to prepare for the transition.
The retired special forces officer said the number of transition counselors increased three-fold over the last two years in preparation for the drawdown.
“The Army — more than any other branch of service — has stepped out to provide transition assistance,” he said. “Each transitioning soldier has the opportunity to take full advantage of that assistance.”
Transition counselors have a five- to 10-day program, during which they walk the soldier through his or her long-term goals, he said. Herd added that family members are welcome to participate in the transition program. The end goal is to provide that soldier with what he or she will need to start a new career, he said.
He said counselors help the soldier translate his or her military skills into civilian skills. An officer’s job may be that of an infantry company commander, but that includes skills sets in management, training, technology, safety and leadership, he said. He added that these skills, plus self-discipline and dependability, are what civilian employers are looking for.
Herd said another Army transition program is the Soldier for Life program started two years ago by Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno. He said Soldier for Life involves Army representatives talking with American industry leaders and human-resource personnel, educating them about the skills soldiers have, according to their job specialty and rank.
Patrick W. Bean Sr., Fort Stewart’s transition-service manager, said Army officers “bring a wealth of information with them to the table” when they prepare for transition. He added that the Army also is putting a lot of effort in getting most of these officers to continue their service through the Army Reserve or National Guard. While explaining that each state’s Guard strengths are different, Bean said the Army Reserve has slots available in most officer branches.
Herd said that every transitioning soldier will have an opportunity to talk to the Reserve component closest to where he or she will soon call home. Through Soldier for Life, the soldier remains connected with the Army, and through the Reserves, the Army retains that soldier’s training and experience.
“The main job of our Army is to support and defend our country,” he said. “As an aside to that, we produce well over 100,000 soldiers each year who’ll eventually go back to the civilian workforce. For the most part, they’re smarter, better fit, more disciplined and more motivated than their civilian counterpart.”
Herd said most people don’t realize it, but three-quarters of American youth can’t get in the Army because they’re overweight, have criminal records or can’t pass the entrance exam. He said employers are starting to realize that and are looking for former service men and women because they know they’re getting America’s best.