A new program that supports the Army Career and Alumni Program is helping soldiers transition from Army life to the civilian workforce.
Patrick Bean, transition-service manager for Fort Stewart ACAP, said Soldier for Life enables the Army to facilitate soldiers’ re-integration to the civilian workforce. Bean, who retired a command sergeant major after 26 years in field artillery, said the goal is to ensure soldiers leaving the Army are "career ready."
"Nobody stays in the Army forever," Bean said. "Every time we take that uniform off, we have to be something else... (However), until 2011, ACAP was mostly limited to instructing soldiers about preparing for civilian employment with information about resume writing, proper dress and interviewing skills."
He described the steps and programs within Soldier for Life as "moving parts" that make ACAP work more efficiently. He strongly encourages commanders to allow soldiers close to retirement to begin ACAP 24 months before retirement, and those pending an end to their term of service should start the program 12 months out.
The program includes a pre-separation briefing, (military occupational specialty (MOS)) crosswalk (skills analysis), Department of Labor workshop, two Veterans Affairs briefings, and financial planning.
Bean talked at length about helping soldiers assess and learn how to translate their military skills into civilian skills that enable them to connect with businesses and industry through other programs like Heroes 2 Hired, as well as state-run programs.
"If you’re any infantryman, you don’t have to gear your career goals toward providing security," he said. "An infantry sergeant has a lot of supervisor and project manager experience. I always tell people, ‘Don’t think within the spectrum of your MOS but how those (military) skills translate into civilian skills.’"
He said the Army is working with many states regarding what he called a memorandum of understanding that would evaluate certification standards for truck driving and emergency medical jobs, which should be compatible with military skills in these fields.
He noted that infantrymen, truck drivers and medics who leave the service have the most difficulty finding jobs, because most states do not recognize their military training and experience toward their state’s certification requirements. He also said lower enlisted personnel have a higher risk of unemployment.
"Some states recognize military certifications better than others," Bean said. "It’s imperative for individual soldiers to start preparing for their transition by learning about their state’s requirements."
Bean said the Army is doing a much better job in preparing soldiers for civilian life than in the past.
Bob Baldwin agreed. The former infantryman, who served with the 5th Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment, said his three-year enlistment ended 36 hours after he left Vietnam.
"It was a culture shock," said Baldwin, who served as a platoon sergeant during his 12-month combat tour. "I almost went back in the Army. I felt so lost."
Baldwin went to school for a few years, majoring in engineering. He finally settled on a career as a commercial fisherman and lives with his wife near Charleston, S.C.
Bean explained that former soldiers like Baldwin are ambassadors for the Army in their communities and families. He said it’s important that their transition from service not cause them to feel disgruntled toward the Army.
Baldwin said it is important to him to tell today’s soldiers their service is appreciated, which he said he never felt when he returned to civilian life.
Gov. Nathan Deal recently signed a bill creating the Returning Veterans Task Force. According to the governor’s office, though the task force is not connected with any military service program, it will investigate how the state’s agencies can better support Georgia service members discharged under conditions other than dishonorable.
Representatives from Georgia’s Department of Veterans Services, Community Health, Behavioral Health, Developmental Disability, Labor, Defense, and Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia and Technical College System of Georgia will investigate and then make recommendations to the governor, lieutenant governor and speaker of the house for ways to improve the delivery of services to returning veterans.