Life, post-military: ACAP prepares U.S. service members for civilian job market
Army Staff Sgt. Sydney Calderon (left) discusses his post-military career plans with Julie Halstead, a counselor for the USAG Stuttgart Army Career and Alumni Program. Stuttgart's ACAP is open to all service members.

STUTTGART, Germany -- For 12 years, Staff Sgt. Sydney Calderon never worried about job interviews or resumes. He just went wherever the Army sent him, and did what he was told.

But, now that he's decided to leave full-time military service, they are at the top of his to-do list.

Fortunately for Calderon and the thousands of other Soldiers who separate or retire from the Army each year - 72,780 Soldiers received pre-separation counseling in fiscal year 2010 - there's help. The Army Career and Alumni Program provides pre-separation counseling, information on veteran's benefits, and classes on how to nab jobs in the civilian arena.

"It's helped me understand more [of] what to expect once I go home and start going to job interviews," said Calderon, a Soldier assigned to the U.S. European Command in Stuttgart, who plans to separate from the Army in September.

Calderon signed up for several classes at the Stuttgart ACAP facility, located on Panzer Kaserne. So far, he has taken a Transition Assistance Program workshop and is scheduled to attend a Veterans Affairs benefits brief.

"It'll definitely help out a lot," said Calderon, who is looking at jobs in the intelligence field. "I'm learning a lot of things I never even knew."

Stuttgart ACAP offers classes on a variety of topics to all eligible service members in all service branches and their family members.

ACAP seminars address how to apply for a federal job, along with private sector jobs. ACAP students also learn how to target their resume toward specific job announcements, according to Julie Halstead, Stuttgart ACAP counselor.

Each quarter, Halstead teaches an interview preparation course. "I help them polish a 30-second commercial," or quick speech designed to advertise their talents to a potential boss or company insider, Halstead said.

The ACAP office also provides pre-separation counseling, which is mandatory for Soldiers. At the Stuttgart branch, at least 20 service members receive this initial counseling each month, according to Halstead.

During these sessions, the service members fill out questionnaires on their plans for the future and information needs before talking to a counselor.

"I sit down with them, review their pre-separation checklist and elaborate on things they have interest in, and point to resources where they can learn more," Halstead said.

Then, Halstead explains the types of benefits they may be eligible for as veterans.

She encourages all service members to attend a Veterans Affairs benefits briefing, taught through the ACAP office.

"VA benefits have value, not just for them, but for their family members," Halstead said.

Separating Soldiers are required to schedule a pre-separation counseling session no later than 90 days before their estimated time of separation, but can begin ACAP up to 12 months before.

Retiring Soldiers are eligible to begin the ACAP process two years out from retirement, regardless of whether or not they have submitted paperwork.

Halstead recommended that service members come in as soon as possible, in order to receive maximum benefits.

"We encourage them to get involved with ACAP early, so they don't have any surprises, [and] so they're not rushed and stressed at the end," Halstead said.

ACAP can direct service members to where they can find information tailored to their needs, Halstead said. It also provides a buoy of support to service members during the often-stressful transition period.

"One of the best combaters of stress is to have information and be prepared," Halstead said.

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16