ACAP at JBLM prepares for drawdown with sturdier policy
February 10, 2012
JOINT BASE LEWIS-McCHORD, Wash.-- "Keep the best Soldiers, lose the rest," echoed through the ranks as a warning of a looming cut of 49,000 Soldiers. It was a stern message by Sgt. Maj. of the Army Raymond F. Chandler III, published in the Army Times, Jan. 7.
"The bottom-line is that you need to be a Soldier that is willing to go above the standard and that is what the Army is looking for," said Sgt. Maj. John Pack Jr., a native of Bronx, N.Y., and command sergeant major for Headquarters and Heaquarters Battalion rear detachment, I Corps.
The strategic reset is an initiative that has already trickled into effect for many Soldiers throughout Joint Base Lewis-McChord as criteria for promotion and reenlistment become stricter. The Army Career and Alumni Program is prepared to respond to the increase of transitioning Soldiers with revisions to the current transition policy.
"The Army is targeting specific Soldiers for retention with a vision of having a quality force over a quantity force. They are seeing that we don't need all these people and that we only want the best," said Master Sgt. Sean T. Lanegan, originally from Beaverton, Ore., and spent 17 years as a career counselor. "Commanders aren't going to give all Soldiers the privilege to reenlist thus a Soldier has to start thinking about their individual transition plan."
The Army Career and Alumni Program was established in 1992 in the wake of massive cuts of personnel following Operation Desert Storm.
"Since '92 the ACAP program has not changed while the Army has and now it's time to adapt," said Sgt. Maj. Vic M. Alvarez, who is from Bronx, N.Y., and the administration and operations sergeant major for ACAP. "Everybody benefits from this program, the
companies are being rewarded for hiring veterans so that all these Soldiers won't end up on unemployment and taxes won't go up. It's win, win across the board."
Originally the program required Soldiers to start the process 90-days prior to their expiration of time in service date and most activities were optional.
"Everybody knows that the economy is terrible, the old adage of 'I'm just going to get out and find something' isn't going to work," said Lanegan who now works in the ACAP center at JBLM as a trainer and developer and is retiring this year."
The current policy, following Department of the Army execution order 054-12 and the passing of the Vow to Hire Heroes Act, requires Soldiers to start the process 12-18 months from their ETS. It also mandates that they develop an individual transition plan, have a resume before their ETS date and register with Veteran Affairs and Department of Labor.
"This new program gives Soldiers a better opportunity to focus their goals, to develop a definitive plan and gives them all the resources they need to succeed with their plan," said Lanegan.
The ACAP center at JBLM took it a step further by expanding the policy to include five mandated counseling sessions, four specific career paths and an overall more organized and extensive transition process. The new policy awaits legal approval and command signatures to make it official.
"We want to take care of people and that is our main priority," said Army reservist Maj. Robin J. Baker, a Bremerton, Wash., native, and program manager of ACAP at JBLM. "Their rate of success is significantly lower if we do not check-up with them regularly to make sure they are on track. Not only that, if you don't make things mandatory people don't do them."
Baker also described how the changes will ensure that unit's are allowing their Soldiers enough time to get the most out of the ACAP process with a 70-hour requirement over no less than a 12-month period. The four tracks offered by the refined policy are education, standard track, apprenticeship and small business.
"The goal is to get from sitting in these classes listening to the briefings to having actual products in their hand as they walk out the door. Whether it be an acceptance letter to a college for the education track, a job for standard track, an apprenticeship or a small business plan," said Baker who hopes to have the final policy published within the next month.
The Army Career and Alumni program builds a bridge of passage connecting transitioning military members to the civilian sector and protecting Soldiers from a river of uncertainty.
"ACAP helps me shape my exit plan. It provides me with different perspectives so that I can line-up my resume properly. It helps to build my confidence about leaving and that is the biggest thing," said San Diego, Calif., native Sgt. Maj. Lee C. Baleme who is preparing for retirement.
The program offers writing and interview classes, opportunities to network, information on national job offerings and several other resources. According to many who are going through the transition process, the only way to take advantage of all that the transition program has to offer is to start early.
"Transitioning from the military should happen from day one when the Soldier enters. Make a plan and stick with it. Many Soldiers are undecided or don't have very definite plans," said Lanegan. "You should progress in your civilian goals at the same rate that you do your military ones. It shouldn't be something that is just made (as) a decision when I'm getting close to my ETS date."
Every service member transitions out of the military, some on better terms than others, but all Soldiers will walk into ACAP's doors to prepare for their final step out.