Counselors aid separating servicemembers' job search
May 10, 2012
When you begin the process of separating from the military, the first two people you're likely to encounter at the Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall Army Career and Alumni Program office are career counselors Mia Nam and Ramona Dixon. The two help process separating servicemembers by providing an overview of ACAP services, identifying the specific needs of each client, and directing them into the transition assistance program classes that will help most.
Some come to the ACAP office already prepared for the job hunt that begins the transition from military to civilian life. Others come with only rough outlines of what they're looking for in a post-military career, looking to fine-tune their search through the series of classes ACAP sponsors, such as employer panels and seminars on how to start a small business.
Nam, a social worker who worked at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, and Dixon, a former high school English teacher, each brings a wealth of experience to the job. Both have master's degrees and previous experience working with the military community.
"It only takes a minute to register you in the system," said Nam. "From that point we schedule you for a pre-separation briefing, which is the first step in starting the whole transition process."
Most of the clients who come to ACAP already have an idea of what they want to do, explained Dixon. Still, "they appreciate the help," said Nam. "A lot of them don't realize [the office] can do so many things. We set appointments but we always take walk-ins."
"Most [personnel who come in] are self-directed," said Dixon. "We service a lot of [military] retirees -- more retirees than those who are just ETSing [expiration time of service], because the Pentagon is right here. They pretty much know what it is they want to do. They give us an idea and we help them; showing them resources and supplementing the information they already have.
"A lot of our clients are officers at the Pentagon and their duty station is the Pentagon but they're working in Afghanistan or Africa or some distant place," she continued. "They sometimes come here [to the National Capital Region] on TDY for two weeks … and catch a class or two while they're here." Many approaching retirement or separation are constantly on the move even as their retirement date approaches.
"We service some clients who go back and forth to Afghanistan, so we do a lot of stuff electronically," Dixon said. "We assist clients with their resumes from wherever they are. They can fax it in, email it or scan something so we can assist them from a distance.
"We want Soldiers to know that no matter where they are, we're there to help them, especially retirees who can use ACAP for life," she stressed.
"[Clients] can receive our services however they want to receive them," said Nam. "Retirees can receive services up to two years out. They can sign up for classes [early in the process] all at once and take as many as they can, or they can come in a few months before [separating] or even wait until they are clear and have leave. It's up to them as to how they want to receive our help.
"If they decide to do TAP first and then want help with resumes later, that's fine. If they have [a resume] ready that they want us to go through, we can do that as well," she continued. "We provide services for what their needs are. So if they need a lot of help, we'll be there. If they only need a little help right before they clear, we can do that as well."
"From writing a resume to creating a cover letter, interviews, salary negotiation -- anything the Soldier tells us he needs in that initial counseling session we do with him," explained Dixon. "We take thorough notes on that client and put the notes in a computer. Therefore, if I'm not here on a particular day and Mia is the only counselor here, my client won't feel like he needs to schedule another appointment.
"We let them know that you can utilize the both of us. It's only the two of us and we try to make clients feel it's a personal relationship; it's not a matter of, 'I'm the counselor and you're the client.' We let them know you can access either of us because we share and want to get to know each and every one of our clients."
Some servicemembers come in thinking they've already perfected the art of the job interview or know how to craft a resume that grabs an employer.
"Clients tell us, 'I thought I had it all together, but I went there and I learned something,'" Dixon said. "[JBM-HH] has this reputation of offering executive services, probably because the Pentagon is here. Our TAP workshop is the executive retiring TAP. We actually get people worldwide. People call us from Florida, West Virginia -- especially reserve officers. They talk to their counterpart buddies and call us for our executive TAP, coming here on temporary duty to do it."
Helping servicemembers transition to civilian life is more than a job to Dixon and Nam.
"I like the one-on-one interaction. It's rewarding to help. A transition is a scary, gray, daunting task for a lot of people that have been in the military for 20-plus years," Nam said. "It's a new chapter that's kind of abrupt for them. The fact that I provide some kind of comfort, some kind of reassurance… When they leave the office happy, smiling and not with a dreadful face, then I've definitely done my part."
"I like the fact that I'm servicing those who are like me," said Dixon. "I'm a military spouse. My dad was military. These guys [who come into ACAP] are like the people in my Family. Helping the military comes naturally to me."
The JBM-HH ACAP office, Bldg. 230, is open from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. For more information or to make an appointment, call 703-696-0973 or visit the website at www.acap.army.mil.