Whether a service member retires after 20 years or gets out after just one tour, the Army's Transition Assistance Program helps service members and their families transition into civilian life by offering job-search assistance, financial readiness planning and related services.
Since 2010, Russ Dunford, an operations officer with the Engineering and Support Center, Huntsville's Executive Office, has taught a financial readiness class on a monthly basis to transitioning military families as part of the Transition Assistance Program on Redstone Arsenal.
The Transition Assistance Program consists of comprehensive five-day workshops at most military installations nationwide. Professionally trained workshop facilitators from the Department of Veterans Affairs, Department of Labor contractors, State Employment Services, military family support services, or Veterans Employment Services staff present the workshops.
On Redstone, the 40-hour TAP training is broken down into 24 hours for DOL course material, and six hours for VA. The remaining 10 hours are expanded to include guest speakers addressing a gamut of topics from entrepreneurship, dressing for success, benefits and financial planning.
The law creating TAP established a partnership between the Department of Defense, Department of Veterans Affairs, Department of Transportation and the Department of Labor's Veterans Employment and Training Service, to give employment and training information to armed forces members within 12 months of separation or 24 months of retirement.
Dunford said he participated in TAP when he retired from military service and wanted to do something to give back and help other veterans, personally and professionally.
"I consider it a great way for our organization to give back to the community and an excellent outreach opportunity," Dunford said. "I also see it as a way that I can give back as an individual because I once sat in those chairs looking for guidance as I transitioned from the military to civilian life. The workshop was a great source of help for me when I retired so I wanted to build on this experience and give back to those who came behind me with relevant information.
Luis Ortega, chief, Military Personnel Division, Garrison's Directorate of Human Resources, runs the TAP program on Redstone with the assistance of Barbara Moudy, chief, Transition Center. He said Redstone is not authorized an Army Career and Assistance Program center, therefore, they aren't authorized any positions to conduct the TAP and all associated work that goes with it. They are 100 percent volunteer supported, so veteran volunteers with skill sets like Dunford are what keeps the program going.
"Our program started out small, but has grown over the years," Ortega said. "We are developing more programs to help service members and will continue to evolve. We set up this program to facilitate service members who are transitioning and are assigned to this area. Otherwise, they would have to travel more than 100 miles to get to the nearest ACAP locations at Fort Rucker, Ala., Fort Benning, Ga., and Fort. Campbell, Ky. We don't want them to have to travel if we can provide them with the same assistance here."
Ortega said their goal is to help service members make the initial transition from military service to the civilian workplace with less difficulty and at less overall cost to the government.
According to Ortega, TAP teaches participants to conduct job searches, career decision-making, current occupational and labor market conditions, and resume and cover letter preparation. Participants also are provided with an evaluation of their employability relative to the job market and receive information on the most current veterans benefits and financial readiness planning.
Dunford said although he mainly focuses on financial readiness planning during his briefing, he adds other information that may help workshop participants.
"Given the Huntsville/Madison demographic, we expand our efforts to include estate planning, elderly care, social security, college savings and retirement services," Dunford said. "Many of our retirees are the 'Sandwich Generation,' caring for parents on one side and children on the other. We cannot develop a financial or estate plan in one hour, but we strive to touch on subjects that will resonate with those attending."
Lt. Col. Michael Harris, Army Contracting Command, said he benefited from the financial readiness training.
"I've learned a lot about taking advantage of my VA benefits and writing resumes that will help me when I begin my job search," Harris said. "However the financial readiness planning piece made me think about how to keep my finances in order and how to make the right decisions in regards to finance that will allow me to continue to support my family after retirement. Financial readiness planning is now at the top of my list."
Harris said he also learned about what to expect during his transition and take full advantage of whatever services are available to him. He wants to be prepared for when he transitions from the military to civilian life at the end of 2014.
"It gets scary when you venture out into the unknown. Participating in this workshop makes you think about changes to your finances, benefits and quality of life. This affects my overall well-being so laying out a plan is very important," Harris said. "Gaining an understanding of what to expect helps ease any uncertainties I have about what the future holds. I hope to take away information that will make my transition smoother."
Ortega said the TAP Workshop is also a way for organizations to connect with those veterans who are wounded warriors or have a service-connected disability and their families.
Dunford said he is equally excited about reaching out to veterans, especially the wounded warriors. Since the wounded warriors are not singled out in the class, he told all participants he is focused on helping them prepare for the future.
"Although experience shows that veterans generally enjoy a favorable employment rate in the nation's job market, many disabled veterans initially find it difficult to compete successfully in today's labor market," Dunford said. "TAP addresses many barriers to success and alleviates many employment related difficulties. Nationally, unemployment for veterans hovers around 10 percent while the overall unemployment is approximately seven percent. You've served our country and we want to pay it forward. We're giving you some important tools you'll need for a successful transition -- failure is not an option for anyone in this class."
Ortega said he is always looking for new speakers to come and speak to the TAP classes.
"It is so important for us to keep great speakers like Russ on board to share their experiences," Ortega said. "We need more organizations to participate in TAP. That's why I go to all the job fairs, call companies and invite recruiters to participate. I also receive job openings from different company recruiters, which I email to the database of TAP attendees each year. I'm always looking for new ways to help our transitioning veterans succeed after military service."
Dunford agreed. He said he is very fortunate to be part of an organization such as Huntsville Center that supports the TAP program. He told participants he looks at it as a way the Corps of Engineers is preparing for tomorrow.
"I'm getting an opportunity to support our war fighters as they reach this milestone in their lives," Dunford said. "Being able to participate in this program is a sure testament to the Corps' motto of Building Strong -- I don't take this for granted."
For more information on TAP classes at Redstone Arsenal, call Moudy at 313-6481.