Retiring from the military can be a difficult time but if Soldiers stick to the Army's guidelines, they can have a smooth transition into the civilian world, according to transition experts at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall.

Service members who plan their retirement 18 months before their desired separation date gives them time to attend special briefings that will inform them about all their medical and educational benefits. When retiring, senior officers and senior NCO's should--but are not required, according to Richardson, chief of transition team on Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall--attend pre-retirement briefings, while lower-ranking service members separating are required to attend pre-separation classes.

"These briefings tell them everything they need to know, said Richardson. "They help to point them in the right direction."

Both briefings cover common topics all separating service members need to know including changes in Tricare benefits and GI Bill eligibility. However, the pre-retirement briefings goes a step further by teaching senior officers and NCO's about navigating the job market and proper business attire.

Richardson said service members who start to plan for retirement only six months out from their end of service date will suffer because they have minimal time to complete necessary paperwork and attend informational briefings. Rushing through important pre-retirement briefings equates to less informed retirees who may miss what their entitlements are and what military programs are available to them.

"I see service members coming back after they retire, saying, 'Yea I should have did this before,'" said Richardson. "Especially when you talk about records and stuff because after the fact, you're a retiree. You have to go to the Army Board of Corrections to make a correction. If we catch it while you are still on active duty, we can make the correction there and when you get that [DD Form] 214 there is no need for a 215, a correction to it."

Richardson also recommends retiring service members consider involving their spouses and families in the separation process to help ensure family members are fully aware of what retirement entails. He said involving loved ones also helps stifle the loneliness that service members sometimes feel when they are going through the retirement process.

Spouses of service members attending workshops and classes at the JBM-HH Soldier for Life-Transition Assistance Program office are eligible to attend as well, according to Carlos Rodriguez, SFL-TAP Transition Assistance manager.

"They just need to register," he said.

"[Spouses say], 'this is our retirement and not just yours because we have been with you the last 10 to 20 years,'" said Richardson. "For example, I've noticed that when we go over the changes in the service members' Tricare, [sometimes] it flies over the retirees' head because they are so used to going to the doctor for free. The spouse will catch it real quick. The spouse will ask: 'Hold on, you're saying there's a yearly premium attached to our care?'"

Drawing from his own experience as a former service member, once stationed on JBM-HH, Richardson said he went through the retirement process alone--and it would have helped to have had someone with him, he said.

Richardson also said service members who are retiring should make retirement preparation a priority and give their full attention to the process.

"Once you step out of that door, from my experience, it's a whole other arena," said Richardson.