FORT RUCKER, Ala. -- There comes a time in Soldiers' lives when they must transition back to civilian life, which for many can be stressful, but the Soldier for Life program aims to help make that transition a smooth process.

The Soldier for Life -- Transition Assistance Program Center is a place where Soldiers get help when undergoing the transition from the military to a civilian career field, according to Bryan Tharpe, center Transition Services Manager.

"People need to stop by and start talking to us early," Tharpe said. "It's never too early to ask questions and get information."

Although this is a commander-driven program, where all Soldiers are expected to begin SFL-TAP before they get within 12 months of their transition date, the center tries to help commanders by identifying Soldiers who are 18 months from their separation date, as well as providing other information-based tools, added Tharpe.

About 50 to 60 transitioning Soldiers a month visit the Fort Rucker SFL-TAP Center, said Tharpe, adding that AR 600-81 and the VOW Act of November 2011 mandates that all Soldiers with 180 days of active duty attend transition classes not later than 12 months prior to separation from the military.

There are also Career Readiness Standards that transitioning Soldiers must meet, he said, and one of the biggest problems that the center is facing is that Soldiers are not coming to talk more than 12 months before their transition -- a problem that is not only local, but Army wide.

However, Tharpe said if someone shows up at the last minute before their separation date, the Soldier for Life Center will not leave them without help.

"We will do a warm handover to the Department of Labor or Veterans Affairs, even take them down and introduce them, but we will not just leave someone hanging," said Tharpe.

He added that the Army rolled out a new program in October 2014, the Soldier Life Cycle, which teaches young advanced individual training graduates at their first permanent-party duty station, things that only the Soldiers who are transitioning are currently learning. The new goals are to inform and arm the new Soldiers with information that will serve them well over their careers early on, and not have to wait to the end of their career to find out about them, he said.

The Soldier Life Cycle follows Soldiers from the beginning of their service until their Expiration of Term of Service or retirement date.

"During their first year, Soldiers have certain courses that they have to take. With this program, they will be putting the required documents into the Army Career Tracker system and it will follow them throughout their career until they transition out of the military," said Tharpe.

In the program, Soldiers will develop certain civilian career skills throughout their Army career progression that build on one another until the Soldier reaches the end of their service, be it one or 20 years. "The problem now is that Soldiers don't know what they don't know, and we're waiting till the end to tell them," he said.

Career Readiness Standards are introduced early and throughout a Soldier's career with touch points at their first duty station, first year of service, reenlistments, deployments, promotions and, finally, at their transition out of the military. "By the time they reach their ETS, they will be ready for a civilian career and will only need to pull everything they have already done together," he said.

Spouses can visit the Soldier for life Center, as well as their transitioning service member. "Well, they are a team, right?" said Tharpe. "If ever they had to team up and do something together, getting out of the military is the time. The spouses have to know just as much as the Soldier, so they can help each other.

"Come talk to us early," said Tharpe. "Soldiers must complete a pre-separation briefing more than 12 months before they separate from the military."

Soldiers two years from retirement or 18 months from their ETS, or who are thinking about transitioning to a civilian career can stop by Bldg. 4502 or call 255-2558.