Too many service members transitioning out of the military wait till the last minute to use the resources designed to help them to 'change step' back into the civilian ranks, and that trips many of them up said Jason Kennedy of the Soldier For Life Transition Assistance Program.

Kennedy, an Army veteran and a transition service specialist with SFL-TAP said that service members need to begin to begin the transition early.

"The farther out you can start the better. Retirees should really start about 24 months out," Kennedy said. "No one said you had to take all the classes at once. If you start further out, you can take classes monthly, and you won't need to take a month straight. You're not hurting your unit."
Many of the service members transitioning out of the Army at Fort Knox are senior leaders, and Kennedy said they need to realize that their priorities are changing.

"Many of them have the mindset that I have to [keep caring for troops]. I have to be there," he said, "They're not thinking that there is someone out there who will replace me. There's always the next man up, and you need to learn to take care of you.

"It's not just you but your family, and when you leave these gates -- are you and your family going to be successful?"

The program works, and Kennedy said the process begins by letting transitioning service members know that change is coming whether they're ready or not.

"Eyes start to open when they begin to realize, 'hey I haven't done an interview in twenty years' and 'how do I sell myself?'" Kennedy said. "We get them thinking, 'What skills do I have that I'm not thinking about?"

They do this through different symposiums. At one such class, Kennedy explained that retirees speak with retired veterans who have already made the leap.

"The Senior Transition Symposium is a two-day event, and I've got veterans who are out in the civilian world coming back to speak to Soldiers who are retirement ready," said Kennedy. "They're talking about some of the trip falls, but they're giving them that hope, 'Hey, here are some of the hurdles I've faced, but I've been successful. Let me help you.'"

Kennedy said that visits from civilians and potential employers can be an epiphany as well.

"Civilians are coming to speak to them, and they're letting them know, 'Hey, I don't understand what you're saying. We're saying the same things, but not communicating,'" said Kennedy. "'You don't realize that you're speaking military jargon, but you are. Let me help you translate this.'"
Among some of the advice provided in the "Transition GPS: Guide to Successful Separation, a pocket guide for transition service members, is to complete an Individual Transition Plan, prepare a post separation budget to reduce debt, register on eBenefits:www.ebenefits.va.gov, crosswalk military skillsets with civilian skills, develop a résumé, make copies of your personal and medical records and begin networking with the Workforce Development Office.

The process takes time to adapt to the changes, and Kennedy said that what you put into it is what you get out of it.

"We see too many people who come here who are 30 days out, and in that little time -- I can't teach you what you need to know," Kennedy said. There's a lot of things that retirees do not realize about this transition and what all it affects. Your [spouse] and kids are doing this too, and it's best to start early and stay consistent."