By Ms. Laura Levering (Fort Gordon)September 23, 2019
If you asked Orville "Lee" Wilson where he thought he would be today around this time last year, working at Fort Gordon would not have been one of his responses. After serving nearly four decades in the Army, employment was one of the furthest things from his mind.
Like many of his peers who had dedicated a majority of their lives to the military, Wilson planned to retire, hunt and "hang out."
"Work wasn't in my plans," said Wilson, a retired chief warrant officer 5 who specialized in electronic systems maintenance.
As required with all service members departing the military, Wilson participated in the Soldier for Life -- Transition Assistance Program, albeit reluctantly, he admits.
"When I went through here, I kept saying, 'I'm not going to work, so I don't know why I'm here," he said.
By the end of the program, Wilson's attitude -- and plans -- changed drastically. Now he occupies the office space of his former SFL-TAP counselor, who has since moved on, and serves as the program's contractor installation manager.
Angela Gaston, Transition Services manager, SFL-TAP, said stories like Wilson's are fairly common, especially among senior personnel. More often than not, they have a plan laid out, but then their plan changes at some point in the program.
"Once they come in here and they initiate the process … they attend the Transition Overview, the Department of Labor Employment Workshop, the VA Benefits and Services Briefing … their plan changes when they realize the other possibilities," Gaston said.
For Wilson, the realization began to surface when his SFLTAP counselor asked him about his passion.
"I said, 'I'd like to be doing what you're doing,'" Wilson recalled. "If I had to do anything after the military, it would be helping Soldiers going through transitioning … because I was having a hard time."
Wilson was not alone. Many people struggle as they try to figure out their next step; especially those like Wilson who spent most of his life in the military.
In an effort to help transitioning service members prepare for outside employment, everyone must attend a workshop conducted by the Department of Labor. One of the requirements of the workshop is to apply for at least two jobs. Wilson applied for the position he currently holds along with another at Kroger.
"I always said that if I had to do something after the Army, it would be helping people," Wilson said. "Truth is, I just prayed about it and did my part. I applied. And then somebody actually called me."
The call came during a drive home from a doctor's appointment. Initially surprised, thinking it was Kroger at first, Wilson pulled over to the side of the road and became the subject of a telephone interview for SFL-TAP. Now barely a couple months on the job, the rest is history in the making as he eases his way into civilian life, one day at a time.
In some ways, he still sees himself in uniform; something he doesn't think he'll ever escape.
"I'm a Soldier for life," Wilson said.
The main difference between Wilson in uniform and Wilson in civilian clothes is the latter focuses his attention on helping Soldiers achieve personal goals and in some cases, realize new ones. The other difference is his ability to relax more.
"Every day when I get home, my feet say, 'You should have done this a long time ago.'"
Gaston said that Wilson is prime example of what SFLTAP can do for a transitioning service member if they go through the process and give it their full attention, even if they are reluctant in the beginning, as Wilson was. And with mandated changes on the horizon, Gaston sees more success stories like Wilson's surfacing. A lot of feedback was taken into consideration and service members will see the changes beginning Oct. 1.
"We're excited about where the program is going," Gaston said. "It's actually being tailored to meet the transition plan for each service member; it's not the 'one size fits all.'"
Having gone through SFLTAP prior to the changes to now being on the other side of them, Wilson said he looks forward to a promising future of helping service members continue success.
"The program is good, but it's going to be better," he said.