FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. — Staff Sgt. Moreno Thomas has spent 20 years in the Army as a military working dog handler and instructor, and at the end of this month, he will retire from military service.He credited the Transition Assistance Program, formerly known as Soldier For Life - Transition Assistance Program, with preparing him for work outside the Army.“TAP is great,” he said. “They gave me a baseline understanding of how to survive and be successful in a civilian world.”While TAP officials said Soldiers should begin the transition process about one year before their planned exit from the Army, Thomas encouraged Soldiers to work with the program as soon as possible.“I think that (Soldiers) transitioning, if they know that they have a target window date, they should start at least three to four years out,” he said. “The reason I say that is because there’s so much information. The sooner one starts with just the planning of where they want to live, what kind of work they want to do ... stay in the career field they’re currently in or become a generalist — the sooner one finds that out will help them.”According to Thomas, who is currently pursuing a role in the finance industry, TAP’s career skills program, Hiring Our Heroes, helped him prepare for civilian employment by improving his communication skills and matching him with a three-month internship with a partner company — referred to as a cohort.“I spent about 82 days there with (the company), learning how the financial institution works,” he said. “In the military, we have our own language; we communicate differently. So, those 82 days of having presentations, communicating with professionals in that career field, learning tips when it comes to resume writing, learning how to read job descriptions, understanding what the hiring managers are actually trying to communicate — those were really important and strategic.”The career skills program which landed him the internship helped with networking, too, he said.“After the program with this particular cohort, you apply like everyone else but with the skills, the training and the contacts that you meet along the way,” he said. “It sort of helps you get into the financial institution a little bit easier rather than leaving the military, applying for the job and not having any contacts within the firm.”The CSP allows Soldiers to request the time off from their units for the purpose of benefiting their career, post-military service.“They passed on some great information,” Thomas said. “When you get into one of these cohorts, it basically ties in your permissive temporary duty travel in order to conduct the program with the (CSP).”Thomas said the staff at TAP have made his transition pleasant.“I was able to assist Staff Sgt. Thomas from the start,” said Amber O’Conner, a transition services specialist. “Thomas was an amazing Soldier to work with … His future within the civilian workforce will be much easier with this amazing cohort he attended. These Fortune 500 companies will be eager to pick him up.”She emphasized the value of Thomas’ internship through Hiring Our Heroes.“The career skills program sets up our transitioning service members with cohort courses within a multitude of corporate businesses that provide them with top-notch training and experiences that can translate into skills that can be used on their resume,” she said. “I am glad to hear that Thomas had such a great experience with his CSP.”O’Conner said that her team assists transitioning Soldiers decide what field of civilian employment they would like to try.“Soldiers typically come into contact with us during their TAP week, and then we start brainstorming their ideas for internships,” O’Conner said. “Once their decision has been made, we assist them with their paperwork that goes to their chain of command, through a legal review, and then back to the internship cohort program.”Thomas has not yet decided on a job, but said he is receiving plenty of offers. He plans to remain in the Waynesville area.To get the transition process started, either meet with a counselor at the Fort Leonard Wood TAP in Bldg. 470, Room 2219, or call the office at 573.596.0175.