[EDITOR’S NOTE: The following story is the third in a four-part series exploring some of the ways Army Community Services (ACS) supports personnel throughout the PCS process and assignment durations while stationed in the Benelux.]
USAG BENELUX – BRUNSSUM, Netherlands – As service members and civilians make a permanent change of station (PCS) across the globe for new assignments, their Family members make that journey with them, and in many cases the moves cause disruption to careers with a series of stops and starts.
Reinventing oneself with each PCS can be challenging. This is where ACS employment programs come into play, helping provide viable solutions and buoy personal resilience.
“I truly believe in the value of employment,” said Chris Bridges, employment readiness program manager for the U.S. Army Garrison Benelux. “I don’t mean in the pay – although that’s important – I mean doing something that contributes in some way whether it is volunteering for employment, working for pay as employment, being a part of your community and making those connections and feeling valued and valuable. That’s why I really love what I do and where I do it!”
In the Benelux a little over two years, Bridges’ military affiliation is comprehensive and she understands firsthand the challenges Veterans, spouses and Family members face with each PCS or transition.
“I graduated from college after ROTC (Reserve Officer Training Corps) scholarship with degrees in psychology, sociology and literature and languages,” she said. “The Army looked at all of that and said I’d make a great engineer. Off I went to combat engineer units and lived the most adventurous life out of probably any psychologist I know for about eight years. But after that time it became apparent to me that with dueling deployments, (Bridges’ spouse is active duty) and babies don’t mix. I was getting about three hours of sleep a night and I needed to get out to maintain my sanity.”
She is candid about the switch from active duty to dependent status, noting her transition was challenging.
“I did not know about a lot of programs and benefits that I could have used at the time, and I was having to reinvent myself every time we moved, which could have been a little as six months to three years,” Bridges said. “Going to foreign countries, learning to speak the different languages just to find my footing was very, very challenging.”
As a dependent with each new PCS, Bridges engaged with military community service programs, learning more and beginning to take advantage of offerings to help her situation. She also reached out to the Veteran’s Administration (VA) for assistance, was connected to the Department of Labor where she received training and began a contract position delivering the Transition Assistance Program (TAP) to service members and their Families.
“It was an incredible experience for me. I got to do it all over the United States and Europe. I became a senior trainer supporting senior officers in transition and was also working with rooms full of fifty Soldiers that might be E4 and below.” Bridges said. “I was trained to handle the Warrior Care and Transition Program (now known as the Soldier Recovery Unit), that brought on a whole lot of interesting challenges – how to help people in that position because of their service-connected-disability who could no longer do the thing that they wanted to do.”
Inspired to learn and do more, Bridges did not stop.
“I really wanted to work from the beginning through to helping people find their footing, find their next career, their next opportunity that was going to suit their aptitudes, interests, abilities and work values. That led to me getting my Masters in Rehabilitation Counseling with a focus on Vocational Rehabilitation. I thought my husband was going to be retiring and I was going to work for the VA.”
Common with this military life, Bridges’ spouse accepted a new opportunity, which paused retirement plans. At a career crossroads again, Bridges decided to put into practice what she advised others on and made a transition into regular federal employment.
“I started to work in the Retirement Service Office (RSO), and then went into plans for a little while before this position opened in the Benelux,” she said. “I find the work extremely rewarding, and the reason is – if I had transitioned well, if I had known at least a little bit then, of what I know now – my pay would be more than what I make.
“That doesn’t seem like a benefit; it can be painful,” she continued. “But I decided to make sure any transitioning Service Member or Family Member from any of the branches would not have that happen, I’ll do everything I can to make sure that they know what they need to know to transition successfully. Of course, everyone is going to make their own mistakes but I’m going to try to keep them from making mine!”
The employment readiness program serves the community in a variety of ways. During the height of COVID-19 prevention measures, one-on-one sessions, classes and job fairs moved to virtual settings. When measures eased, new initiatives deployed.
“We put together an in-person job fair at the end of September last year resulting in 12 new hires,” Bridges said.
In-person job fairs will continue in 2022 and the program offers a variety of classes and support to the whether the individual is a new arrival or in the community for some time.
Career counseling and job coaching,
Employment prospects in the new location,
Preparing a new resume,
Self-improvement workshops and classes,
Job search techniques,
Information on training and education,
Obtaining a listing of current job openings.
Passionate to educate and empower the community, Bridges also offers Dress for Success, Interview Preparation, Ten Steps to a Federal Job, The Stars are Lined up For Military Spouses and resume classes. The latter offered in three parts, quarterly.
“It is such a dense thing there is just no way to teach from start to finish, so I try to do it in bite-sized chunks,” Bridges said.
Bridges said one-on-one meetings can be in person or over the phone, whatever platform works best for the attendee. For classes, if someone is not at a physical location where it is held and they do not have access to Microsoft Teams, any ACS office will welcome the individual and they can use Teams enabled devices to participate.
“A lot of people call after several failed attempts at USAJobs – they know they’re qualified, they don’t understand why they’re not getting referred – by the time they learn the services I can offer it can be extremely challenging.”
Understanding how to apply the CCAR (Challenge-Context-Action-Result) technique and relating it to relevant opportunities is key. Bridges says once people practice the technique, it becomes clearer and leads to referrals, interviews and offers.
“We talk about what do if offered a position and also what to do if not offered the position. Our employment opportunities are a little bit different than other larger installations that are stateside, particularly because of how our SOFA (Status of Forces Agreement) and how it is set up for employment opportunities to work on and off installations. It presents some interesting challenges although there are a lot of rewards to living here. It’s helped me to expand and grow to help people success here.”
Being able to share her experience and expertise with the community is a motivator for Bridges and she hopes the community continues to seek out ACS programs whatever their needs.
“The things they’ll take with them to wherever they go next – whether it’s the next duty assignment or retirement or ETS (Expiration of Term of Service) leaving active duty before retirement – that’s why I really love what I do,” she said. “I encourage people to call even if they’re not sure if they’re calling the right place because if we don’t know the answer we can reach out to each other to find it. And if it’s not within ACS we’re really strong about getting folks connected to where they need to go!”
For more information on Employment
Visit the Employment Opportunities page on our website
For more PCS support
Visit U.S. Army Garrison's Newcomer In-Processing Page
Visit Military OneSource
Learn more about Army PCS Moving Assistance
Learn more about Army Community Services
ACS maximizes technology and resources, adapts to unique installation requirements, eliminates duplication in service delivery, and measures service effectiveness.
ACS program and services include Army Emergency Relief, Emergency Placement Care, Employment and Volunteer Opportunities, Exceptional Family Member Program, Family Advocacy Program, Financial Readiness Program, Relocation Readiness Program, Sexual Harassment Assault Response Prevention (SHARP), Survivor Outreach Services (SOS), Information & Referral Program, Army Family Action Plan, Army Family Team Building and Military & Family Life Consultants.
Stay connected to offerings, how-to-videos and so much more, consider following ACS on Facebook.
Did You Know?
July 25, 1965, Gen. Harold K. Johnson, Army Chief of Staff, dispatched a letter to all commanders announcing the approval and establishment of ACS. By 1967, the majority of continental U.S. installations had initiated ACS centers, and by 1969, 155 ACS centers and points of contact were established Army wide.
From the initiation of ACS, and throughout its history, its volunteers (primarily Army spouses) have ensured the success and support of ACS programs. One Army spouse who made many notable contributions to ACS was Joanne Patton, wife of Gen. George S. Patton.