FALLS CHURCH, Va- The idiom “don’t reinvent the wheel” is alive and well in the world of Transition Coordinators who assist service members medically retiring from the military. Reinventing skills from the military into civilian speak is a big part of what they do, according to Regional Transition Coordinator Gary Simpson, of Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. “It doesn’t matter what job you did in the military. It can be translated into civilian, or every day speak.”
Transition Coordinators from all over the country came together for annual training hosted by the Army Recovery Care Program in Colorado Springs Sept 12-15. Simpson says one of the challenges they discussed is medically retiring service members not believing they have skills to offer the civilian world.
Retired Army Sgt. Major Jean Chouloute understands and agrees. Today he works as the lead Transition Coordinator for the Fort Carson Soldier Recovery Unit in Colorado Springs. He shared his journey to medical retirement and now best practices with fellow TC’s at this year’s annual training.
“I was medically retired at 29 years from a combat injury, and I went to the medical board, decided to retire but took advantage of everything available. Now I to help others transition out.”
He touts the many resources for Soldiers but says one is a must.
“The Career Skills Program is what we use to help them find a trade and employment,” said Chouloute. Simpson could not agree more and wants anyone separating from the service to know they absolutely have skills to offer when they go into the civilian world.
“The service member regardless of what branch of the military they served in is going to bring to the table the intestinal fortitude and the stick-to-it attitude to get the job done. In talking with employers, I find that those soft skills service members have are what civilian employers are hungry for and in the military, we take those for granted.”
Leadership and IT skills even at basic levels for example, Simpson says, translate very well in the civilian world and every service member has these.
“I sit the service member down and say you have probably gone through the transition assistance class which gave you a snapshot of information overload, but I am here to break it down for you in terms of your resume. I am an expert at that,” said the retired Marine with 25 years of service.
College, university, trade school or certification type programs are all available to help make the separating service member a sought-after candidate for civilian employment. Internships, fellowships, and more are also available. Simpson says some separating servicemembers may overlook these steps because they have more immediate needs, but there is help for that too.
“Where am I going to live, how am I going to pay my bills is usually what we as TC’s hear. We also have in our resource rolodex, transitional housing. We have many resources to help those in transition get to the next chapter of their life. They just need to reach out and connect with us,” said Simpson.
Connecting skills with real world job opportunities await but Simpson cautions job titles are very deceptive. That is where he and the other dedicated Transition Coordinators around the country are subject matter experts and can help.
“When we sit down and look at the position description and qualifications of the job, 99% of the time that service member leaves my office saying Oh my goodness I would have never dreamed that now that my skills have translated, I am doing this, that, or the other job… And all it said in the job title was program analyst or management analyst.” Simpson said TC’s are pros at breaking this down and connecting the dots.
If you are medically retiring from the military, Simpson urges connecting to a TC as soon as possible because going through the medical process can be fast and furious and before you know it you are out of the military.
“The resources are there we just need to go over your goals or needs and we attack from there. And do not worry about figuring out your skills or what you want to do in the workforce on your own. We know how to do this. You don’t see submarines or Bradley tanks going up and down the highways, but those skills translate into civilian work. We can help.”
Chouloute’s best piece of advice? “Take advantage of everything you can before you leave the Army. Reach out to me, I will help you. If I don’t have the answer, I will help find it.”