FORT HUACHUCA, ARIZ. -- Changing careers is a stressful undertaking, perhaps even more so for those leaving military service after many years, but the Army has a plan to help ease the stress and show a way through the transition - the Army Career and Alumni Program.

Starting over again is not an easy thing to do. Whether it's going back to school after a long absence, or returning to the civilian sector after completing a military service, the change is a transition that requires patience and preparation.

ACAP,, can help. Currently in its 19th year, ACAP is the principle program the Army offers to assist Soldiers with making informed decisions about their future. For individuals exiting the Army, participating in ACAP is mandatory.

"Title 10 of the United States Code mandates pre-separation counseling. ACAP is the Army's agency for administering that counseling and ensuring the Soldier fully understands their rights, benefits and services. That understanding is confirmed by signing DD Form 2648, after which a copy of that form is placed in the Soldier's permanent file," says Nolan Cook, chief, ACAP.

"An individual has unlimited use of ACAP services, and Army policy considers ACAP to be an official use of time, just like a dental appointment or visit to JAG [Staff Judge Advocate Office]," Cook adds.

"As always, the unit mission is a Soldier's priority and will take precedence over ACAP services. However, commanders are urged to support a Soldier's desire to participate in all of the services offered by ACAP and afford the Soldier the opportunity to obtain information that was identified on the Soldier's pre-separation counseling checklist," Cook states.

Even to an outsider looking in, the benefits of using ACAP would appear to be worth one's time and energy. ACAP provides detailed job assistance training, counseling and resources an individual will need to quickly find a job. According to ACAP officials, this should happen before Soldiers leave active duty.

Officials add that a recent Army Research Institute study demonstrated that the full use of ACAP services reduces the time it takes for a client to find a job, and increases the amount of money they earn.

Taking advantage of the services available at ACAP requires the individual plan ahead, and plan appropriately. "Before an individual decides to separate or retire from the Army he should visit the ACAP Center to explore and compare civilian career options.

"ACAP Express is a major change that allows clients online assistance by enabling them to view the ACAP Center's schedule, make appointments for the pre-separation counseling, obtain resume and cover letter assistance, and view employment study guides," Cook says.

ACAP is committed to providing complete assistance to every authorized user of its services, which includes all branches of the military and Family members.

"ACAP is a valuable experience for the Soldier, and ACAP will maintain a creative momentum, constantly working to better the transition services," states Cook.

"ACAP will continue to work with community agencies to combine strengths to improve existing programs, and implement new ones."

The first step to ACAP is enrollment for a 45-minute pre-separation briefing, offered daily. To enroll, call 533-5764 or register in ACAP Express.