FORT RILEY, Kan. (Army News Service, Aug. 23 2007) - It's something nearly every Soldier will face sooner or later: transitioning from the Army to civilian life. Whether they choose to do so after seven years or 27, the changes in lifestyle and environment can conjure up every emotion in the book. Regardless of what they go on to do, many say their time in the Army more than prepared them for what they tackled next.

Retired Sgt. Maj. Tom Kelly was once the reenlistment sergeant major here. Now, after more than 25 years in the Army, he works at the post's Education Services Center. In many ways, he said, he's still doing what he has always done - helping Soldiers.

"One of the reasons I wanted to stay here is that Fort Riley is right here," retired Sgt. Maj. Kelly said. "So it's what I know, and it's nice to continue to be able to work with Soldiers."

Retired Sgt. Maj. Kelly is quick to say the educational opportunities he received from the Army helped him secure his after after-retirement job. When entered the Army, he had just 15 college-credit hours.

"Through tuition assistance and other Army programs, I was able to earn my master's degree at very little cost to me, other than time and effort," he said. "Now this job allows me to help others do the same thing."

Many Soldiers are motivated to improve themselves educationally, retired Sgt. Maj. Kelly said, but often don't know how to make the most of what is available to them. He also said being prepared educationally will help in whatever future endeavor a Soldier decides to pursue.

"First be financially prepared," retired Sgt. Maj. Kelly said of retirement. "I'd been considering retirement for three years, but waited until we were really ready for me to retire. Then be educationally prepared. Education is what gets your foot in the door. I wouldn't be working here without a master's degree."

Even though he knew he was prepared for retirement, retired Sgt. Maj. Kelly said he still felt some apprehension as his final day as an active-duty Soldier approached.

"When you've been doing something for 25 years, to step out makes you a little nervous," he said.

Mike Netherland left the Army after a little more than seven years. After serving in the enlisted ranks from 1998 to 2001, he pursued a Reserve Officers' Training Corps scholarship and was commissioned as an infantry officer. He later deployed to Iraq with the 1st Infantry Division's 1st Battalion, 41st Infantry Regiment, 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team.

Mr. Netherland said he expected to miss the Army, the uniform and the camaraderie, and was surprised to find himself missing smaller the little things.

"... it really dawns on you that you can't go to the commissary or the Post Exchange anymore. I have insurance through ERA, but there are still co-payments for doctor's visits or prescriptions. It's the little things the Army gives you," he said.

Mr. Netherland found himself at a turning point nearly a year ago, caught between getting out of the Army or volunteering to serve on a military transition team. "I thought about it for about six months and just could not make up my mind."

He decided to get out of the Army and while purchasing rental property, he realized how much he enjoyed it.

"I love helping people and I love houses," he said. "The home is such an important part of the American dream, and to help people find that for themselves is a wonderful opportunity."

Mr. Netherland said the skills he learned while in the Army help him now in the civilian world - skills such as communication, dealing with people and being a leader.

"The Army just made me a better person," he said. "The Army really teaches us, regardless of mission or situation, to get the job done."

Mr. Netherland said it is important that Soldiers take their time while deciding how long to stay in the Army.

"You really have to think about it at least a year or maybe two out," he said. "And answer questions like 'Where am I going to live'' 'Where am I going to work'' and 'What kind of lifestyle am I going to have on the wages I'm likely to earn''"

Because of the skills he gained while in the Army, Mr. Netherland said he was confident of future pursuits.

"The Army taught me many different skills I can use anywhere," he said. "I feel I can do anything because of that."

(Anna Staatz writes for the Fort Riley "Post.")