By Lt. Gen. Rick Lynch, commander of Installation Management CommandJuly 29, 2011
SAN ANTONIO -- The decision to transition out of uniform is as important as the initial decision to put it on. Soldiers deserve as much support at this critical point in their service as they do with earlier parts of their career. That is why the Army provides the Army Career and Alumni Program and is working to make ACAP even more effective.
ACAP delivers transition and job assistance services to Soldiers to support them in making informed career decisions. These services include pre-separation counseling, Veteran Affairs benefits briefings, and Department of Labor Transition Assistance Program workshops, which cover career planning, job searches, resume writing and interviewing. ACAP services are available to separating and retiring Active Component Soldiers, demobilizing Reserve and National Guard Soldiers, Family members, retirees, and Civilians affected by BRAC, reduction in force or Global Realignment.
In April 2010, the Vice Chief of Staff of the Army directed a thorough review of ACAP, which included visits to ACAP centers and thousands of interviews with Soldiers and Civilians. The study found that while Soldiers are allowed to use ACAP services up to two years prior to retirement or one year prior to separation, they do not always have leadership support in doing more than the minimum required by law, which is attending the pre-separation briefing no later than 90 days prior to separation. However, just meeting the letter of the law is too little, too late. The more Soldiers are able to use ACAP services, the more successful their transition.
Based on the study results and the Vice Chief of Staff’s guidance, over the next few months ACAP is implementing an enhanced 12-month transition program model focused on helping Soldiers develop an Individual Transition Plan and put it into action. Under this choice-based, results-oriented model, Soldiers will have the opportunity to spend up to 60-70 hours accessing ACAP resources, including the pre-separation briefing, the two-and-a-half day Transition Assistance Program workshop, the four-hour VA briefing, and individual counseling sessions. The TAP workshop is also being updated, to incorporate development of the Individual Transition Plan.
The 12-month timeframe is designed to minimize conflict with unit mission requirements and enable Soldiers to take full advantage of ACAP resources. About four out of 10 eligible Soldiers who start ACAP decide to reenlist or join the National Guard or Reserves, while others need to get a solid start preparing for the next phase of their careers, whether it is going to school, starting a new job or starting a business. New policy and guidance on the transition program will be issued in the first quarter of FY12.
The key to making ACAP as effective as possible is leader commitment. ACAP is a commander’s program. Soldiers will take off the uniform at some point, whether through separation or retirement, and it is up to leaders to take care of them until the very last day. Taking care of Soldiers includes supporting their active participation in ACAP, and if a Soldier decides to separate, making sure no stigma is attached to their decision.
It is smart business to support Soldiers’ use of ACAP. In FY10 the Army spent more than $500 million in unemployment compensation for veterans, a number expected to rise even higher in FY11. The Army is looking to reduce that amount by better preparing Soldiers to enter the civilian workforce.
More to the point, it is the right thing to do to support Soldiers’ transition planning. Transition is stressful under the best of circumstances, and right now Soldiers are facing a tough job market. We have to equip our Soldiers to take the skills and values they learned in the Army and translate them into success in the next phase of their career. When Soldiers take off the uniform, we want them to know they made the right choice for themselves, their careers, and their families when they put it on in the first place. It’s the least we can do for their service and sacrifices.