By Rob McIlvaineSeptember 20, 2011
WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Sept. 20, 2011) -- A year ago, with the drawdown in Iraq and Afghanistan, Army senior leaders began to revamp the Army's transition process so personnel -- active and Reserve Components, spouses and retirees -- could become productive citizens for the nation and lifelong recruiters to help sustain an all-volunteer force.
"This was similar to the drawdown that was done after Desert Storm I," said Col. Ed Mason, chief of Army Transition Policy Initiatives.
"So the Army said, let's look at the way we do business -- let's modernize, let's improve it -- and be prepared for the future challenges that we're going to have."
With the unemployment rate for veterans in the 20 to 24 age group at 31 percent, compared to the national average of the same age group at 15 percent, the Army has focused on ensuring a beneficial transition for the 130,000 to 150,000 people who transition out of the Army every year, Mason said.
"This unemployment rate for veterans is a burning platform because they're going into the roughest economy since the Great Depression," he said.
The Army has a special trust with the nation, and families trust their greatest treasure -- the best and brightest children that they have to offer the Army, he said.
"So they come in the Army and we make them Army strong. Now it's our turn to return them to the nation so they can become leaders, using their experience and the training and education they received in the Army to be leaders in the communities, (continuing) to be Army strong forever," Mason said.
TRANSITION BECOMES A COMMANDER'S PROGRAM
"We're looking at a capstone regulation that integrates all the different pieces and parts of transition, because there's a lot of different regulations out there, but there was nothing that was tying them all together," Mason said.
The first part of this transition policy, he said, will focus on what commanders of both the active and Reserve Components can do right now to better prepare their Soldiers for separation and demobilization.
"Transition Policy is now a commander's program. Before, the installation staff officers were responsible for executing the Army Continuing Education System and The Army Career and Alumni Program -- the training for our Soldiers. They didn't have responsibility for the Soldiers, so if the Soldiers came or not, they had no control of them. Now, the commanders are responsible for getting their people to the transition training," Mason said.
One of the reasons some Soldiers didn't sign up for ACAP was the stigma involved.
"An outcome of a West Point study was (the discovery of) a stigma associated with ACAP. And the stigma was that you're leaving the team. If you don't re-enlist, you're going to ACAP, you're leaving the team. So the commanders would say, 'I'm going to focus on my people who are staying with the team, because I have to prepare for my next deployment,'" Mason said.
Under the new transition policy, commanders will still care about all their people who stay in, but they will also focus on the needs of those individuals that are going to transition back to society. That's the primary reason why it's the commander's program, he said.
"The program will mature from this first phase, but at this time we're saying Soldiers must begin their separation processing no later than 12 months prior to their separation from service," Mason said.
This means Soldiers might have to start 18 months prior to their transition.
"So you start the process early. And this isn't just active component, it's also Guard and Reserve who mobilize and deploy and they even have more challenges once they redeploy and reintegrate with their communities. Sometimes their job isn't there when they get back. Sometimes they have to find another job, so this program is really meant to help them as well -- provide different capabilities to those Soldiers. That's what we mean by holistic," Mason said.
TRANSITION A PART OF LIFE
"No one stays forever. We all know that. So why would we not want to help those individuals leave, to be successful, feel good about their service?" asked Mason, adding that as the transition policy matures, and after Soldiers graduate from basic combat training and advanced individual training and get to their first assignment, they will begin to think about transition through all their different lifecycles.
At some point in each Soldier's life, he or she will be faced with a transition of some sort -- component change, separation, retirement.
"So we're going to move from just a focus on separation, or demobilization for the Guard and the Reserve, to key events through the Soldier's lifecycle. What I mean by that, is when you PCS (permanently change duty station), that's a transition. When you get promoted, that's a transition. When you go to school, that's a transition. These are all key events for the Soldier and the family," Mason said.
The Army's Health Promotion and Risk Reduction Task Force, he said, has focused on transition as a stress on the force.
"And in some cases, it's more of a stress on the spouse then it is on the Soldier, because the spouse is employed their entire time while they're in the military. However, when you PCS, the spouse has to be concerned about finding employment again. So that's why we're moving toward that more holistic understanding of transition," Mason said.
Currently, the Army has many programs to help with transition, including the Army Career Alumni Program, Retirement Services, Army Spouse Employment Program which has morphed into the purple program of Military Spouse Employee Program, Army Continuing Education System, and the Employment Partnership Office.
TRANSITION POLICY WILL MATURE
The Transition Policy has begun with pieces already in place.
"Now we're integrating, synchronizing, identifying the best business practice, and we're partnering with the Department of Labor, the VA -- to improve their capabilities, because they're also a key player in the transition process.
"However, as the transition policy matures, we say it's going to be through the entire life cycle of service. So after they graduate from basic training and AIT (advanced individual training), they get to their first unit of assignment, then they're going to start thinking about transition through all their different life cycles," Mason said.
Army Career Tracker will be the foundation for the beginning portion of the Soldier lifecycle. ACT is built to be a career counseling tool, developing an Individual Development Plan, or IDP.
"IDP is at the beginning of the Soldier lifecycle where ITP, an Individual Transition Plan, would come into play when someone goes to ACAP and says 'I've made up my mind. I want to transition out.' So now that's a specific checklist, a document for your transition plan which is different than your development plan throughout your time in the military -- so two separate plans," Mason said.
"Retirees are a part of this, also," he said. "They separate from service but they also have a little bit more in their kit bag than the young kids that just came out of high school. So, we're really focused on those most at risk for unemployment, but we also include retirements, and the Retirement Services Office in this entire program."
MILITARY AND POLITICAL LEADERS JOIN FORCES
"Caring for our Soldiers and families is a critical leader task -- not only as they serve in our ranks, but also as they transition out of uniform and return to American society," said Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli, Army vice chief of staff.
Empowering people to be successful when they transition has many benefits, Mason said.
"When General Chiarelli sent out his memorandum for senior leaders Nov. 24, 2010, that really was the foundation of everything else we're building.
"Now we have the Transition Policy, signed by the secretary of the Army, where he puts his entire emphasis on the importance of this," Mason said.
The issue has exploded on the national scene.
"This is even bigger than Army. The president has made an announcement that he is going to fix veterans' employment, the Office of Management and Budget is heavily engaged with this, along with the Department of Labor, and VA, and all of Office of the Secretary Defense, and the other services.
"So everybody has their eye on the ball that transition is a critical piece of being successful, and how we take these kids in when they first come in, how we mold them along the way, give them the education they need to be successful, whether they stay in or transition to the civilian sectors," said Susan Johnson who works for the assistant secretary of the Army for Manpower Reserve Affairs.
First Lady Michelle Obama and Jill Biden are also leading a national effort to rally the American people to action in support of military families, servicemembers and veterans.
Called "Joining Forces," this initiative is focused on energizing all sectors of American society -- individuals, communities, businesses, philanthropists, non-profits and faith-based institutions -- to give families, servicemembers and veterans the support they have earned after nearly 10 years of war.
Following a decade of war, the Department of the Army wants to ensure Soldiers, their family members and Department of Army civilians that Army commanders and leaders are responsible for effective transition services support.
The Army's commitment to military families continues to yield outstanding results, said Mason.
"Talking about spouses, we have a special program, the Military Spouse Employment Program, MSEP. It was ASEP but DOD adopted it for the Department of Defense.
"In 2002 the Army stood up ASEP as a very successful partnership program with corporate America to ensure military spouses could realize their employment and career aspirations. To date, this employment initiative has yielded over 114,000 employment opportunities," Mason said.
The success of this initiative was recognized by senior leaders in the DOD, resulting in its expansion across all services and the Coast Guard. On June 29, the Military Spouse Employment Partnership Program was launched as an integral part of the White House's Joining Forces initiative. The MSEP program now boasts 72 Fortune 500-plus companies with additional new partners to be inducted into the partnership in October.
"Transition is a continual process. It's not an event and that is the key thing that we're getting everyone to understand. And the earlier that people begin the process, the more successful they'll be and we want them to be Army strong for life," Mason said.
To learn more about "Joining Forces," visit http://www.whitehouse.gov/joiningforces.