New order strengthens Army's transition assistance

By Gary SheftickJanuary 23, 2012

(Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

FORT KNOX, Ky. (Army News Service, Jan. 18, 2012) -- All Soldiers planning to separate from the Army are now required to begin their transition process at least a year before leaving, according to a Department of the Army execution order, known as an EXORD, signed Dec. 29.

The order is part of an effort by the Army to beef up transition assistance, and it places responsibility for the program squarely on the shoulders of commanders, said Walter Herd, director of the Army Transition Office, located at Human Resources Command.

"It really changed Army transition from a staff responsibility to a commander's responsibility," said Herd about the order.

Sgt. Maj. of the Army Raymond Chandler III said during this period of transitioning to a smaller Army, that it's essential to have better transition assistance.

"We have a great program, but we can do better," Chandler said.

"I believe that Soldiers need to take some time and take a little responsibility for themselves and to understand that they are going to be transitioning out of the service," Chandler said, adding that they need to look at their resume, their education and their skill sets. "Then they need to speak with their commander, and their commander has a responsibility to speak with them."

The effort to make transition assistance more robust also includes the opening this week of a new toll-free call center for transition assistance. Soldiers can call 1-800-325-4715 for transition advice, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. And a new website or virtual ACAP Center will soon be available, Herd said.

The added emphasis on transition is partly due to a study undertaken by West Point about two years ago. The U.S. Military Academy Transition Study sent about two dozen scholars, noncommissioned officers and officers all over the Army to talk with transition counselors and Soldiers preparing to separate.

"They came back with a couple of truisms. Number one is, the more time a Soldier has to prepare, the more likely they are to succeed. And that's pretty simple. If you begin the transition process a week before getting out of the Army, your chances of failure are extremely high," Herd said.

"Two is, the more your commanders are involved, and the more they support it, again the more likely you are to succeed. In a nutshell, that's the gist of this EXORD that was signed December 29th."

What this EXORD does is tell commanders to get their Soldiers into the Army Career Alumni Program, or ACAP, 12 months prior to their planned separation, Herd said. This allows synchronization of requirements with the unit mission, with exercises and operations.

The most common comment from Soldiers participating in the West Point transition study was, "ACAP is a great program, but I don't have enough time to attend," Herd explained.

So no later than 12 months out, Soldiers now need to schedule a preseparation counseling at their installation ACAP Center. Herd said that counseling could actually be scheduled as early as 18 or 24 months out, if Soldiers are able.

At that first counseling, Soldiers begin to draft their Individual Transition Plan, Herd said. They will set their goals and decide if they want to go back to school, go home to work the family farm or business, or join the job market. Then they will determine what ACAP services and programs are necessary to reach that goal.

"You may want to eat everything on the menu," Herd said of the list of available ACAP services, or just sample a couple of items.

Programs include a new Department of Labor employment workshop. Resume-writing assistance is available. A Veterans Affairs Benefits Workshop can be attended. And assistance can also be obtained on sending job applications out.

"There are several Army initiatives to make that connection between industry and the Soldier," Herd said. He said Transition Offices work closely with the Employer Partnership for the Armed Forces, or EPAF, a group of companies and agencies that have made a commitment to hire veterans.

"Industry is dying to hire our Soldiers," Herd said, "because we are better than the average American -- smarter, healthier, cleaner, more disciplined, better trained."

About 135,000 Soldiers per year leave the Army and don civilian clothes, Herd said. Army civilian employees who are leaving due to Base Realignment and Closure, or just moving on, are also eligible to use ACAP separation services, Herd said. National Guard and Reserve Soldiers are eligible as well.

In fact, Herd said mobilized reserve-component Soldiers are now required to begin the transition process one year out, which means they should begin it at their mobilization station before deploying.

"What this tells you is the Army leaders have really said that taking care of Soldiers and preparing them to become civilians is a METL (mission-essential task list) task," Herd said. "And we're going to dedicate the leadership emphasis. We're going to dedicate the time, and we're going to dedicate all the resources to set Soldiers up for success."

Related Links:

Army News Service Inside the Army News

Employer Partnership for the Armed Forces

Army Career & Alumni Program