By Michael NorrisFebruary 17, 2012
As U.S. engagement in conflicts overseas decreases, the Army is downsizing and more Soldiers are expected to be leaving military service to seek employment in the public and private sectors.
The Army Career Alumni Program, which helps uniformed personnel transition into civilian life, is gearing up for an expected influx and redoubling its efforts to ensure Soldiers are aware of services that help guide them through the process.
ACAP is the umbrella program for a host of mandated and voluntary services that help military personnel transition smoothly into the civilian sector. The program includes pre-separation briefings, Veterans Affairs briefings, discussion of any disability benefits and the Transition Assistance Program which includes a host of classes that prepare servicemembers for post-military life. "ACAP is the Army's transition program. And the Army's intent is to make sure that each Soldier is prepared, equipped and ready to compete in the employment market out there," said Juan Rodriguez, ACAP program manager.
"The Army has very professional counselors and a very comprehensive program to ensure that Soldiers have what it takes to succeed." With employment panels under TAP, Rodriguez said employees come and talk with veterans, explain who they are and tell them how they can be successful when they go into the public or private sector. And if [employers] have opportunities at the moment, they will help servicemembers with the process of getting resumes to the company.
Employers on the panels often include such well-known companies as Lockheed Martin, L-3 Communications, regional police departments and federal agencies like the Department of Homeland Security. Other services under TAP include resume-writing workshops, a "dress for success" class, a seminar on job interviews, and a class in salary negotiations. ACAP also oversees classes in starting a business, evaluating employee benefits and financial planning.
"In this center, we have tried to add as many valuable services together so it's like a one-stop shop," Rodriguez said. He said the JBM-HH ACAP office currently sees about 200 people a month come through its doors. "I do pre-separation briefings and we stress very hard, especially in these times, that you must take advantage of everything we have to offer," Rodriguez said.
"I encourage them. I bring a sheet with our [class] offerings for the month to the briefings and tell them I want them to come to the center and make sure they register for each one." Rodriguez said servicemembers first meet with ACAP counselors for pre-separation briefings. "That's the first thing they have to do," he said. "There's a form, it's called the DD2648, that the counselor and servicemember go over to determine all the benefits they deserve. From there they get all the information they need to move forward.
"We tell them in order for you to be successful, you must go through this. Some of the classes are not mandatory, so it's up to them. We tell them that if you want to excel in your transition, we encourage you to use our services."
With the new Veterans Job Corps Initiative recently announced by President Barack Obama, federal agencies are required to meet certain goals in hiring veterans, giving them a leg up in the hiring process. "The government is getting ready for the drawdown, for the influx of people we're going to be getting," Rodriguez said. "We have to be ready for what's coming." He said making a transition out of the National Capital Region offers advantages personnel might not experience at other installations.
"We have a lot of [federal government] agencies at our door," he said. "Anyone in the MDW area has easier access than say someone in Japan or Alaska. It's what I always tell Soldiers who are transitioning: 'You are in a very special area. You should take advantage of what we have to offer.' It's super convenient to have these agencies here close and available."
What makes someone with military service desirable to employers?
"I'll tell you what employers say," Rodriguez said. "These people are already disciplined. They know how to follow instructions and are used to following instructions. They already have leadership skills. Just because they were in the service, they are in a way more mature. They're educated; they have training that makes them more valuable … in different specialties like information technology, administration or law enforcement training. And many of them -- at least in this area -- have [security] clearances. Agencies always look for people to have clearances.
"Employers tell us when they come to our employer panels and job fairs, they can tell who has been through ACAP and who has not," said Rodriguez. "It makes a huge difference. This year our program is celebrating its 20th anniversary. All the centers will be doing something to celebrate."
Rodriguez worked in personnel for the Army for nearly eight years and when he separated it was from this area. "I know what Soldiers are going through because I transitioned," he said. "ACAP helped me a lot, but it's improved a lot in the 15 years since I got out. Back then, they didn't offer as many things as they do today.
"ACAP used to be a small program. These days we really, really prepare our Soldiers for what they have to face when they go out there," Rodriguez said. "It's a huge transition. The market isn't as friendly but we truly believe that we are equipping Soldiers to be ready for their next phase in life."
Rodriguez said the Army is making more ACAP services compulsory. "The law used to mandate only pre-separation briefings to be mandatory to get the 2648 form," he said. "Now the TAP workshop and VA briefing are going to be mandatory for the sake of our Soldiers and to make sure they have better opportunities." "We definitely expect our numbers to increase, and that's why the Army, the Department of Labor and the Department of Veterans Affairs are improving their services and processes," he added, "to make sure we can take care of the increase in demand and make sure we take care of more transitioning Soldiers.
"ACAP makes a difference in Soldiers lives when they come through and take advantage of the whole gamut of services we have for them," Rodriguez said. "It's a free program. There is no charge. We encourage Soldiers to come, visit and talk to us -- take advantage of these services. They have earned this and the Army recognizes that. We don't want to send them home unprepared. We want you to be ready."
ACAP is located in Bldg. 230 off Forrest Circle on JBM-HH. For more information on the ACAP program, call 703-696-0973 or visit the website at www.acap.army.mil.