Fort Sill pilots new Transition Assistance Program

By Ben Sherman, Fort SillJuly 26, 2012

Warrior Transition Unit Soldier Maj. Lonnie Britton, 479th Field Artillery Brigade, listens to instructions on how to fill out the Individual Transition Plan that is part of the new Transition Assistance Program, or TAP. Fort Sill Soldiers participat... (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

FORT SILL, Okla. (26 July 2012) -- Fort Sill hosted a pilot program this week to help Soldiers prepare to find jobs as they leave the Army. The Transition Assistance Program has been around for a number of years, but with so many Soldiers returning from the war zones, there is a greater need to prepare them to find jobs.

Soldiers are now required to perform pre-separation counseling at least 12 months before their expiration of service, up from the previous 90-day period.

"We are trying to assist Soldiers, not only in getting a resumé but getting them more prepared to go into civilian life," said Debra Watts, Army Career and Alumni Program director. "The TAP classes now have been extended to six days, up from three and a half days. We have added a financial planning segment, and we are also showing them how to register for their VA benefits online."

Kenneth Allen is the state director for the Department of Labor's Veterans Employment Training Service in Oklahoma City. He explained how the new TAP program was developed.

"We partnered with the Department of Defense through ACAP to come up with a new TAP program, because the original program hadn't been updated in many years. This is a pilot, so we will have to see how the program changes work out and what may need to be adjusted," Allen said.

Robert Phillips, Local Veterans Employment Representative for the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission, led some of the main workshops. He emphasized that the focus is on the transition process itself.

"That process has been broken down into multiple elements. And how important each element will be depends on where a particular Soldier is in the transition process," said Phillips. "If you are financially set up, you may not be as interested in the financial planning part of the program. If your finances are not as good, you are going to be more interested in that aspect. If you have done your resumé work, and are prepared for the interviews and such, that will be less important to you."

Sgt. Penny Cook has been through the TAP program before. She sees the differences between last time and the new program.

"They are going more in-depth with certain subjects that everyone is interested in -- resumé building, job searches, medical, dental and all the benefits that Soldiers are entitled," she said.

Cook served in the 15th Finance Battalion, 1st Cavalry, and is now a wounded warrior in the Fort Sill Warrior Transition Unit. She believes the TAP program will be helpful when she begins looking for a job. "I am trying to get through my medical evaluation process to see where that's going to take me. Then we'll decide from there what jobs I can do, depending on my disabilities," Cook said. She was attending the Individual Transition Plan workshop, which helps Soldiers develop a game plan to identify educational, training and employment objectives that will help their transition to civilian life.

Sgt. Melinda Morris is also in the WTU and served with Company C, 279th Infantry, 45th Brigade Combat Team. She agrees the course goes very deep into the whole process of job hunting.

"For someone who is looking for a job in the near future, this class is incredibly beneficial," she said. "But for a Soldier who is going to be looking for job in, say, two years, there is so much information presented that you have a tendency to zone out in the classes."

She went on to say that for people who plan to go to school after getting out of the Army, going through the whole course in-depth may be too much.

"The resume process is valuable no matter what your immediate plans are, but if you are going to be in school the next two to four years, you may forget a lot of what you learn here," Morris stated.

One good aspect of the new TAP program is that spouses are encouraged to attend the classes with their Soldiers. Sgt. Jason Lessman and his wife, Sagree, found the program very beneficial.

"She saw some things I didn't see and I saw some things that she didn't, so without a doubt it was immeasurable," Lessman said. "And Sagree benefited almost as much as I did from the classes."

"I knew some of this stuff about the civilian job world because I've been a civilian out in the world for about six years now," she said. "I'm going to complete a resumé so I can be prepared to go for interviews."

"That was a surprise for us, because not only were they there for me, but she was able to use that information for herself also. It was an added bonus for her to take advantage of that information," he said.

Lessman is an Administrative NCO for Headquarters Battalion 3rd Battalion, 30th Air Defense Artillery Brigade. With the administrative training he has received during more than 20 years in the Army, he hopes to get a similar job in the federal or state government sector in the civilian market.

"I saw two benefits of the new program. One is the resume class, and how in-depth they went. Then how they showed us to go through all of the on-line sites to look for jobs from government jobs to civilian jobs. Those two things went together like peas and carrots, in my opinion," Lessman said. "We are taking the Soldier's Army training and responsibilities, and showing them what they can do with what they know. We've got Soldiers with a wide range of experience who would be an asset to many businesses. And we help them market themselves to businesses," Watts said.