FORT SILL, Okla.-- As Fort Sill's Army Career and Alumni Program entered the second week of evaluating the pilot curriculum of the Transition Assistance Program, they had a special visitor -- the program's top director. Walter Herd serves as Director of the Army Transition Office, which is part of the Human Resources Command at Fort Knox, Ky.

Herd's program has developed new resources for the enhanced TAP pilot, which revised the 22-year old program in response to President Obama's executive order issued Dec. 29 of last year mandating that Soldiers who are transitioning out of the Army begin the pre-separation counseling at least 12 months prior to their separation date.

Changing responsibilities

"The executive order changed Army transition from a staff responsibility to a commander's responsibility," Herd said. "Commanders are now responsible for getting their Soldiers who are 12 months out from their planned separation date into the ACAP program."

Fort Sill is one of two active-duty posts and five reserve installations to be implementing the new TAP program, and the only post that currently operates the program full-time.

Jim Miller, Fort Sill's Directorate of Human Resource director is happy to be on the cutting edge of the new program. "The TAP program has been a tremendous shot in the arm to the ACAP program, and an inspiration to DHR as well," he said. "We've already implemented it, we're moving forward and we've got our facilities set up for what we need. Soldiers can actually begin the process as much as 18 months prior to leaving the Army if they want to have plenty of time to study their options."

"From Fort Sill's perspective, not only are we proud, but we see it as a challenge to help mold the way the Army does the TAP program," said Debra Watts, Army Career and Alumni Program director. "If we have a better way to present resumes, it is up to us to shape the program."

Handling the wave

Herd met with Miller and Watts to discuss the progress of Fort Sill's pilot program and update them on current trends in the transition process. For example, he said that the Army has seen the number of active duty Soldiers starting their planning for exiting the Army go up every month for the last five months.

"We anticipate in fiscal year 2013 that about 130,000 Soldiers will transition off of active duty. A little over half of those, about 55 percent, are regular Army and the remainder are demobilizing Guard and Reserve Soldiers," Herd said. "Of the regular Army Soldiers, roughly two-thirds of them utilize or participate in the key elements of the TAP program, which has been voluntary up to this point."

Herd expects now that the Transition Assistance Program is mandatory, participation among regular Army Soldiers will increase from two-thirds to almost everyone.

"For the reserve components, because they are spread out, they have had a historically lower use-rate of TAP and other ACAP programs, so we expect to see a higher growth rate for them," he said.

"One of the things that we are testing at these various installations like Fort Sill is their ability to manage the increased throughput of Soldiers. Armywide, we are seeing a 300 percent increase in the number of Soldiers going through the TAP program," Herd explained. "And we are growing the number of ACAP centers significantly, not so much the historical ones like the great one here at Fort Sill, but similar capabilities in support of reserve components and Soldiers that are not assigned to Installation Management Command locations. We are going to be standing those up over the next several months," he said.

New tools for TAP

Miller explained how the TAP program has expanded from the original three days to over six days to more adequately equip Soldiers to leave the military.

"We do what we call an MOS Crosswalk, to look at what they have done during their military service, the training and skills that they have acquired, and how that translates into a civilian job," Miller said.

Another key feature of the new TAP program is the integration of new Department of Labor employment workshops that include in-depth resume writing assistance and classes that teach Soldiers how to search for jobs online and send out job applications. Workshops have also been added on health care issues, tax planning, credit ratings, home ownership and estate planning, plus a full day briefing from Veterans Affairs representatives on education and disability benefits for Soldiers leaving the military.

Watts added how thrilled Fort Sill ACAP was to have been chosen to pilot the new TAP program.

"It's a challenge to us because we can make or break this. I think it is a tremendous honor for Fort Sill and a tremendous opportunity for us to help our transitioning Soldiers succeed."

Miller summed up the the integration of the new program. "It's good to see the various departments working together, be it the Veteran's Administration, Department of Labor, and the Army to put this effort forward. Also it is good to have Mr. Herd here from Human Resources Command to help us understand what's happening at his level," Miller said. "We have received tremendous help all the way up and down the line as we have launched this new pilot TAP program. It will be an excellent resource for thousands of Soldiers as they leave the Army."

"We are going to make adjustments here and there, and add or delete some things as we continue to prepare to go full-throttle with the TAP program across the Army by November 20," Herd added. "With out-processing of Soldiers running as high as 250 a month at Fort Sill, and even higher on battalion level posts, the Army had to have a program that equips Soldiers to successfully transition out of the military and find jobs in the civilian market. And we believe the new TAP program is geared to achieve that goal." he said.