FORT RUCKER, Ala. (October 4, 2012) -- I've noticed that many people in the military seem to have a built-in sense of direction. Not only can they find their way to any location, but after they have been somewhere once, they can easily find their way to the same location again.

For many military personnel, that sense of direction is innate, but others instill it by attending military training in map reading or orientation. The sense of direction may also be a result of traveling to and living in many different locations. However it was achieved, a good sense of direction is an important skill to have.

Even those with a sense of direction, though, need to use a road map occasionally. Starting a trip without a road map is a sure way to induce a stress attack -- for the driver and those around him.

The same can be said for those beginning a new life after a military career. The transition can be a stressful time, even under the best of circumstances, but it becomes even more so unless the transitioner maps out or plans the journey carefully. ACAP can help with this task.

To prepare for a smooth journey in your career after the military, there are some things you should be doing long before you exit the military.

Explore the possibilities

You may need to do research to help you decide on a career or a place to live. While you are on active duty, you need to be thinking about what you want to do when you get out. Research occupations, including requirements for the job, education needed, pay scale, work conditions, availability and outlook for the future. With skills developed in the military, you have multiple options and you will need to make a thoughtful decision about what jobs to pursue.

Research the destination

While you are in the military, you have many opportunities to travel to and live in different locations, so it would help if you looked at each place as a possible future permanent home. Will a job be available there? Does it have the amenities that you want? Is it near to the people and things that you want to be near? Does it have the cultural, entertainment or sporting events that you like to attend? Does the climate suit you? Are the schools, healthcare and recreational facilities good? Decide what is important to you and check each location to see if it fills your needs.

Expand the possibilities

During your military career is an excellent time to work on a college degree or get some specialized training. Statistics show that people with a college degree generally make almost double what workers make without a degree. Whatever your career decision, it is usually beneficial to have computer skills, so taking computer classes or other self-improvement courses is always worthwhile. There may also be some military training that would expand your opportunities after the military.

Get a head start

You may need to gain experience in the career you have chosen if you aren't working in that area presently. Sometimes people get experience through volunteering within the community. For example, if you are thinking about teaching or working with youth, while you still work for the Department of Defense, you could volunteer to coach, assist in a classroom, or tutor. Regardless of whether the work is volunteer or paid, if you spend enough time at it, it can be used on your resume.

Request support

When you are looking for a job, the employer will certainly ask you for references, either professional or personal. Supervisors and coworkers make excellent references, but if they are military the chances are good that they will have moved away when you most need to contact them. One thing you can do to make sure you have good references is to get home of record addresses for those you might want to use as references in the future. You can also ask them to write you letters of recommendation as you leave the unit. Sometimes when you have a letter of recommendation, the employer may not need to contact the reference personally.

Ask directions

When it's finally time to change careers, ask for advice and assistance. You need to learn as much about looking for a job as possible and that is where ACAP will be of the most value. If you are retiring, you can use ACAP up to two years before you leave the military. If you will separate, you can use ACAP beginning 18 months to a year prior to getting out of the military.

In addition to providing information about your benefits, ACAP also teaches you about the job search process. A workshop is available that covers where and how to look for a job, networking, filling out applications, writing resumes, interviewing, negotiating salaries and learning other job search skills.

After you attend the workshop, trained counselors will assist you as you progress through each stage of the job search process. The counselors will offer advice on writing your resume, critique it for you, assist with civilianizing your military experience or show you how research career possibilities if you are undecided. They will give you a push if you get stuck and pump you up when you get down.

ACAP even has tools for you to use, such as computer software, job search books, Internet addresses and job leads to help you find the right job.

No matter how good your sense of direction and map reading skills are, transitioning to life outside the military is new territory. If you have a navigator who knows the way, you will reach your destination with fewer problems. Let ACAP help you through the process.

You can contact Fort Rucker ACAP at 255-2558 or 255-2546 for additional information.