FORT RUCKER, Ala. (February 21, 2013) -- Transitioning out of the military can be a stressful process, but the Army Career and Alumni Program strives to make that process one that leaves Soldiers and their Families with a head start in their futures.

ACAP is a congressionally mandated program for Soldiers to learn job search and career building skills to be ready to transition out of the military for retirement or their expiration of term of service, according to Bryan Tharpe, ACAP transition service manager.

"What [we here at ACAP do] is our counselors will identify and notify these [transitioning] Soldiers and schedule them for a pre-separation briefing," said Tharpe. "This is for any service member who is 24 months out from retiring or 18 months out from their ETS date.

"This is a program that must exist because we're taking care of our Soldiers," he said. "Statistics show that the Army pays more than half a billion dollars a year in unemployment compensation, so it helps [fiscally], but more than that, it takes care of Soldiers and their Families."

The pre-separation briefing is a two-hour course that can be taken either online or in the classroom at Fort Rucker ACAP headquarters in Bldg. 5700, said the service manager. After the pre-separation briefing, which informs the Soldiers on what to expect throughout the program, counselors will begin the initial counseling to find out what the career goals and aspirations of each individual Soldier are and begin drafting their individual transition plan.

"That plan will follow them for the rest of their time they are on active duty so that they can make sure they are ready to transition and make sure they are career ready," said Tharpe.

The Soldiers will also take part in a five-day workshop during which they will be taught transition overview, the military occupational specialty crosswalk, and other lessons that deal with stress and Families.

"That's all on the first day," he said. "The three days following is run by the Department of Labor and it's our job to facilitate their needs and make sure we have the space available for them.

"On the last day of the workshop, we have a certified financial adviser work with the Soldiers, and help them come up with a 12-month integrated budget," he continued. "They will start to do this with the counselor in the classroom, but then the adviser will make one-on-one appointments with those that feel they need it, and she will work with them to make sure they get that budget done."

Once the workshop is complete, ACAP counselors go into more one-on-one time with Soldiers and work on building their resumes, according to Tharpe. The counselors have each Soldier bring a draft of their resumes to go over with them, and they will "tweak" them to make sure that they are ready to go.

"The ACAP counselors do what they call a gap analysis when they do the MOS crosswalk. It shows [the Soldiers] from where they are right now to where they want to be once they're out, and if they're ready for that," said Tharpe. "Soldiers need to take all the training that they can possibly get. Some of them don't want to sit through it, but it is mandated, so they might as well get the best out of it that they possibly can."

There are a few key things that Tharpe said Soldiers should take advantage of while going through the program.

"Soldiers should definitely find out what all their veteran entitlements are and what their transition benefits are while going through the program," he said.

Tharpe also said that there are additional workshops being added such as the two-day entrepreneurial workshop, which will help Soldiers that wish to start a business to get on the right track to doing so.

"There are separate tracks that the Soldiers can go through and it's a pretty wide spectrum," he said. "The tracks are voluntary, but once you choose a track, you've got to stick with it and there are takeaways that you've got to do to show that you've got things done to be able to continue on that track."

Spouses of Soldiers can also take advantage of what ACAP has to offer while they are going through the separation process, and Tharpe said they are more than welcome to join their Soldiers throughout. The Army Career Alumni Program welcomes all Soldiers and looks forward to working with Soldiers and their Families, but Tharpe said he has one request of Soldiers once they are through the process.

"We ask that if they get a job to let us know about their success story so that it can be an encouragement for other Soldiers," he said. "That not only helps us, but their buddies, too."