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Transition services now mandatory for soldiers

Apr. 3, 2012 - 04:44PM   |   Last Updated: Apr. 3, 2012 - 04:44PM  |  
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FORT KNOX, Ky. — Soldiers now must participate in transition services before they leave active duty.

An execution order requiring them to make use of the services is in force throughout the Army.

The order applies to all soldiers who are leaving active duty, whether they are Regular Army members who are separating or retiring or reservists demobilizing after six months or more on active duty.

The order, which implements a directive issued last year by Army Secretary John McHugh, further requires that transition processing begin at least 12 months before a soldier leaves active duty and that the soldier's commander oversee the process.

The new procedures will be bolstered later this year when the Veterans Opportunity to Work Act is implemented Nov. 20 for all the military services.

"From the Army standpoint, we are planning for that mandate, and getting additional resources to support implementation across the active and reserve components," said Walter M. Herd, director of the Army Career and Alumni Program.

This will result in about a 300 percent increase in the number of soldiers participating in transition services, Herd said.

ACAP, a longtime Army program, assists departing soldiers, family members and Army career civilians in preparing for civilian life through myriad counseling, education, job-preparation and job-search services at 54 centers in the U.S. and overseas.

The centers are staffed by counselors who have graduate degrees in counseling and who can link up departing soldiers with training and services offered by the Army and other government agencies, such as the Labor and Veterans Affairs departments.

ACAP also operates a new 24-hour, seven-day-a-week call center here, and an interactive website for the virtual delivery of information and services, to include counseling.

Regular Army soldiers leaving active duty should begin their transition 24 months in advance of retirement and 18 to 12 months in advance of separation, Herd said.

"Ideally, the soldier should go to an ACAP center, receive a pre-separation briefing and begin to map out his or her transition plan," he said. "This will be an individual plan to lay out how the person will transition from being a soldier to being a civilian."

The plan will include what classes the soldier will attend, and specifically what preparations should be made, whether he is leaving service for college or to enter the civilian work force.

ACAP works closely with the Army Continuing Education System and can coordinate services for departing soldiers who plan to attend college or who require professional accreditation.

For example, if a soldier wants to become a plumber after leaving the Army, ACAP and ACES counselors can assist the soldier in becoming professionally accredited.

Herd said reservists normally are mobilized for a year, so they need to begin their transition processing immediately upon coming on active duty.

"For most of the Reserve soldiers who are going back to the same job they left, the transition will be simpler than for those who don't have an existing job," Herd said.

Commanders' role

A second major goal of the execution order requires commanders to be responsible for ensuring that their soldiers are successfully transitioned.

"This is really a big change, as in the past, transition processing really was a staff issue, rather than a commander responsibility," Herd said.

The new system is designed so that commanders will be notified when their soldiers begin transitioning processing.

"The commander can delegate the monitoring of a soldier's transition to subordinate officers and [noncommissioned officers], but he is responsible for making sure that the soldiers start the process at least 12 months out," Herd said.

Officials expect that first sergeants and squad leaders will be major players in this process.

The commander will then get periodic reports showing how many transitioning soldiers in the company, battalion or brigade have completed pre-separation counseling, prepared a résumé, attended briefings and other ACAP activities.

"The long-term plan is to monitor a soldier's transition processing through Army Career Tracker, a system for enlisted soldiers, officers and Army civilians to plot their career milestones.

"We aren't quite there yet, but we will get plugged into Career Tracker," Herd said.

Herd, a retired colonel and former brigade commander, acknowledged that with the ongoing force alignment and drawdown programs, such as the Qualitative Service Program boards, some soldiers will be required to leave active duty early, and will not have a full year for transitioning processing.

"Under those conditions, we will start a soldier's transitioning processing as soon as possible," he said.

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