JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska —
For me, separation is just around the corner. I’ve been stressing about the lengthy checklist in my Virtual Military Personnel Flight, what household goods I need to sell and what I want Travel Management Office to take to my home of record, and if I should fly my cats to the Lower 48 or subject them (and myself) to the torture of a 50-hour drive to Denver, Colorado. However, I haven’t been stressing about employment, my resume, what health insurance I’ll use when my time with Tricare runs out, or how to use my Veterans Affairs loan – I’ve had plenty of time to think about these things in the Transition Assistance Program.
TAP is congressionally mandated, and nothing required can ever be enjoyable, right? It was a pleasant surprise to be proven wrong, even if it was a tough hit to my pride. TAP is a five-day program with a three-part curriculum: transition planning and budgeting, workforce knowledge, and VA day.
Monday is an overview of the program with intensive transition planning, job, salary and location research, long-term budgeting and financial education — kind of a primer for the following four days.
Tuesday through Thursday, a Department of Labor representative will load you with labor market statistics and vital workforce knowledge, plus resume and cover letter tips, peppered with some seriously effective motivational verbiage. This was my favorite part, and the most productive and positive I’ve felt about my transition so far. It was nice to hear someone reassure me I wasn’t going to catch aflame upon my date of separation. I can’t list in detail the extensive curriculum, but the tip on inserting job announcement keywords in my resume and cover letter continues to feel like cheating.
The final day is all VA, all day, covering the GI Bill, VA home loans, the disability compensation process, Vocational Rehabilitation, government employment and much more. It’s a lot of information, but the DOL and VA representatives provide thick workbooks to take notes in, reference after the class, and add weight to your household goods shipment, so don’t fret if you forget some of the material.
Like me, you may show up on your first day of TAP wearing the one pair of non-camouflage pants you own and a cheap T-shirt – what’s the point of civilian clothes if they’re not comfortable or functional? This is OK. Discerning appropriate office attire is actually built into the the curriculum. I now own a suit that isn’t blue and littered with cumbersome accoutrements. By the end of the rigorous five days, my LinkedIn profile looked like some business-savvy CEO, and I was ready to apply for my position as chief of public relations at SpaceX – too bad I still had a year of military service left.
During the course, I regularly found myself working hard, writing out detailed documents with transition timelines and plans and budgets, past close of business – a rare thing for me to do. Homework isn’t required per se, but one must be highly effective during the day to accomplish all the things you will need to finish for the capstone appointment.
At the TAP capstone meeting, you show one of the TAP employees all the required documents: E-benefits registration and logon, an individual transition plan, a 12-month post-separation budget, military service opportunity counseling, the “Gap Analysis” worksheet, a mynextmove.org interest profiler, job application package (including resume, references, and submitted two job applications or proof of employment) and finally a DOL Gold Card. This may seem like a lot of work – and it is. No one said transitioning from the military was easy.
Service members are required to go through TAP once, but twice is recommended. I took vigorous notes the first time and thought I was good to go. A supervisor recommended I go through a second time, so with reluctance I did. It was staggering how many holes in my knowledge the second iteration filled in. Besides, it wasn’t like I had stopped working from June 2018 to June 2019; my resume was missing some of the most important items I had accomplished during my service.
Getting one week off work is a headache, but two? Impossible. However, I think going through TAP two times was one of the best decisions I’d ever made. But why take my advice? Ideally, each service member will only separate once, so how can one really be an “expert” on getting out of the military?
The team at the TAP office oversees all the installation separatees and facilitates the capstone meetings. They see so many separation plans that they are experts on separating. “We often have service members that show up to TAP feeling obligated to be here,” said Lisa Foster, TAP community readiness specialist. “Typically, by the end of the experience they are telling us that we addressed topics, concerns, and areas of their life that they really never expected us to. More often than not, the service members finish TAP saying they wish they had done it sooner, and could do it twice. There is so much information covered in the curriculum, it can be overwhelming to soak it all in the first time.”
Verbose plug aside, TAP is a vital resource that, if taken seriously, can bring astounding results. Employing the tactics the Department of Labor teacher presents will assuredly melt away some job-search stress, and possibly lead to a job offer. The full day with the VA representative unveils a goldmine of resources you may not have even known about. I urge anyone separating or retiring from the military, whether you served 20 years or four, to space it out so that you take it the first time a year or two out from your date of separation, then again within six months of your separation. This will ensure you’re employment-ready, and your resume reflects you most recent accomplishments.
It’s common to hear about the instability of employment in the coveted civilian land, but these things are just hearsay from people just as nervous about their transition as everyone else. At the end of your service, you will be as employable as a civilian counterpart who shares a similar job title; TAP just helps you believe it.