Walter Herd, Army transition assistance program director, visits Soldiers at the education center March 13. (Photo by Sara E. Martin)
Published: March 21, 2014
FORT RUCKER, Ala. (March 21, 2014) -- The Army Career and Alumni Program exists to help Soldiers and their Families transition into civilian life, and the Army’s transition assistance program director said there is only one thing Soldiers need to remember when it comes to going to ACAP — go early and go often.
“Soldiers need to go as soon as they can because that will really set them up for success,” said Walter Herd during a visit March 13. “Those who go just a few times and those who go late are at high risk for unemployment.”
The ACAP mission is to prepare Soldiers to take off their Army Combat Uniforms and put on business attire, but what Soldiers do with what counselors teach them is ultimately up to the Soldiers, he added.
“Preparing for Army separation is something that needs to happen early, not at the last minute. When I retired after 24 years, my last civilian job was cutting grass as a high school kid. And when I came to the class was the first time I really started to wrap my head around what I was really going to have to do,” he said to Soldiers currently transitioning.
Soldiers typically begin the mandated separation process 18 months out, and Bryan Tharpe, Fort Rucker ACAP transition services manager, agreed that the sooner the better.
“We have the tools to really help Soldiers understand the current job markets and trends, their budgets, VA benefits, their interviewing and networking skills, their resume and other important factors,” he said. “Nobody wants to be unemployed, and there is always someone who is more qualified than you or who can sell themselves better than you, so it’s important to really hone those skills.”
Attending the program early also allows Soldiers an external professional audience to bounce ideas off of that can help them see if their goals are achievable or not.
“A counselor’s goal is to simply help implement that plan, no matter if it’s to go fishing full time during retirement or to get a good job. They will help you get to that plan financially and realistically so that it is feasible,” said Tharpe.
Herd added that there are three questions Soldiers need to ask themselves when they begin the process.
“You have to figure out which one is the most important to you because that is the one that is going to drive you the rest of your life,” he began. “One, where do you want to live? Two, what do you want to do? Three, how much money do you need to make? Knowing which one is most important will drive your planning, preparations, the classes you take, the certifications you want to get and with whom you network.”
Herd said he tries to visit one installation every month to get the ground truth on what is really happening from the perspectives of the counselors, leaders and Soldiers, and to let them know from a policy perspective the direction the program is going.
“The program has changed dramatically over the last couple of years,” he said. “Just a couple of years ago we were a completely voluntary program with responsibility primarily being on the staff. Now the responsibility is on the commanders and leaders.”
In the near future, Herd said the program is going to shift from a predominantly end of career program to a program going across the Soldier life cycle, whether it’s three or 33 years.
“There are different tasks a Soldier will do to prepare for this transition over his or her lifecycle, and the objective of spreading it over their life cycle is to better prepare Soldiers so they can realize and identify their desires, and come up with a plan to reach those desires, then take steps to reach those goals, which often takes years,” he said.
The director said that the installation is blessed with a great ACAP center, counselors and support, saying that the counselors at Fort Rucker are an unusually great batch.
But he also said that all the responsibly does not solely lay with counselors.
“Leaders are responsible to set their Soldiers up for success, not to ensure success, but they are responsible to give them the equipment to succeed. And that equipment really boils down to time to be counseled,” he said.
With the Army’s downsizing, the ACAP process will remain the same, although staff has been preparing the necessary resources to deal with the large inflow of Soldiers that have begun the process of separation, Herd said.
“Soldiers will still have all of the resources and the career ready standards, they just don’t have as much time, which is why it is so important for them to go early and often to see a counselor,” he added.
This article was originally published at http://www.army.mil/article/122334/
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