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Soldiers must properly prepare for life after active service

Sunday, April 01, 2012

After 10 years of sustained war fighting, America’s soldiers will face their next and potentially greatest battle – surviving the drawdown.

Just as victory in combat requires proper weaponry and armor, so too does a successful job search require the appropriate qualifications such as a college degree or certification.

To make yourself more employable in the civilian job market, you must leverage your current knowledge, skills and abilities against your military experience – and you have to start preparing now.

Why the need? The handwriting is on the wall.

Our current Department of Defense climate, beset with reduction in resources and personnel, uncertainty and change, requires soldiers to recognize the dual necessity of accomplishing their assigned military missions while preparing for life as a civilian.

Like death and taxes, a truth remains for all military personnel – your service will come to an end.

The drawdown and release from active duty (REFRAD) boards have made that eventuality more imminent for many soldiers. Unfortunately, many are not prepared because they sacrificed personal development – like pursuit of a college degree or vocational credential – for mission, organization or family, even though education ultimately supports all and results in a better soldier.

In today’s economy, educational credentials (or lack thereof) can be the critical missing link when pursuing civilian employment opportunities.

I recently spoke with a service member who was notified in November 2011 that he would be out of the service by September 2012 after completing 14 years of service. He has a wife, two children and no degree.

"I applied for tuition assistance that day," he said. He is currently trying to complete a degree prior to being separated, while dealing with some very serious concerns for himself and his family, including the burden of searching for employment and identifying job opportunities with the reserves – but to no avail.

"If I already had a degree in hand, I’d probably already have job offers," he said. "As it is, I’m scrambling, and I’ll probably swing a hammer for awhile until I can finish my degree and then apply it to my resume."

When the Army orchestrates a drawdown impacting at least 50,000 soldiers, the labor market will be flooded. Time is short and that truth becomes clearer every day.

As the secretary of defense wades through what will likely exceed $450 billion dollars worth of budget cuts and the secretary of the Army outlines his Army transition policy that defines leadership expectations to meet the needs of transitioning personnel and their families, soldiers must stay ahead of the curve.

Act today. Request a transcript from the Army/American Council on Education Registry Transcript System (AARTS) to determine how many college credits you have from military occupational specialty (MOS) training. Seek assistance from an education services officer (ESO), either on base or on www.GoArmyEd.com, to determine future strategies for success and college programs that will meet your needs.

Your ESO can also provide a token to take the DISCOVER © assessment to help clarify future career desires, identify potential occupations that fit your interests, and create a resume.

Additionally, credentialing opportunities can be explored on the Army Cool website at https://www.cool.army.mil.

The DANTES (Defense Activity for Non-Traditional Education Support)website, www.dantes.doded.mil, has many resources that provide information regarding educational programs such as college credits by exam through the College Level Examination Program (CLEP) and DANTES Subject Standardization Tests (DSST) programs; recommended college credit for military training by the American Council on Education (ACE); Servicemembers’ Opportunity Colleges (SOC) for college degree planning; links to information on the Post 9/11 GI Bill and the tuition assistance (TA) programs, and many others, all compiled to assist military personnel as they seek to pursue civilian educational advancement.

Additional resources include the Online Academic Skills Course (OASC), which provides unlimited, around-the-clock remediation of basic academic skills to assist with college placement or military occupational specialty reclassification and the Distance Learning Readiness Self-Assessment (DLRSA), providing a Web-based assessment for distance learning success.

Keep your eye open for new veteran programs and services such as VOW, the Veterans Opportunity to Work (VOW) to Hire Veterans Act (http://veterans.house.gov/vow), signed by President Obama in November 2011.

Additionally, there are many programs hiring military personnel that are not widely advertised. For example, the Department of Homeland Security is committed to hire veterans as investigators as well as deportation officers. Although they are continually hiring, applicants must have a college degree.

These and similar opportunities are available, motivating soldiers to get started on their degree program. Remember, simply taking one class a semester makes a significant difference toward degree completion.

Granted, a degree does not validate a soldier’s contribution to a potential employer. However, as evidenced by the 2011 Department of Labor statistics, education significantly influences employment opportunities.

For example, the 8.4 percent veteran unemployment rate drops to 5.2 percent for veterans with a bachelor’s degree.

Whether a member of the Department of Defense serves one year or 30, everyone will eventually transition. Be diligent. Invest the time necessary to develop an educational transition plan outlining your future goals and aspirations, then take immediate action toward achieving those goals.

Most importantly, embrace the concept of lifelong learning – not only will it ensure that you continuously grow and evolve, but you will be more agile and adaptable within an ever-changing job market.