23 Months to retirement, but who's counting anyways? (oh shit, I am 🤔🤢)

"I'm not okay (I Promise): Gerard Way, MCR, 2004

"But I will be (I guarantee it)": Kenny, just now

Without belaboring the point of how stressful this process is at the moment, I will just start off telling you all about the general feeling of nausea I carry with me on an almost daily basis regarding potential separation. I'm just in my feelings right now and know I have to trust the process. I feel like a monkey jumping through the trees when it comes to deciding what it is i'll do next. Do I chase the job I know will bring the most satisfaction/joy but may cause us to struggle a little bit financially? Or do I chase the money and maybe continue being as dissatisfied with work as I currently am? I've never really had to think about stuff like this and my plans change daily. I'm currently enrolled in Net+ classes, copywriting classes, HTML classes and XML classes but nothing is really clicking.

Insecure ramblings aside, I wanted to take a moment and talk about the beginning of the #Army designed transition process.

Here we are ladies and gentlemen, ~23 months out from the day I'll lock SFC Anton's uniform up in a shadowbox and begin life anew as Kenny. The hill AJ and I have to climb to get there is a veritable mountain of homework, decisions, paperwork, more decisions, briefings, and just a couple more decisions. Last week, AJ and I virtually attended the first in a series of appointments which typically signify and set in motion the beginning of the end of a #Military #career. Halfway through the briefing I had somewhat of a low-grade panic attack.

That day, with the help and guidance of an assigned counselor, we started navigating the Soldier For Life / Transition Assistance Program (acronymically referred to as SFL-TAP, often truncated to #TAP). The purpose of this initial appointment is to orient one to the overall design of the #SFLTAP, describe how all of the sub-programs work, and force you to begin thinking of all the career and logistical decisions you will need to make over the course of transitioning/retiring (a process the Army recommends you start at 24 months out according to their self-published retirement guide). After asking a bunch of questions regarding your future plans and your current posture regarding achieving said plans, the counselor assigns you what they refer to as a "Tier" and they begin recommending programs for you to begin participating in. At one point, about halfway through the teleconference, the gentlemen pointed out that I, realistically, am looking at about 18 months remaining. Though I know this to be true in my head, hearing someone other than my incessant internal monologue say it sent me through a furious rush of conflicting emotions. I can say with utmost confidence that I (heard in the best redneck accent you can mentally muster) dern near soiled muh britches.

Over the course of the next year and a half, AJ and I will be buckling down and making some of the most difficult family decisions we've had to make in quite some time. To name just a few:

  • Where are we going to live?

  • How are we going to afford it?

  • Will be both work? or will/can we continue to have her stay at home?

  • What the hell will I do as a next career path? (honestly I have irons in so many potential fires at the moment and I can't seem to pick one).

  • How do I even "civilian"? 😂 I've been indoctrinated to the Army for so long that even simple things like talking to perspective employers freaks me out.

As a Soldier, one comes to depend on the rigidity and structure provided by the guaranteed job training/promotion (at every level of progression), clearly defined career path, relocation assistance and built in health/housing/recreational, etc benefits. What most of us choose to not think about is: one day those benefits turn off and you, for possibly the first time in your adult life, have to figure it all out on your own.

Allow me for a minute to draw a comparison and maybe illustrate some of the importance of the TAP. This program, at an earlier stage in its evolution (then referred to as the Army Career Alumni Program), was available to me the first time I separated but my youthful hubris assured me that I knew more than some "dumb" series of Army programs could tell me 🤣. I exited the Army at a full sprint not really knowing what my plans were. I lost momentum almost immediately and ultimately ended up unemployed, in debt to the federal government for failing out of GI Bill funded college classes, and absolutely lost in life. The obvious end to this little tale saw me joining the Army Reserve, then back on full time status.

In a concentrated effort to not repeat the mistakes of the past (and knowing full well that a good chunk of my anxiety comes from this little misstep) I will fully embrace this program.

Here's where the TAP comes in.

Whether your next path in life leads to college, employment, self-employment, or a job in a skilled trade, the TAP has a path, and bountiful resources, to get you there. Today we learned all about financial planning (something I would say I have the least amount of skill regarding), resume writing (what the hell even is a resume? I have a Soldier Record Brief. Is that what you mean?), interview skills (bruh, what even is that?) and a handful of other resources which we will be provided.

The TAP is a treasure trove of information geared toward preparing transitioning service members (whether they served a 3- year contract or a 20+ contract) for what lies ahead. As the military has realized, moving from the hyper-controlled military life to the less structured form of the civilian world can be a severe culture shock. The TAP arranges for career fairs, hiring events, networking events, skills assessments (in case, like me, you have no idea what comes next professionally), Department of Labor training sessions, and even briefings on a program called #DoDSkillBridge. SkillBridge was literally designed to facilitate a seamless transition for veterans entering the workforce. It is, at its core, an internship with a company of your choosing during your last 2 to 6 months of service with the intention of job placement/hiring once complete.

"Did you hear what I said, Gump?"

You can basically begin training for and working at your new job while still being paid by your previous one. While it requires some work on your part, and a blessing from your leadership, the SkillBridge is a phenomenal resource. Needless to say, I'm looking forward to this process. Hopefully I will answer some of my own questions throughout the duration.

In addition to the TAP, there are many other organizations and services available. In conjunction with, and simultaneous to, the TAP is a program offered by the #USO called Pathfinder. #Pathfinder is similar to the TAP in that an assigned counselor assists you in finding resources to help you through the transition. The one focused difference I have noticed is: the Pathfinder program can be geared more toward specifics of a career change. I told my counselor I was looking to leave the #MilitaryIntelligence field and enter the field of #GrantWriting and she is trying to work out how I would even get a foot in the door.

So far, both are wonderful programs. I have faith that, by the end of this whole journey, we will have a concrete plan for the next phase of our lives. I have heard from a lot of people that they don't really have time to participate or their units won't allow them time. To this I would like to regurgitate some pretty common advice and maybe throw some more emphasis on it. The brutal reality of transition is: once we have separated, the Army will move on effortlessly. The machine is oiled so well that your replacement will most likely already be in your job before you ever leave it. So while it is an documented fact that the Army will survive your separation, have you planned well enough so you will? When met with resistance from leaders regarding the TAP process, the uncomfortable fact is, you have to become somewhat selfish and (for maybe the first time in your career) tell the mission to piss off and realize that, if you fail to successfully plan, you have successfully planned to fail.

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