I assume by now that most people who follow this blog either know for a fact or have at least generally intuited that I am a uniformed member of the U.S. Military. I joined the #Army in January of 2000 and have embarked, thus far, on a journey spanning two decades. The only time I "took a knee" so to speak was a brief two year hiatus in the mid 2000's as I didn't believe this was the career path I was meant to walk. I learned quickly through a series of missteps and falling flat on my face that, while I may not feel this was the "right" career for me, it certainly was THE career at the time to get myself properly established in life. While I, and my family, have encountered our fair share of struggles related to the hectic whirlwind that can be the Army life, I have had few regrets in continuing.
I was cruising #LinkedIn this morning, tightening up my resume, adding connections, lackadaisically devoting idle moments of my life to an asset I feel will hopefully come in handy in a couple of years, when I saw a notification that reminded me of something.
The 23rd of this month officially marks a fairly huge milestone in my career. On this day (roughly two weeks from the time of writing this), I will have officially been in the service for 6,575 days. In case you, dear reader, don't feel like it's on you to do the math involved here, I will do it for you. That's 157,800 hours. That's 9,4689,000 minutes. To put it in terms a normally functioning human being would use to describe lengthy passages of time: in two weeks I will have been in the service for 18 years.
Why is this a milestone? I feel like I can hear someone asking that. Did that question come from someone in the back? Well thank you for the awesome question sir or ma'am. I would be happy to explain why this is such a big deal. Before I do, however, I feel it is necessary to explain one thing first. This is a no brainer to those indoctrinated or those who have family/friends in the military, but those unfamiliar would not readily know that the Military is contracted work. The initial commitment to the military (regardless of branch: Army, #Navy, #MarineCorps, #AirForce) is an eight year one. This commitment is typically served, at its base, as a three to six year active period followed by a two to five year inactive reserve follow on. Should you choose to continue on, you essentially renew your contract for differing periods of time. Now, to end your service, you have to either wait until your contract expires and not renew it or, for those who are further along in their careers (lets say more than fifteen years), you have to ask permission from your Human Resources Command to retire. There's a more technical way to say that but it essentially boils down to that.
Honestly, if was as easy as this:
or in some cases depending on your experience, this:
the military would be in the hurt box when it came to retaining people.
Now that I've explained that in an extremely pared down capacity, let me tell you why the 18 year mark is so huge. From here on out I am speaking in terms of the U.S. Army as I am not sure the other branches function similarly, though I would imagine they do. For the majority of a military stint, a person eats, breathes, and lives Army. Obviously you are allowed to have a personal life yet even certain aspects of that are controlled under the umbrella of regulations governing personal appearance and conduct, not to mention things such as wildly fluctuating work schedules. As such, the Army understands the #transition back to civilian life, what some separating would refer to as "life on the outside" or "freedom", can be a hectic or confusing time in a person's life. It is kind of akin to barely graduating high school and having no continuity plan to carry you into the next phase of life
(damn, that sounds personally familiar. Had I not been the one writing this I would have felt personally attacked).
The Army does pay for college while serving and offers a HEFTY college payment plan through the #GIBill after the fact, so if you play your cards right, you will absolutely be prepared education wise when you separate, but that doesn't cover the fact that, if you serve a full twenty years and/or beyond, you are programmed to live life a certain way; to have certain accommodations provided to you; to have your life basically taken care of with little to no struggle as long as you do your job on time, in the right place, and in the right uniform.
Well, in comes the #TransitionAssistanceProgram (#TAP for short. Boy, we sure do love our acronyms). This program effectively begins when a retiree enters their last 24 months of active service and offers assistance in almost every facet of the #ArmyRetirement process: resume building, arranging career fairs, financial planning, all around preparation for the intense culture shock one will soon be experiencing. If you're still hanging in there, the point of this whole thing is inbound soon
On the. 23rd of this month, I will have reached that magic 24 month window. Now, the way the Army functions, you cannot retire in the middle of a month so I, for all intents and purposes herein, reach that window on March 1st. I am both insanely excited to end this journey and a nervous ball of #anxiety and emotion to start the next one. In just over two years, sooner I guess, I have to decide what I "want to do when I grow up", and it is so daunting that it is starting to keep me up at night. I am not writing this to worry anyone, my therapist is very aware of these feelings and is working overtime to help me through.
I have decided to detail this lengthy, slow process for anyone out there who may read this, be in the same window/timeframe and be as apprehensive as I am. Now to bring this thing full circle: I was on LinkedIn this morning as I believe that to be the best starting point this far out. I am in the process of building a network of people back home whom I feel could best help me in setting myself up for the next step of my journey.
The real first step is to take a deep breath
realize that many before you have successfully done what I'm/you're about to do and calm down the thought storm in your head. Begin the retirement process AS SOON as you are allowed by regulation in order to maximize the benefits. I will be detailing my journey here as I go through it. Please follow along if you would like to. I will attempt to describe as many of the benefits and opportunities available as I go.
Thank you for reading and I welcome you along my family's trip.