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Planning Military Transition Early

By Kathleen Brill
Special to washingtonpost.com
Monday, July 19, 2004; 4:35 PM

Start planning for the "duty free" stage of your life a year before transitioning from the military. Taking time to plan makes it easier to dream a little bigger and to reassess personal goals that might have been brushed aside while serving your country, says Tim Davidson, a retired colonel from the U.S. Air Force.

"That little part about pursuit of happiness – you're allowed to do that," Davidson says. He also advises people to stay flexible after transition – the first post-military job may not be the last career change that lies ahead.

Freedom to make more personal choices is one of the luxuries of civilian life and should be a major factor when making career decisions, even for people working in a field closely related to their military experience. "Take the job you want, work with the people you want to work with ... you need to make a life decision, not a casual one," Davidson says.

Longtime members of the military have the positive challenge of sifting through years of different training and experiences and should be thinking of how it applies in the civilian job market. Those with fewer years in the military should think of the experience as only one building block from the outset of their career, says Derrick Dortch, a Georgetown University career counselor and former Marine.

"Short-timers should start planning what they want out of it as they go in," Dortch says.

Dortch and Davidson advise asking yourself the following questions before transitioning:

  • What city, region or country do you want to live in?
  • Is there a military base near you "dream location" where you can be transferred for your last assignment?
  • What do you like to do for fun, and how will it fit into your new life?
  • How much flexibility, money, and responsibility do you need and want from your next job?
  • Do you want to pursue new interests, and if so, what kinds of education and training should you obtain?
  • Who is on your list for networking and advice?
  • What are the needs of family members and loved ones, and how can your transition improve your relationships?
On TAP: Advice and Support

Military Transition Assistance Programs (TAP), provided by the U.S. Defense and Labor departments, are helpful resources for anyone thinking about leaving the military.

"I call it the civilian boot camp," says Glovinia Harris, program manager for the Naval Security Group Activity in Fort Meade, Md. Harris conducts TAP programs for the Navy, which may include personnel from other branches of the military.

Harris says TAP programs provide:

  • life planning
  • conducting a successful job search
  • reducing stress during transition
  • developing support networks
  • finding new social outlets

    Network Inside and Outside the Military

    Networking and conducting informational interviews while still in the military teaches men and women how to fit into the constantly changing job market. Maintaining these contacts continues to be a priority after career transition, says Janet Giles, Transition Assistance Manager in Dahlgren, Va.

    "Even though they don't admit it – some of them are hoping to have a job the day after they leave the military," says Giles, who suggests networking at professional associations in the private sector as well as seeking advice from others who have left the military. "Once you know you're getting out, start going to those job fairs," Giles says.

    Editor's note: This article by Kathleen Brill, was first acquired by washingtonpost.com on February 24, 2003.

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