The decision to transition out of uniform is as important as the initial decision to put it on. That is why the Army provides the Army Career and Alumni Program and is working to make it even more effective. ACAP delivers transition and job assistance services to Soldiers to support them in making informed career decisions.
Pre-separation counseling, Veteran Affairs benefits briefings and Department of Labor Transition Assistance Program workshops are available to separating and retiring active component Soldiers, demobilizing Reserve and National Guard Soldiers, family members, retirees, and civilians affected by BRAC, reduction in force or global realignment.
A 2010 in-depth review of ACAP found that while Soldiers are allowed to use ACAP services up to two years before retirement or one year before separation, they do not always have leadership support in doing more than the minimum required by law, which is attending the pre-separation briefing no later than 90 days before separation.
However, just meeting the letter of the law is too little, too late. The more Soldiers are able to use ACAP services, the more successful their transitions.
Based on the study results and guidance from the vice chief of staff, over the next few months ACAP will implement an enhanced transition program model focused on helping Soldiers develop and put into action individual transition plans.
Under this choice-based, results-oriented model, Soldiers will have the opportunity to spend up to 60-70 hours accessing ACAP resources. The Transition Assistance Program workshop will also be updated to incorporate development of the individual transition plan.
A 12-month time frame is designed to minimize conflict with unit mission requirements, while enabling Soldiers to take full advantage of ACAP resources.
About four out of 10 eligible Soldiers who start ACAP decide to reenlist or join the National Guard or Reserves, while others need to get a solid start preparing for the next phase of their careers: going to school, starting a new job or starting a business.
ACAP is a commander’s program. Soldiers will take off the uniform at some point, whether through separation or retirement, and it is up to leaders to take care of them until the very last day. This includes supporting their active participation in ACAP, and if a Soldier decides to separate, making sure no stigma is attached to his or her decision.
It is smart business to support Soldiers’ use of ACAP. In FY10 the Army spent more than $500 million in unemployment compensation for veterans, a number expected to rise even higher in FY11.
More to the point, it is the right thing to do. Transition is stressful under the best of circumstances, and right now, Soldiers are facing a tough job market. We have to equip them to take the skills and values they learned in the Army and translate them into success in the next phase of their careers.
When Soldiers take off the uniform, we want them to know they made the right choice for themselves, their careers and their families. It’s the least we can do for their service and sacrifices.
Editor’s Note: New guidance on the transition program is expected during the first quarter of fiscal year 2012.