Transitioning from a career in the military is a bit more daunting than you might think, which is a lesson I continue to painfully learn through various clumsy misadventures. I have managed to make it more difficult on myself through my own ignorance (really!) and boneheaded assumption that I knew everything that I needed to do, which proved to be shockingly askew.
So there I was, sitting with my retirement counselor when he informed me that my best-laid plans for departing active duty were fundamentally flawed. I had made all of the calculations to determine the date of my retirement based on my enlisted and officer service on both Active Duty and in the reserves, but all of my mathematical gyrations were in vain because I had to show my math, along with the source documents that backed it up. D’oh!
I left his office dazed and confused. He said something about getting with somebody at Headquarters Marine Corps (in Quantico, Virginia, which is a little too far to go from San Diego during my lunch hour) and straightening things out.
In the best fashion of reality-deniers everywhere, I went back to work and lamented about my fate. Dame fortune smiled upon me, however, when a senior officer heard me bemoaning my misfortune. After he told me to quit whining, he offhandedly directed me to contact a friend of his who had recently retired (!) and was now in charge of the retirement branch (irony or apropos?) back in Quantico.
The clouds parted, the birds sang, and my half empty glass was suddenly and miraculously half full. With that happy bit of info I realized that things were not as dire as I had thought. Giddily I asked my savior if he had any advice to go with the news about his friend.
“Just drop him a line. Tell him I told you to call, and he’ll take care of you.”
He was right. I sent off an email, and within an hour I had a response. Although my quandary seemed epic in proportions to me, he was a little to high in the food chain to deal with my “minor” problem. He did have just the people to help, though, and with another email I was almost there. After reiterating my dilemma yet again to the retired Marine (this one was in charge of just the officer retirements), I was linked up with a most polite and supremely helpful lady who was the person in charge of verifying retirement dates.
I could have given her a big hug and a sloppy kiss, but fortunately for the both of us computer technology isn’t quite that advanced as of yet.
After a brief email exchange, I called her on the telephone and set me straight on what I needed to do to- find every Leave and Earnings Statement (LES, also known as a pay stub) that showed my service. As I wrote in my last post, I had already braved the Dante-esqe cavern of my garage and had found them, so that part was done.
“Scan ’em and send ’em in!” she said. “I’ll let you know in a week where you stand.”
Several hours of furious scanning later, I sent off email after email with my records attached as .pdf files (nothing is ever easy- the scans are relatively large files, and with our internal email system attachments cannot exceed a megabyte or so….and as a result, I spammed her inbox like a teenage hacker.) And then I waited.
A week is a long time to wait! The stakes were, for me anyway, pretty high. The crux of the issue was the magical date on which I could retire, which I had calculated to be in the fall of 2011 was actually, according to the retirement counselor, sometime in mid 2012. Although that may seem like only a few months, it would prove to be a significant emotional event if it were true, as I would have to find another assignment in the interim- an assignment where nobody would really want me around (because I am retiring) and my usefulness would be pretty limited (because I wouldn’t be there very long). I would have been as useful as a typewriter in a computer lab, and just about as annoying. Besides, I had already told everyone from my kids to my boss that I was retiring soon…..and boy would I look like a complete idiot if I had to take it back!
So that week passed at a glacial pace, with every day seeming longer than the day before. After watching the grey hairs on my head sprout like a chia pet, a week passed, and sure enough she dropped me a line to let me know how my math stood up in comparison to hers. My calculations were off by about a week from hers, which in the grand scheme of things was not enough to really matter. The day was saved, literally! My retirement date was officially set on the same date that I had calculated and advertised. Hooray! I wouldn’t have to go back to my boss with my hat in hand, and I wouldn’t be begging my family for forgiveness. I almost gave my new found friend in Quantico a big hug and a kiss- but computing technology hadn’t progressed enough in a week to make it work.
Again, that was probably for the best.
– The best resource is all around you- the people you work with, and more specifically, the people you work for. Senior people know a lot about a lot and can give you some great advice, if you are smart enough to ask for it. In addition, they are invariably connected to other people who can help you out. Again, all you need to to is ask!
– Regulations and research are a great place to start when you are looking to transition, but they aren’t enough. I had assumed that everything was hunky-dory with my service record, but I was wrong. As Ronald Reagan once said “Trust, but verify…”, and his witticism is the cornerstone of administration on the military. Nobody was going to doubt me, but neither would they accept my word without performing their due diligence to make sure that every “i” was dotted and every “t” crossed.
– Find out who the people are that you will be working with, both locally and at higher headquarters. An email or two and a few phonecalls solved a problem that had completely flummoxed me, but those emails and phonecalls were to the right people. Find the right people and your transition will go much more smoothly!