Learning from “The List”

I left the retirement counselor’s office with a smile on face.  He had given me exactly what I needed to chart my course for transition: a comprehensive checklist of tasks to perform along with a roster of contacts that would help me get those things done.  Happily I sat down and took a good look at the list.

It was several pages long, and I won’t bore you with the mundane and excruciating details, well, at least not all of them! I read through the whole packet and pondered what to do.  Should I just start at the top of the list and charge through until I reached the end, or was there a more logical way to complete the rather lengthy assignment?

The first two lines made me chuckle:


More repetition!  It only makes sense that the “Retirement Checklist for Retirees” would have a Checklist as the first item in the Retirement Checklist section.  Maybe I could just read every other line and still get all the information I needed?

Nope.  The checklist’s first bullet, which was next line on the paper quickly got my attention:

􀃎12-24 months before separation:

Ack!  I was only about nine months from the big day.  According to the list I was already over a year behind, and I just got started!


I took a deep breath and read through the entire document (which you can read too- just follow the link in the blogroll).  It was arranged in reverse chronological order in a countdown of sorts to the date of retirement.  Beginning two years out, it quickly went to six, and then three months before retirement.  Since I had already missed out on over a year of preparatory work, I decided to ditch performing the checklist as written and instead to figure a different way to get everything accomplished.

What I found was that there are basically three facets of the retirement process, so I reorganized the checklist into those three areas and then arranged the various subtasks in order of importance and time sensitivity- basically, the things that I needed to do right away hit the top of the list and those that could wait migrated towards the bottom.  By regrouping the dozens of things to be done it made them more manageable, and hopefully I would be able to accomplish them more efficiently.  The basic areas I came up with after studying the checklist were 1) transition training and education, 2) administration, and 3) medical evaluations.

Transition training consisted primarily of a series of seminars and classes that prepare the “separating or retiring service member” (me!) for return to civilian life.  As a retiring Marine (meaning I have more grey hair and wrinkles than those who were separating after only few years of service) I was required to attend one course and was eligible to attend two more.  The required class, called the Transition Assistance Program (TAP) Employment Workshop, is necessary for each and every person on their way out of the military despite their length of service.  It covers a lot of really important topics ranging from veteran’s benefits to tax rules, and you can’t get out (at least not legally!) without attending it.  The other two courses were designed for more senior (again, the “distinguished” looking grey haired and wrinkled set) people like me, and they are designed to help with resume writing, and other important job skills.

As for administration, this area addresses the nuts and bolts of leaving an incredibly bureaucratic profession.  There are forms to fill out, papers to sign, and about a billion things to read and initial.  The administrative boxes to check ranged from deciding where you would establish your home after the service (back where you enlisted from?   Where you live now?  Tahiti?  They all have their upsides and downsides…..but you can only choose one!) to what uniform you will wear to your retirement ceremony.  The administrative requirements ran for several pages and would take a long time to accomplish, but fortunately many of the items could be knocked out simultaneously as I met with various administration specialists, which is what we call Human Resources experts in the military.

The medical bit is just as important as the administrative requirements, and is likewise just as lengthy.  For all separating and retiring servicemembers the physical evaluation and rating for disability has potentially the greatest impact on them of any part of the transition process.  Many people departing military service will have developed some physical problems that will follow them for the rest of their lives, and if they are properly evaluated and documented then they are eligible for medical care long after they take off their uniform.  (After all, carrying a 75 to 100 pounds of equipment on your back while patrolling in 120 degree heat for weeks on end takes a toll on the knees just as operating a tank, flying a helicopter, or shooting artillery will likely make you a bit hard of hearing…what did you say?) It is crucial that these problems be evaluated while in uniform, however, because if they aren’t a bureaucratic nightmare awaits should you try to get them evaluated as an ex-servicemember.

So, after revising the checklist into these three areas I set out to check each box on the list as quickly and efficiently as I could.  With less than nine month to go until my retirement date, I immediately attacked those items that I was delinquent on and started emailing and calling the points of contact on the first page of the checklist to schedule everything else.  It was going to be a bumpy ride, but at least I knew when it would end!

In future posts I will go into greater detail on the three areas on my revised list, starting with transition training.  I had no idea how little I knew about how to quit my job, but the transition classes would ensure that I didn’t punt anything into the stands.  All I need to do is check every box on the list…


Lessons learned:

– First and foremost, time is incredibly important.  The recommendation is to start transitioning two years before you take off your uniform because it takes that long to do everything properly and at a leisurely pace.  I started transitioning with less than half of that time, and as a result I find myself working a lot harder than I need to to get everything done.

– As soon as you make the decision to get out or retire you need to get organized!  Obtain a copy of the appropriate checklist (retirement or separation) and start checking things off as far out as you can.  Even if you have not decided on a firm date, there are things that can be accomplished easily (such as reviewing your personnel and medical records for accuracy and researching where you would like to go when you get out).

– Find out what administrative section will be processing your separation or retirement and schedule a meeting with them.  They can provide you with contacts and guidance that you can put to good use immediately, and without the time wasted by adventure learning and trying to do it all yourself as I had done initially.


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