So it had finally happened. The big day had arrived and I found myself suddenly thrust back out into the real world. Crossing the threshold of transition is more than just metaphorical, however. There are still quite a few things that have to be accomplished before the process of becoming a civilian again is complete.
One important “little thing” is obtaining the official token of retirement: the blue identification card. It is the key to your benefits after leaving active duty; benefits like health care, shopping at the base exchange or commissary, and the proof of your service that allows you to drive onto base. Unlike your active duty ID card, however, it doesn’t require renewal every three years. It expires on your 65th birthday, where upon I suppose I will have to drive down to the Pass and Identification office and obtain a new card (65 is the magic age when retirees become eligible for Medicare, and thus require a new form of identification).
So it is important to get one’s retired ID card as soon as possible after the last day of terminal leave has vanished into the night. Technically, if you don’t, you are violating the law because the Armed Forces Identity Card has a few features that your random state issued ID or driver’s license doesn’t. For example, it is a “smart card” with a chip inside that can be used to access government computers. Not that you can really do anything particularly nefarious with such access, but with your transition comes the end of your right to get on government computer systems. It also contains your official Geneva Convention status in case you are captured by the enemy (although this is particularly unlikely in Southern California, you never know when it might be useful). In my case, I was Category IV, which meant I was a commissioned officer. When I was enlisted was a Category III. I know that because it said so right on my ID card. Again, not a huge deal, but with my retirement I became uncategorized. Had the US been invaded on New Year’s Day and I had been captured and the invader checked my ID card then I would have been thrown in a POW camp instead of being released. That in and of itself is reason enough to get my new ID.
So off to the Pass and ID office I went. It seemed to be a straightforward process: go to the office and turn in your active ID for a retired one. It was straightforward, but in typical fashion it wasn’t so simple.
I showed up and signed in on the clipboard that sat beneath the proclamation “SIGN IN HERE”. I then sat down in a government issued plastic chair with about a dozen other people who were waiting for new identity cards. I was halfway through reading the September issue of Consumer Reports (always a good read) when my name was called.
I walked up to the counter. “Can I help you?” asked the clerk. “Sure. I need to turn in my active ID card for a retired one,” I answered as I reached for my wallet.
“OK. Two forms of ID please. And your DD-214.”
ID’s I had. My DD-214 I didn’t.
The DD-214 is the single most important document that a separating serviceman or woman will ever receive. It is the source document that proves your service; it shows when you entered and when you left active duty as well as the recording your eligibility for VA benefits, healthcare, reenlistment (in case you can’t handle civilian life and want to get back in) and apparently also a retired ID card.
I resigned myself to another trip to the Pass and ID office. I should have known better, but I didn’t. The thing about being on active duty is that you tend to take a lot of things for granted; after all, you are in every computer data base imaginable. All anyone has to do is look at your ID card, input your social security number, and pull your data up. Unfortunately, once you retire the great big data eraser comes in and purges you from the system, as was the case for me on the first business day after the New Year’s Day weekend:
03 Jan 2012 @ 0243 MOL LTCOL GRICE, MICHAEL D. was dropped from your unit
With that pithy little message I was erased. With my erasure rose the importance of the DD-214, because it was an artifact of my service that could not be summarily deleted. And without it, as I found, things were much more difficult or impossible to accomplish.
So the next day I returned with my two forms of ID and my DD-214. I was able to finish reading the September issue of Consumer Reports (good thing, too! I was wondering which bottled water I should be drinking) before I was beckoned back to the counter. With a cheery smile I turned over my documents, and within a few minutes I had a shiny new retired ID card. Complete with a cheesy picture of myself that I would be looking at for the next few decades before I turn 65 and the proclamation of my newly earned RETIRED status. No POW camp for me!
1. Your DD-214 is the most important document you will have after you transition. I recommend that you keep a copy of it with you at all times when you are conducting transition relate business. Have the administrative shop that completes your transition provide you a few extra copies, and make sure that they are stamped “CERTIFIED TRUE COPY” at the bottom. That will ensure that you don’t have to make extra trips like I did.
2. Buy a binder or folio (nifty word for folder that has a zipper on it to hold all the stuff inside) and keep all of your working transition paperwork inside. That way you can whip out your DD-214 or whatever other document you need at a moment’s notice and avoid going back and forth to get things done. You will need other documents, too, like your checkout sheet, medical appointment reminders, etc., and having an organized notebook will help a lot.