It’s here! Orders to Nowhere is now a book!

It’s finally here!  The first edition of Orders to Nowhere is available in print.  It will be six to eight weeks before it shows up in bookstores, and a week or so before it hits  If you want to avoid the wait, you can order it straight from the printer by clicking the cover:

Orders to Nowhere

Since you are a loyal reader and follower of the blog that got it all started, you can use the discount code ZVGYFQ28 and save 10% off the cover price.

Thank each and every one of you for reading and following my journey through transition!


The things you don’t expect: life out of uniform is not as easy as you might think!

This morning I literally ran into a friend of mine as I was out pounding the pavement on my daily jog.  He was returning from his morning run and I was just heading out on mine, so we stopped for a few minutes and catch up on things.

We chatted about this and that, and before long we were comparing life in uniform to life after you hang your uniform up.  In addition to the obvious differences, like being able to sleep late, grow your hair, and go for a run without wearing an obnoxiously annoying reflective belt, there are some that become apparent only when you need to get something done.

One of the tremendous strengths of the military is that many of the mundane, yet annoying, aspects of life are taken care of for you.  Things like food (which sits waiting for you to start eating at chowhalls on every base) and clothes (with uniforms being issued and a clothing allowance to help defray the cost to replace them) and administration (with clerks waiting to solve any problems you may have with your pay and allowances).  These things are taken care of so that warfighters can devote their time and efforts on the mission of preparing for and fighting our nation’s battles and winning our country’s wars.

Not so much in the civilian world.  Those things get done by one person.


Although it may seem obvious that you will need to take care of all of these things (and more) yourself, it is not so simple.  What I was not really prepared for was the amount of time that I had to dedicate to taking care of all of those mundane little ankle biting tasks that civilians have been dealing with their whole lives.  Where before things like pay problems and meals seemed to take care of themselves I now found myself spending hours at the bank and the grocery store because otherwise my family and I would be broke and hungry.  Suddenly there was nobody around to deal with those things but me.

Civilians are used to it.  They cook their own meals because there are no chowhalls in suburbia.  They go shopping and buy their own clothes, which can be quite daunting when you consider that military folks have been wearing the same shoes and combat boots and dress uniforms for decades. When they have a problem with their paychecks or vacation days they get to go deal with it themselves because there is no First Sergeant or Sergeant Major or Chief Petty Officer hanging around the office to deal with such matters.

One of the things that comes with hanging up your uniform is freedom.  Freedom from people in different uniforms (or no uniforms at all) shooting at you as well as from people in your own uniform yelling at you and waking you up in the middle of the night.  With that freedom, however, comes responsibility for yourself in a way that has not been a critical part of your life since you first swore to support and defend the Constitution of the United States of America.

Now you have to do all of those little annoying ankle-biting things that everybody else in the civilian world does.  And let me tell you, it takes some getting used to because everything takes a lot longer than you think it should and there is nobody there to tell you the right or wrong way to do things.  Just like you once learned how to become a successful Soldier, Sailor, Airman, or Marine you must now learn how to become a successful civilian.

This time, though, you don’ t have a Drill Instructor “mentoring” you along.  You also don’t have a platoon of bald and nervous friends learning the ropes with you.  This time you get to figure it all out on your own.  But, all things considered, it isn’t bad.  It’s just a little surprising.

And really annoying.

Good luck!

The call I was waiting for from the VA. Really!

It finally happened!  The VA called and scheduled my final disability evaluation appointment.  Hooray!

For those who are wondering why this is a big deal, here is a quick backstory.  My veteran’s disability claim has been turgidly moving through the system for nearly a year and a half, and during that time I also entered the VA medical system.  As I learned, the VA has two distinct and different sides when it comes to disability claims and healthcare, and they do not talk.

This became a problem for me because I did not understand that important fact.  My disability claim was partially settled six months ago, and with the notification letter came the promise of a call to finish the process.  Soon after, I was contacted by the VA on numerous occasions to schedule and attend various appointments at the local clinic.  Foolishly, I thought that the clinic and the disability claim evaluation were one and the same.  As I said earlier, they aren’t.

As it happens all of the calls from the VA clinic were for the medical side and were unrelated to the disability claims side, and none of the appointments had anything do to with my claim.  Good news for my medical coverage, but still a lot of frustration on my disability claim.

So, months of frustration, I called the VA.  After a few weeks of phone tag, my case was reviewed and I was again promised that I would be receiving a call to schedule my follow up appointment.  I was not optimistic.

My pessimism was abated when they called.  Actually, they contacted me by mail. I received a letter that explained that I needed to be seen by the VA’s contract provider for a few things that were not completely documented by my initial visit, and with the letter came a questionnaire regarding the issues in question.  I filled out the questionnaire, and within a day or two I received a call from the provider’s office to schedule an appointment.

Yesterday I went to the contract provider that takes care of the claims side of the VA house.  It was the same provider that I had seen a year earlier, and to their credit they were very efficient and polite.  I was in and out of their office in less than 45 minutes, which was a pleasant surprise as I had anticipated spending the afternoon in the waiting room.  With that appointment I had, in theory, finished up my claims process.  I hope it is done.  According to the VA representative that I had spoken with earlier the only items remaining in my case were the evaluation from the contract provider and a few administrative corrections in my file.

The evaluation is done.  Now I just have to wait for the administrators to correct my file and then my disability claim should be completed.

I’ve heard that story before.  We’ll see…and I’ll keep you posted!


Lessons learned:

– The Medical side of the VA is completely separate from the Disability claims side of the VA.  In my case, the clue to the difference was that all of the medical issues were addressed by my local clinic while all of my disability evaluations were performed by a contracted provider.

– Be proactive.  Call the VA and determine your status.  I think it helped, as my case was languishing for months until I made some inquiries.

– As always, be patient!

Learning a new skill: Salary and benefits negotiation part 1

In the military one learns a good many things:  How to stand at attention and march smartly about.  How to carry and shoot a rifle, and how to live out of a backpack for weeks on end.  How to fix a tank or fly a jet.  Lots and lots of things.

One thing that you don’t learn, however, is something that everybody else in the business world learns with their first job: how to negotiate.

Negotiation is a very important part the employment process.  When a candidate is offered a position with a company he or she begins the discussion of compensation with the hiring manager, where things like compensation, benefits, hours, vacation time, career progression, retirement plans, insurance, and countless other things that are part and parcel of employment.  In the corporate world all of these items are negotiable, and both job providers and job seekers know it.

In the military the situation could not be more different.  When a young man or woman joins the military they are provided a comprehensive pay and benefits package, but it is one that is set by law and regulation.  There is no negotiation for a better salary or more flexible hours — in fact, there is no negotiation at all.  The pay, allowances, and benefits for military folks are no secret, either.  The pay scale, which is based on rank and time in service, is readily available on the internet as are all of the other  benefits, special pay conditions (such as jump and dive pay), and housing stipends.  When you join the military you get what you get, just like everybody else in uniform.

As a result of the defined pay and benefits in the military those in uniform never engage in the process of employment negotiation, and that can place them at a disadvantage when they hang up their uniforms and enter the civilian world where everything is negotiable.

Everything from the salary you will earn to the amount of vacation you can take to where you can park your car is on the table.  It is up to you, the job seeker, to get the best offer that you can, and if you don’t know to engage in the back and forth of negotiation then you risk leaving valuable things on the table.  There is one guarantee in negotiation: you will never get things that you don’t ask for.

Fortunately, you can arm yourself for such a negotiation by doing a little research and preparing for it.

The research bit can make an enormous difference in the negotiation process because it can provide you with valuable information about the company and what you can and can not ask for.  You can surf the internet (at sites like or and ask your friends and contacts (especially those in the industry you are entering or work at the company) about what the average salary for your desired position is as well as the benefits package that the firm offers.

As the job seeker you have leverage in the negotiation up until the point that you accept the job offer and the terms that it contains.  Once you say “yes” the negotiation is over, and you are highly unlikely to be able to change anything.  At that point anything that was left on the table will vanish like a thief in the night.

So what are the types of things that you can ask for?  Here is a quick list of twenty things that many companies will entertain and which may or may not be similar to military benefits:

1.  Performance bonuses.  Can you make more money if your performance merits it?

2.  Flexible hours.  Maybe a four day week with longer workdays?

3.  Work location.  Work from home?

4.  Overtime pay.  How much will you be compensated for working extra hours?

5.  Retirement plans.  What kind do they offer?  How much will the company match in a 401K?

6.  Vacation time.  You received 30 days a year in the military, and the base in the civilian world is two weeks, unless you negotiate for more.

7.  Travel expenses.  Can you get  company car?  Mileage compensation or a gas station credit card?

8.  Non-monetary compensation.  Can you earn stock options or fully valued shares of the company’s stock?

9.  Career flexibility.  Can you create a path that starts in one area of the company and then move to another?

10.  Time off.  How about personal days?  Sick days?

11.  Health care.  Is health insurance included?  What are the deductibles?  Is there an on-site clinic?

12.  Insurance.  You had SGLI in the military at a steeply discounted rate.  Does your employer offer life insurance?

13.  Meals.  Is there a company cafeteria?  Are meals subsidized?

14.  Child care.  Can you bring your child to work?  How about a nursing room for those who wish to nurse their infants?

15.  Tech equipment.  How about a company phone or laptop?

16.  Discounts.  If the company produces goods, can you purchase them at a discount?  Is there a company store?

17.  Memberships.  Will the company provide memberships to a health club or gym?

18.  Travel.  Will you be expected to travel in coach, business class, or even better when you travel?  How about upgrades?

19.  Education.  Will the company pay for you to pursue an MBA or other educational opportunitity?

20.  Relocation expenses.  Will the firm pay for you to move your family to the city where you will work?

These are only the tip of the pay and benefits iceberg.  If you don’t do your homework and come to the bargaining table knowing what you can and should ask for you will get less than you could have.

In my next post we will prepare for the negotiation by rehearsing and doing a little self examination to make sure we do the best job possible at the bargaining table.


Lessons learned:

– Military benefits are set.  Corporate benefits are not.  To get the best salary and benefits possible you are going to have to negotiate for them.

– Not all companies offer all benefits.  You need to do some research to see what the company offers, and then be prepared to ask for them.

– Salary is usually the biggest aspect of the negotiation, but it is not the only element.  Unlike the military, many corporate benefit packages are tailored to the individual employee.

– Use your network of contacts and the internet to research what will likely be on the table during the negotiation.  Don’t look foolish by asking for something the company does not offer, and don’t forget to ask for something that they do.

An update in my VA Claims Status

As a reader of this blog you know that I have recently transitioned from Active Duty and am now enjoying life on the civilian side of the fence.  One of the big parts of transition is the eligibility for a disability rating from the Veterans Administration, and recently my status in that regard changed.

Let me back up a bit.  I began my transition well over a year ago (in the summer of 2011), and as I went through the required and optional transition seminars I was educated on the benefits that all honorably discharged veterans are eligible to receive.  As a retiring Marine, I learned that I was eligible for more benefits than those who served one or two enlistments (such as pension and access to VA medical care for myself and an entitlement to TRICARE for my family).  Such benefits are great!  They were earned through over a quarter century of service in uniform and no small amount of time getting shot at in combat zones.

In addition to VA medical care I, and all veterans, are evaluated to determine whether or not we are eligible for a disability rating as a result of the maladies, wear, and tear that we experienced while serving in uniform.  It is perfectly reasonable to be evaluated for any such problems, but unfortunately the time it takes for the claims evaluation process to reach completion is far from speedy.

This month I received a couple of notifications from the VA.  The first was a letter that is identical to the letters that preceded it telling me that my claims process was still under review.  Not surprising, really, because the average time to review and approve a case is well over a year, and mine has only been in the hopper for about ten months now.

When I logged into the VA ebenefits website, however, I saw that there was some progress.  Hooray!  My status had changed from “Preparation for Decision” to “Regulatory or Procedural Review”.  I’m not exactly sure what that means, but I am optimistic that it is an indicator of progress.

I drilled into the website to see what the new status reflected.  Here is what the website said:

Claim Received: 08/17/2012
Claim Type: Regulatory or Procedural Review
Estimated Claim Completion Date: unavailableWe are currently unable to provide you with a projected completion date for this type of claim. Please await further claim status notification for this Regional Office.

Hmmm.  That tells me pretty much nothing at all.  I read on…

Next Steps:

We will review all available evidence and make a decision on your claim upon receipt of all requested information as outlined in the headings, “What Do We Still Need from You?” and “What Have We Done?”. 

Several factors will determine the duration of the “Development” phase, including:

  • type of claim filed
  • number of disabilities you claim
  • complexity of your disability(ies), and
  • availability of evidence needed to decide your claim.

Now that sounds promising!  My case is in the “development” phase!  I still don’t know what that means, but I am hoping it indicates progress.

At any rate, my claim is wending its way through the claims process, and it looks like movement forward is occurring.  I hope that those of you out there in the same boat are receiving similar updates, too.  A word to the wise, however: Don’t wait for the VA to tell you about your updated status via the postal service, because they likely won’t.  My letter from them this month didn’t tell me anything new.  You should be checking the VA website (, specifically the ebenefits tab) frequently to see if your status is moving forward.  Otherwise things may be going on with your claim that you are unaware of.

Just a word to the wise….keep up on your claim!  After all, if you don’t, who will?

A fascinating education opportunity: Fidelis

SgtMaj (Retired) Frank Pulley, a good friend of mine who is actively involved with military transition while representing the Marine Corps Association and Foundation recently introduced me to a remarkably innovative organization that offers a variety of opportunities for veterans and active duty folks to pursue higher education.  Promising education in and of itself is not particularly innovative – there are plenty of companies and schools in that business – but what makes this venture noteworthy is how it provides a comprehensive path from prospective student to employed graduate by working closely with colleges, universities, governmental agencies, and prospective employers.

The name of this great organization is Fidelis.  Named the Fast Company magazine’s #7 Most Innovative Company in early 2012, it was created by former Marine Captain and Iraq combat veteran Gunnar Counselman.  The company’s mission is to build a scalable solution to the military-to-civilian career transition in partnership with leading universities, military organizations, and great companies.

The idea for the company arose from Gunnar’s experience as he transitioned from active duty to the private sector.  As a veteran fresh from the fight in Iraq he entered the Harvard Business School, and upon graduation started a very successful career in the civilian world with a top-tier consulting firm.  During his graduate studies and his entry into corporate life he was startled by the differences between active service in the Marine Corps and life in the civilian environment and how difficult it was to make the transition between the two.  He mulled it over for several years, and with the conviction of someone willing to take the plunge he started Fidelis in order to not just help military folks make it through the transition by pursuing higher education but also to partner with corporations and business to employ them upon graduation.

Fidelis is much more than just a college and job placement firm.  It goes much deeper than that; each student works with a transitional coach and a network of mentors who help determine long term objectives, interests, and goals.  Once these are established, the coach and mentors guide the student through a tailored educational process that links their objectives with a personalized educational program that meets their educational needs.  With Fidelis’s help, the student enters college and obtains their degree – but the company’s commitment to the student does not end there.  The new graduate works with his or her coach, mentors, and the corporate sector to find the best employment fit.  The commitment does not end on the first day at work, either.  Fidelis is there for months afterwards to ensure that the transition process is successful.

The company has a broad array of colleges, universities, corporations, and business who all work through Fidelis to create the bridge from uniformed member of the armed forces to successful business professional.  They offer several programs that transitioning military people can pursue:

-2+2Plus: This program is for active duty personnel who know that they will be transitioning in the next year or two and don’t have a degree.  They can take general education classes using the company’s innovative social learning platform that marries courses from the  University of California with Fidelis’s learning program.  Designed to get the student back up to speed educationally and prepare them for enrollment in a full-time college or university while still on active duty, the technology used is flexible, intuitive, and supportive of the demanding requirements that are part and parcel of being in the military.  Once they leave active duty, the program continues as mentors and coaches guide the veteran to a college or university where they enroll in a program that meets their objectives and ultimately ends with placement in the private sector.

-Pre-MBA Bootcamp:  This program is for veterans who already have a college degree and are pursuing an MBA in one of the top 30 programs nationwide.  In conjunction with UCLA the program prepares the student with courses in finance, accounting, and quantitative analysis as well as providing an opportunity to socialize and network with other students.

-Silicon Valley Concentration:  Designed for veterans who already have a four year degree and are interested in the technology sector, this program is focused on a specific degree or discipline.  The program begins with a six week long course that introduces the technologies and companies that are the hub of Silicon Valley technology.  The mentors and counselors then work with the student to determine which aspects of the tech world that they want to pursue, and collectively they create a pathway to get there through focused training that results in technical certifications that bring the student to the cutting edge of ever-changing technology.  As with the other programs the mentorship and coaching does not end with a diploma, but instead follows the new employee as they pursue their new career.

All of this is done with little or no cost to the student other than the costs associated with enrolling in school.  The costs are borne by the companies that are investing in quality future employees and by colleges and universities who help educate veteran students.  Fidelis provides a remarkable opportunity for transitioning military people who want to pursue higher education and find a new career.  Take a look at what they offer- I am certain you will be as intrigued as I was!

Back to class, part 1: the Transition Assistance (Management) Program

Transitioning from the military to the civilian world is an inevitable event in the lives of servicemen and women.  It began with George Washington bidding a fond farewell to his militia and regulars at the end of the Revolutionary War and has continued on through a couple of centuries of war and peace.  Decade after decade veterans who have served the flag have hung up their uniforms and integrated back into society- some without missing a beat, but those individuals are rare indeed.  For the rest of us, the road is a little bumpy and has some unexpected turns! Fortunately, somebody up there was looking out for those of us who are easily confused.

Enter the Transition Assistance Program, or TAP (sometimes labelled “TAMP”, for Transition Assistance Management Program).  TAP/TAMP, universally referred to by military types as “tapandtamp”, is a mandated and required training workshop that everyone in the military must attend prior to hanging it all up.  The program began in 1989 as a joint initiative between the Veterans Administration (VA), the Department of Defense (DOD), and the Department of Labor (DOL), and was designed to provide separating servicemembers with employment and job training assistance as well counseling on VA benefits and services.  It came about because prior to 1989 there was no coordinated or consistent curriculum to aid those on their way out the door; every base and service had its own version of what to do, ranging from formalized classes and aggressive job placement to nothing more than a hearty handshake and a slap on the back as you walked out the gate.  Needless to say, the creation of the program back in 1989 was a great idea, and it has been helping military types become educated veterans ever since – including the one writing this post!

After meeting with my retirement counselor I began coordinating with the base Transition office.  I picked up the phone and called the number listed on the first page of my transition checklist, and was very pleasantly surprised to find yet another retired Marine on the other end of the phone who was thrilled that I had rung him up.  He quickly put my mind at ease with his affable manner and earnest desire to help me out.  After chatting for a few minutes, he asked about my circumstance (“what rank are you?  Oh, that’s great, sir!  Retiring?  How many years in?  When is your last day?”) and by the end of our conversation I had reservations at both the Pre-Retirement TAP/TAMP and the 25+ Pre-Retirement seminars.  It was truly a joy to talk to this guy, who I had figured for a long retired guy who just loved being around Marines.

As it turned out, I was right.  Not long after our conversation I stopped by his office, a tiny room on the third deck (floor for non-Naval types) and met him in person.  An surprisingly spritely octogenarian, he fairly leaped from behind his desk in order to shake hands and introduce himself.  With a broad grin, he confirmed my enrollment in the transition courses.  As I looked around his cramped office, I saw pictures of a much younger man in vintage Marine Corps uniforms.  Too modest to talk about himself too much, we parted company.  I later learned that he had enlisted in the Marine Corps during the Second World War and crossed the beach at Iwo Jima with a rifle in his hand, which to all Marines places him into nearly God-like status.  As if that weren’t enough, he went on to fight in Korea and Vietnam and ultimately ended up retiring as a Sergeant Major.  And now he spent his days helping people like me, who were likely unborn when he retired, transition from the service.  Thank God for men such as him!

But I digress. At any rate, the schedule of events during the seminar is very similar whether you take it in Okinawa, Germany, or California.  More of a symposium or a workshop than a seminar, it is a series of lectures, classes, and briefings presented by knowledgeable representatives on a wide variety of topics ranging from medical evaluations to taxation considerations.  The following is a list of presentations that I found to be very useful as I attended the Pre-Retirement TAP/TAMP seminar at Camp Pendleton, California:

– Welcome/Introduction: this was just like the beginning of any workshop you attend.  They hand out a schedule and promise not to keep you late, which is a standard fabrication for almost any required class.  I was pleasantly surprised to find that these guys could actually keep to a schedule, and we got out on time!  They had this down to a science, and each brief was efficiently and professionally done in the time allotted.  In addition, they provided a broad overview of the transition services center and what they could do for the attendees, which turns out to be a great deal.

– TRICARE brief.  This is a very important brief for retirees, because it details the options for medical care after transition.  In a nutshell, healthcare is free for active duty personnel and there are several different programs for families.  Once you take off your uniform, however, you have to decide which medical insurance plan is best for you.

– Dental brief.  This was pretty quick and to the point.  Just as with medical care, dental work is free for the servicemember and there are pretty good plans for families.  As you transition, though, they options are less good, so you will have to choose which one you would like.

– Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP).  As a retiree you will receive a pension.  Depending on when you entered the service you are eligible for one of three plans- in my case my pension is based on my length of service and average monthly salary over the last 36 months of active duty.  The length of service determines the percentage of the 36 month average salary you will receive for the rest of your life.  Getting a pension is a pretty big deal, particularly now as there are very few companies that such a great retirement plan.  401Ks are nice, but require a lot of management and are subject to the whims of the stock market.  A pension check just shows up once a month, well at least as long as the Federal Government is around.  I think that will be a while, but again I digress!  The pension check only arrives as long as the retiree is alive- once he or she kicks the bucket the pension terminates.  In order to protect the family, however, the SBP allows for up to 55% of the pension benefit to transfer to the spouse (and in some cases, the children) after the passing of the retiree.  Like TRICARE, there is a lot to it, and I will dedicate a post to insurance considerations (TRICARE, Dental, and SBP) in the future.

– Federal Veteran’s Affairs.  There were several components to the VA brief, all of which were relevant and important.  First there was on overview of benefits, such as loan guarantees, burial plots, and the like.  The most significant brief covered the medical evaluation process which results in the determination if you have a service connected disability.  Being considered disabled opens the door to other benefits, many of which are pretty amazing, one example being the California University System, which will allow the children of disabled veterans to attend college tuition-free.  Whilst images of disability meaning life in a wheelchair, I learned that is not the case.  As with insurance, this will be a post of its own in the future because it is a pretty complicated process, and it is easy to screw it up and deny yourself benefits later in life.  Another critically important VA brief covered GI Bill benefits, which these days are fantastic.  In a nutshell, the VA will pay for school at the state school rate and also pay you a housing allowance while you go to school, but you have to jump through a few hoops to take advantage of it.  Fortunately, there are VA offices and administrators whose job it is to help, and I have found them to be helpful indeed!

– State Veteran’s Affairs.  Like the federal VA program, each state has benefits for veterans.  California’s are largely based on the level of disability (such as the California college education opportunity listed above), but not all of them are.  Benefits range from free license plates if you are 100% disabled to free access to state parks just for being a veteran.  Great stuff!

– Joint Education Center (JEC).  The presenter from the JEC (woohoo!  more acronyms!) also addressed the GI Bill, but also went into much greater detail on the various education programs available for veterans.  For example, many of the schools and jobs that servicemembers have attended and held during their careers may be eligible for college credit, and the JEC can assist with the evaluation process.  It also provides counseling and help with applying for trade schools, college, or apprenticeships.

-Disbursing and Travel.  This brief covered how you will be paid as a retiree.   As an active servicemember you receive a paycheck twice a month, on the first and fifteenth of the month.  As a retiree, that changes to once a month on the first, so budgeting is a little more important.  They also disclose what you will be paid for and what you won’t, which is significantly different from being on active duty.  While serving, your paycheck includes a housing allowance (as long as you live off base), an allowance for meals, various bonuses and special duty payments (for example, reenlistment bonuses or extra pay for pilots and parachutists), and a uniform replacement allowance for enlisted members.  When you retire all of those extra payments go away, and you pretty much just rate your pension.  I don’t jump out of airplanes or fly them, so I won’t miss that money because I never received it.  I will miss the housing and food allowances, though!

– Household Effects/Transportation.  This brief is important for those who will be retiring someplace other than their last duty station. Pretty much everyone wants to retire to Aruba, but the realities of life generally bring that dream to a tragic end.  Generally speaking, people retire to one of three places: where they are, where they are from, or someplace completely new.  Transportation to the first choice is easy because there are no benefits.  You just go home.  The second choice is pretty simple as well.  If you want to go back to your Home of Record (where you enlisted from), the government will pay to ship your household goods as well as pay for you and your family to travel to your new (old) home.  In the third case, it is a little more complicated.  The travel experts figure out how much it would cost to move you to your Home of Record and will apply that amount to the cost of moving you and your stuff.  So, if you still want to move to Aruba and you enlisted from Iowa, you will have to make up the difference on your own.

– Financial Readiness.  This brief covers the financial ramifications of retirement as well as strategies for the future.  Since we are eligible for a pension, most of us have not really paid much attention to the variety of other opportunities out there beyond a Individual Retirement Account and maybe the Thrift Savings Plan, which is a nonmatching 401K type vehicle.  The presenter showed us various investment strategies and a peek into what types of compensation exists on the outside world.

– Marine Corps Community Services (MCCS).  This brief covered the opportunities that exist with MCCS, which is a broad umbrella organization that includes things ranging from portions of the Marine Corps Exchange (like our base shopping mall) to recreational services such as sports equipment rental.  Access to some programs change when you retire, which they covered in the presentation.  There are also a lot of job opportunities with MCCS, which the addressed as well.

– The Psychological Factors of Retirement.  This covered the “softer” side of transition, the side that doesn’t have a rigid checklist to follow or series of classes to attend.  This class really addressed what happens after your last day in uniform- the feelings of loneliness, uselessness, confusion, and in many cases, happiness and joy.  We military types are not the most introspective and emotional folks out there, so this class was a real eye opener.

– Relocation and Retired Activities.  There are a lot of resources out there that you can utilize as you transition and once you become a valued veteran, and the Relocation and Retired Activities office is the place go to access them.  It is really a resource designed for those who are staying in the area because it is a link to the local community.

– Medical records brief and review.  This is one of the most important parts of the symposium!  After an hourlong brief that covered the nuts and bolts of how you are medically evaluated by the Veterans Administration, you are afforded the opportunity to have your medical record evaluated by a true expert on such things (in my case, it was a great guy from the Disabled American Veterans, or DAV).  It is very important that you bring your entire medical record on this day, because the class and succeeding evaluation of your record will provide you insights about which you had no idea.  This is a pre-inspection of your records, but what it does is allows you to follow up with your military medical provider on any physical maladies or problems that require attention before you retire or get out.  This is a big deal because access to medical care is easy while you still wear a uniform, but not so much when you take it off for the last time.  In addition, you will leave the screening with a list of recurrent medical problems that will later determine your medical disability percentage, and with that percentage the possibility of greater monetary compensation.  I will write a lot more on the medical side of transition in future posts.  Don’t miss this day at TAP/TAMP, and DON’T FORGET YOUR MEDICAL RECORD!!

– Job Hunting and Prospecting.  This is a class that could have been a seminar all by itself.  You are introduced to the realities of finding a job on the outside (not impossible, but not necessarily easy, either) along with the importance of networking.  I will leave it at that because the next two seminars focus on this part a great deal.

– Writing a resume, cover letter, etc.  This class was accompanied by a couple of nifty workbooks which helped you write a resume that actually might help get a job, as opposed to the horrible ones that you tend to write without help.  I say that from experience, because I brought with me a resume that I thought was pretty good but was in all actuality total garbage.  You spend a lot of time (a whole day out of the four day package) learning about business documents and how to write them.  In addition, you learn how to interview and how to sell yourself.  Marines tend to be pretty humble, believe it or not, and it is difficult to get them (and me!) to talk about their accomplishments and the great things that they have done during their careers.  Lastly, the fine art of salary negotiation (!) is covered- something that is completely foreign to Marines who have been paid based on time in service and rank for their entire careers.

All things considered, the TAP/TAMP workshop was a tremendous wake up call for all of us who have attended it.  It is indeed required (and you get a neat stamp on your check out sheet that boldly proclaims TAMP COMPLETE on the last day), but despite the negative connotation of all required classes, it was truly invaluable.  I learned more about the rest of my life in that class than in any single period of instruction that I had ever attended.  Well done!

In my next posts I will cover the  25+ Pre-Retirement and Ruehlin seminars- both fantastic courses with a different spin on transition.


Lessons learned:

– Start early!  You are eligible to attend TAP/TAMP up to two years before you get out, and if you do you will be a lot better off than those of us who waited until it was nearly too late.  The insights you receive are fantastic, but more importantly the class details what you need to do to successfully complete the transition process.

– Make sure to get the whole week off for the course.  Even though it is required, there are often times when you “absolutely” have to get back to work and miss a brief or two.  Believe it or not, you aren’t that important.  After all, you’re getting out!  Let some hard charger run your shop for a while so you can devote the time and energy needed to make the best of the whole course.

– Bring your medical record!  If you don’t you will miss out on a great opportunity to prepare for the medical side of transition, including making the best of your disability evaluations.

– Take lots of notes.  You will be provided a pile of handouts and workbooks and the like, but if you don’t take notes they end up being pretty useless.  A good idea is to write the name of the presenter and their contact information (phone number, office location, and email address) in the corner of the handouts that they provide.  This will make it easy to call on them later when you have a question- and I guarantee that you will!

– This post is a broad brush of TAP/TAMP, and I will be writing in much greater detail about several topics in the future.  Just some of the future posts will include the medical evaluation process, insurance selection, resume writing, job hunting, interviewing, administration, and more.  Keep reading!

Getting schooled…

I left my last post with the observation that there were three major undertakings that I needed to accomplish before I could consider my transition completed: first, transition training and education, second, administration, and third, medical evaluations.

In terms of timing, the transition and education bit comes first, and here’s why: the administration of transition as well as the medical evaluations are largely based on a timeline that is centered around your transition date.  The transition training and education, however, are not not.  Instead, the opportunity to educate yourself and learn about the transition process is available pretty much whenever you would like to take advantage of it whereas the other areas are closely tied to when you are actually departing the service.

Much to my chagrin I learned that I was eligible to attend classes and seminars on transition and retirement whenever I wanted.  It was quite the revelation!  Had I only known that I could learn about the other side long before I actually decided to retire it would have made the whole process a lot easier, but to be honest the thought had never crossed my mind.  I was too busy travelling around the world and serving in places notorious for the bad food, scorching deserts, and angry locals.  That said, here are the opportunities that exist to learn about the transition process, well, at least those that are relevant to my situation as a retiring senior Marine officer in Southern California:

-TAP (everything is an acronym! it stands for Transition Assistance Program) which is also known for some reason as TAMP (which stands for the Transition Assistance Management Program).  I really don’t know if there is a difference between the programs, but it falls in line with the military’s love affair with acronyms- adding an “M” between “A” and “P” is certainly an improvement!  I hope somebody got a medal out of it.  At any rate, the TAP (or TAMP) program is both mandated and required to actually separate from the service.  Designed for those separating from the service after serving a hitch or two, it It covers the legal, medical, and administrative requirements for transition as well as a lot of information of how to write a resume, what to wear to an interview (which is a HUGE deal for those of us who have not updated our duds since skinny leather ties and white shoes were all the rage) and how to get a job.  This class is of enormous importance because you cannot get out without attending it; your final check out sheet (a document of epic importance that rates a post of its own) will not have the required notation that allows you to stop getting your hair cut and quit wearing a uniform.  It lasts about a week, during which time attendance is mandatory and is the appointed place of duty for the participant.  This is important, because unlike high school or college, you can get thrown into the brig for skipping class.  Needless to say there is rarely a need for a truant officer to go round up class-skipping delinquents…

-OUT, or Officers Under Twenty class.  This particular class is for officers who are separating from the service but do not meet the requirements for retirement.  Generally speaking, these officers are Lieutenants and Captains who have completed their obligated service of four to six years and who are going back to the civilian world.  It is very similar to the TAP/TAMP class, but focuses at the college graduate level as opposed to the high school graduate level.  They don’t spend too much time on how to dress or what to wear, though, because these young officers are still generally in their twenties and their wardrobes haven’t aged to the point of embarrassment.

-Pre-Retirement TAP/TAMP course.  This course is TAP/TAMP for those who are going to retire after at least twenty years of active service.  It is designed for the more “distinguished” amongst us (myself included) who are greying at the temples and are at a different place in their lives than a 22 year old who will use his or her benefits to go to college or a trade school.  It covers the same required topics on benefits and whatnot as the other TAP/TAMP courses, but has additional lectures and classes on things like becoming an entrepreneur, networking, etc.

-25+ Pre-Retirement Seminar.  More of a symposium than a seminar, this one is not required but is strongly encouraged and recommended for those who, again, have been for a loooong time.  It does not go into the benefits and administration of retirement, but instead focuses on life on the other side of the fence.  In addition to job search and assistance with developing a new career there are several guest lecturers who cover topics ranging from financial management for retirement as well as financial management as a career, how to go into business for yourself with a franchise or on your own, and how to dress for success.

-Ruehlin Seminar.  This course is a week-long seminar that caters to senior officers and enlisted who are retiring- the definition of senior being length of service and advanced rank.  There is often a difference- it is possible to retire after 20 or 25 years but not be at a senior rank; for example, many officers began their careers as enlisted members- and that service counts towards retirement.  As such, they may have over two decades of service, but are retiring as relatively junior officers.  Also, some enlisted members may have the same length of time in uniform but for whatever reason do not achieve higher rank.  At any rate, this course is very small (around fifteen or so attendees), and is focused specifically on the process of starting a new career and all of the job hunting skills necessary to do so.

So there you have it.  Five different courses, seminars, or classes that anyone eligible can attend.  Amazing!  Each one is a little different in its focus and intent, but each provides a slew of information that is invaluable to one on the path to transition.  In my particular case, I attended the Pre-Retirement TAP/TAMP course as well as the 25+ Pre-Retirement and Ruehlin Seminars.  Suffice it to say the wisdom I gained under the tutelage of the experienced and dedicated instructors was remarkable and very welcome.  Without it I would have been not just a bumbling fool stumbling along until I found myself unemployed, but I would have missed out on education and training that my contemporaries in the private sector pay thousands of dollars for.

In my next string of posts I will go into much greater detail for each of the courses that I attended, starting with the required Pre-Retirement Transition Assistance (Management) Program, or TAP/TAMP.


Lessons learned:

– Start early!  I was pretty far down the path to transition before I began attending classes.  I found myself sitting with no small number of more prescient Marines and Sailors who were years away from transitioning but were smart enough to start learning about it early.  All that is required to attend the classes is permission from your command (in civilian parlance, that means your boss has to say it is OK to miss work for a few days) and a commitment to attend the course in its entirety because seating is often limited.

– Find out which courses are most suited to your situation.  If you are getting out after four years, then obviously the Pre-Retirement courses are not for you.  You may be in a situation, however, where you may not be eligible for a “senior” retirement seminar due to not having over 25 years in uniform, but there may be an empty slot you can take advantage of.  Contact your local transition program coordinator to see what is available.  Take every opportunity you can to educate yourself!

Coming out of the closet…or at least out of the fighting hole

Not that closet.  The “I’m getting out of the Marine Corps” closet!

So you’ve made your decision to hit the right turn signal and head for the offramp.  If you are like me, there are really a couple of stages in making the decision — firstly, you make the call to retire or get out, which is great.  Secondly, however, you have to tell people about it.  All kinds of people, like your spouse, your parents, your kids, your peers at work, your boss, your subordinates, pretty much everybody.

Great.  Easier said than done, or easier typed than said, I suppose.

Telling the family is pretty easy, because they were part of the decision to begin with.  With a sigh of relief, they readily embraced the thought of me being home for the holidays, so that was done.  Telling my extended family was likewise pretty easy; an email here, a phonecall there.  Again, easy to do because every single person in my family supported my career and more importantly my decision to move on.  The same with my friends outside the military.  They were very supportive, as they always are!

Not so easy when it comes to work, though.  In my experience, there are generally two types of people in the military:  meat eaters and grazers at the salad bar of martial life.  I have prided myself on being carnivorous, and have worked diligently and aggressively to be the best enlisted Marine and officer that I could possibly be.  However, with my decision to retire, I left the pack and joined the herd.  With such a migration came some startling revelations.

First, how do you tell everyone that you are, in effect, quitting?  In the Marine Corps we revere our veterans and still consider them Marines.  We expect excellence from every Marine in uniform, and invariably get what we expect.  There is a gulf, however, between contributing Marine and valued veteran.  It is really more of a pit than a gulf, though.  Before you get to wear a suit or a tuxedo to the Marine Corps Birthday Ball you have to go through that etherial process known as transition, a process that I am currently undergoing.  And before you start your transition, you have to tell your boss that you quit, and once those words leave your mouth they cannot ever be unsaid.  Just like death and pregnancy, quitting the service is pretty final.

In my case, I did so by email.  My boss was in Afghanistan and I wasn’t, so stopping by her office was a bit unreasonable.  At any rate, once the decision was made my electronic notice of career irrelevance headed out to the other side of the world, and within hours my email inbox received her reply.  I sat at my desk and just stared at the email header, trepidatious to open it for fear of what it might contain.  After all, I had just uttered the unmentionable, and with that email ended my career.  Fortunately, she is a great boss and was very thoughtful in her reply.  She gave me some great mentoring advice and asked how she could help.  Whew!  One down, about a zillion to go……

Once your boss knows, you can be sure that the word will be out at the speed of heat.  That is when I began telling people, or “socializing” it as we like to say in the military.  Interestingly, my pronouncement was invariably met with one of two responses from my military friends, seniors, peers, and subordinates: either a broad smile and “hey, that’s great!  What are you going to do next?” or a disdainful scowl accompanied by “quitter!”

The first response was always followed by a pleasant conversation.  The second response, well, not so much.  It was usually followed by an uncomfortable silence broken only by the sound of my ego as it plummeted to the floor and shattered into a thousand pieces.

Another interesting note is that with my announcement to move on the conversations that I had subtly changed- I was no longer a part of the inner circle where decisions were made and deals were done.  I now stood on the fringes, watch the action that I had spent many years in the middle of.  Again, bruising for the ego but part of the process.  After all, it’s nothing personal, but in the words of Tony Soprano, “it’s just business.”  The positive side is that I no longer had to stay late when things got hectic, or tell my family that I was on a short list of people who may have to leave on a moment’s notice to somewhere hot and dangerous, so it all works out.

So, once you hit the blinker and head for the off ramp be ready for the conversations that you will have.  The decision you make is your own and your families, but as with all things in the military everyone else has an opinion…