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!


Why are transition assistance programs not as effective as they should be? The answers are out there, but nobody is asking the questions.

When Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines leave the military service they are generally young, fit, and eager to get to work in the civilian world.  Many go to school to obtain an education, but many more jump headlong into the job market.  Unfortunately, they are not as prepared as they could be to compete in the cutthroat employment marketplace.  It is not because the government is not trying to help transitioning military folks learn the skills they need to get a job, because there are a multitude of programs out there to help with transition.  Unfortunately, those programs are not nearly as effective as they could and should be.

The Department of Defense, the Veterans Administration, and Department of Labor have spent many millions of dollars (over $50 Million in 2012 alone) on various programs designed to help veterans make the transition from military service to the civilian world.  These agencies are charged with conducting classes, seminars, and counseling that is designed to help those who are hanging up their uniforms with the challenging and often confusing process of becoming a civilian again.

Despite the efforts of these agencies, there is a serious problem with unemployment for recently discharged veterans.  The population of younger veterans who are recently discharged is having the toughest time, with those in the 20 – 24 year old age bracket hitting an unemployment rate of 35% in March of this year according to a Syracuse University study that was released last month (available here: March 2013 Employment Situation of Veterans) .  That stunning number is well over double the rate for the same population of non-veterans.

That means that a lot of our veterans are out of work, and as a result the DOD is paying a lot of money out in the form of unemployment benefits to those who can’t find a job.  It is a shocking amount of money.  I mean really shocking!

How shocking?  Try nearly $1 Billion dollars a year (the actual number was $928 million for 2012 and is on track to increase in 2013).  Almost one billion dollars.  For unemployment benefits.  For veterans who cannot find a job.  And it comes out of the DOD’s annual budget, and every dollar that is spent on unemployment benefits for a veteran is a dollar that is not spent on the people still serving or the equipment that they use to keep our nation safe.

Paying unemployment insurance for separated military personnel is not new for the Department of Defense.  In fact, the DOD has been paying millions of dollars in unemployment benefits for a long time, but the billion dollar pricetag is unprecedented. In 2003, the military paid about $300 million on such benefits, and a decade later that cost has over tripled.

There are a lot of reasons for the increase, with the most obvious being the increase in the number of people leaving the military and having a rough time finding a job in the tough economic conditions that exist today.

That is only part of the story, however.  The Obama administration, to their credit, has increased funding and awareness for the plight of jobless veterans.  Unfortunately, those efforts are not paying the dividends that they should be.  With such a high level of emphasis and funding for transition training and education, you would think that the unemployment rate for veterans would be at or below the non-veteran level.  Unfortunately, it is not.

That is where the data from the Orders to Nowhere Military Transition Survey becomes very interesting.

As I continue to research the subject of military transition, I have been analyzing the data from the survey and a few data points really jump out.  The first data point is how little feedback about the transition process is actually gathered by the organizations that are actually doing the transition training.

Every branch of the military uses After Action Reviews (AARs) to gather feedback from events and learn from the lessons that the AAR provides.  Pilots debrief every mission in order to become better aviators and infantrymen get together and discuss the lessons that they learned from their combat or training engagements.  These debriefs and lessons learned sharing sessions are part of every service and every career field.  Capturing lessons and learning from experience is a crucial part of what makes our military unbeatable.

Unfortunately, the AAR process does not seem to apply to transitioning or recently transitioned veterans.  Despite the culture of learning from experience, the vast pool of potential data sources — recently transitioned veterans — is virtually untapped.

The data shows that, of respondents who left the service between 2003 and 2013, less than one in five had been contacted by the Department of Defense or their branch of service about transition.  Of those one in five who had been contacted, less than half (0r just under 10% of all respondents) were asked to participate in an AAR of the transition process.

In other words, fewer than one in ten recently discharged veterans have been asked to help make the transition process better by providing feedback on their experience.

That, to me, is an incredibly disappointing statistic.  It is not particularly surprising, however.  Nobody officially asked me anything about my transition, and in my many conversations with veterans I have found that nobody asked them either.

Millions and millions of dollars are being spent every year on the military transition process, yet unemployment rates for veterans continues to exceed their civilian counterparts.  Nearly a billion dollars is being spent by the DOD on unemployment benefits for those unemployed veterans.  You would think that somebody would connect the dots between the efficacy of the military transition programs and their effect on the unemployment rate, but sadly the most readily available resource of feedback is largely being ignored.  Nobody is asking the vast majority of people who have gone through those transition programs and entered the civilian workforce about their experiences and how the transition programs could be improved.

The answers are out there.  Too bad nobody is asking the right people the questions.

In yet another shameless plug- I can never get enough data in the Orders to Nowhere Military Transition Survey.  So if you have transitioned from the US military (it doesn’t matter when), please take the survey!  If you have take it, I thank you.  Please ask others to take it too!

Some preliminary results

Thanks to all of you who have read my posts about the transition survey that I using to conduct some research into the military transition process.   A lot of you have helped me out, and I truly appreciate your time in taking the survey and for sharing it with others who can help.

That said, I can never get enough data.  If you are a veteran or a military person going through transition, please take my survey here: Military Transition Survey .  Thanks!

So far the data are showing some interesting trends.  The Marine Corps is the best represented so far, so for those of you in other branches here is your chance to catch up and beat the Marines….

About half of the respondents are combat veterans, and veterans from every conflict since the Korean War have taken the survey.  My first look at the data shows that there are many more programs available today than were out there for earlier generations of veterans, with many of our Vietnam, Korean, and Cold War veterans responding that they had no formal outprocessing resources.

More recent veterans report that there are a lot of different programs currently available, and that they produce a wide disparity in results.  Some are reported to be great, and others are reported to be useless.  I am looking forward to diving more deeply into the data to learn more.

The split between veterans who did and did not serve in active combat is about even, as is the ratio between enlisted and commissioned respondents.  Very few warrant officers have weighed in, though — so if you are a warrant officer, please jump in!

I will start analyzing the information in greater depth next week, and I’ll keep you posted.  Till then, keep sharing the link and get as many of your peers and friends as you can to take the survey.



Another plug for help!

Last week I wrote about a survey that I am conducting about the military transition process.  So far the response has been good (thanks to all of you who have already taken it!) but I am only about halfway there.  In order to have an unbiased survey it is important to get as many responses as possible in order to make sure that the sample of those of you who take the survey are representative of the entire population of transitioning or transitioned folks.  At the risk of being redundant, I ask again that if you have gone through or are going through the transition process and have not yet taken my survey, would you please help me out?  Also, please forward it to anyone, from any branch and any time period, who has made the jump?  I promise that this will be my last humble request!

The survey is 29 questions long and takes between 10 and 15 minutes to complete.  Here is the link:

Military Transition Survey

Also, I am very eager to hear from all of the branches of the armed forces.  The Marine response has been great (keep them coming!), and I want to make sure that you know that I would like to hear from any and all who have undergone the transition process.

Thanks!  In my next posts we’ll start looking at some of the emerging and interesting trends that the survey is revealing.

A chance to improve the military to civilian transition process

As those who follow my writings about military transition know, the process is often contrary, capricious, confusing, and supremely frustrating.  I have been writing about my experiences for nearly two years now, and over that time I have been disappointed to see that the process has not really improved.  Transition is still just as consternating as ever, despite millions of dollars spent on the process by both the Department of Defense and the Veterans Administration.

I am currently writing a book about my transitional journey, and that is where you come into the picture.  I have created a survey in which I am humbly asking every veteran and every military person who is going through transition or has completed transition to participate.  I have my own observations and opinions, but as author Eric Herzel once said: “One’s opinion should only be as strong as one’s knowledge on the matter.”

Since I am planning to write much more about transition, I really need to incorporate the collective knowledge of as many of you who have experienced transition in order to make my opinions as fact-based as possible.  Will you help?

Without further ado, here is:

Military Transition  Survey

Thank you in advance — and I will be posting the insights and results soon!

Cover Letters

We have spent several posts together on the thrilling subject of resumes.  As a part of a job-seeker’s correspondence toolkit, resumes are the heavy weapon that a hiring manager looks at to determine whether or not to call you in for an interview.  Simply sending in a resume is not a good idea, however.  It is not that simple.

Put yourself in the hiring manager’s position.  She has a pile of resumes on her desk and she has to work through them to find the best candidates for the position.  A skilled manager will spend a few seconds on each resume, and in that time if you do not catch her eye your hard work will end up in the shredder.

The resume itself is not particularly eye catching because they all look pretty much the same.  Without something to really grab the reader’s attention your resume will never see the light of day.  Fortunately, we have another bit of correspondence that can help with that: The Cover Letter.

Think of the cover letter as your introduction to the company.  If you had thirty seconds to tell someone at the company why they should read your resume, what would you say?  The cover letter is that thirty seconds, but instead of speaking directly to a person you need to be able to convince them to keep reading with the contents of the letter.  If you don’t, your resume won’t make it into the “call for interview” pile.

A good rule of thumb is to expand on the objective statement from your combination style resume.  The objective statement articulates what you, the potential employee, are seeking in terms of employment.  It should match as exactly as possible the description of the job that the company is trying to fill, which you should be able to find out through your research on the company.

The second rule of thumb is to show, briefly, why you are the best candidate for the job.  Highlight an aspect of your skill set or your experience that will intrigue the reader and get them to turn the page and read your resume.  For an example of a cover letter that I used, and which resulted in an interview and a job offer, click here: sample cover letter.  This particular letter was written for a job in the defense industry, where the job required experience in ground operations, fire support, and military training.  Those areas were contained in the resume, but I pulled them out and hightlighted them specifically in order to get the firm’s attention – and it worked.  Remember, the key is getting the hiring manager to keep reading!  You really need to hone in on what the company is looking for and why you are the answer to their needs.

The format for a cover letter is pretty standard in the business world.  It is similar to most other forms of correspondence, but to help you put one together here are the elements, from top to bottom:

1.  Your address and contact information.  Include street address, phone number, and email.

2.  Company’s Address.  Include the hiring manager’s name if you can find it.

3.  Greeting. If you know it is a man, use “Sir”, and if it is a woman, use “Ma’am”.  If you don’t know, feel free to use “Sir or Ma’am”, but stay away from anything that could be viewed as informal or unusual.  Don’t start off with “Hey there!” or “Devil Dog,” because you will not look professional and they won’t read past the greeting.

4.  The body of the letter.  Three paragraphs is about right, with the first paragraph telling the reader why you are writing them (i.e., “I am very interested in working at Big Corporation”).  The second paragraph should emphasize your strengths and skills, and why you are the right person to hire to fill the need at the company.  The third paragraph should be a positive reinforcement of the previous paragraphs as well as information on how you will follow up with them (I didn’t have this in the example, but should have.)  Something along the lines of “Thank you for your time, and I look forward to hearing from you soon.  The best way to contact me is…”

5.  Closing.  Use something conservative and respectful, as you did with the greeting.  “Sincerely” or “Respectfully” are fine, “Cheers” or “Semper Fi” or “Later” are not the best choices.  Remember, the only impression the person has of you is what they read.  Don’t put something at the end of the letter that will make all of your work a waste of time.

6.  Signature.  Type your name at the bottom of the page with enough space to sign your name above it. I recommend writing your full name and avoiding nicknames or callsigns –  you can introduce yourself more informally when you are there for an interview.

So, take a look at your resume and pick out the strengths that meet the requirements of the company that you would like to apply to for a job.  Using the format in this post, emphasize the things that the company wants, and write as professionally possible.  A solid cover letter, when accompanied by a professional and well written resume, is a huge step in the direction of landing an interview.


Lessons Learned:

1.  The cover letter is the gateway to having the hiring manager read your resume.  It must be professional, compelling, and well written or they will never turn the page.

2.  Emphasize your specific strengths or skills that the employer is seeking.  Pick those from your resume and expand on them for your cover letter.  Be certain that whatever you write in your cover letter is in your resume, though, otherwise the reader will wonder why there is a disconnect between the two.

3.  Keep it to one page!  Brevity is key.  There should be a lot of white space in the cover letter; it should be less dense than the resume.  Remember, the cover letter is the attention gainer and the resume is the meat of your offering to the company.  Don’t cram too much in the cover letter.

4.  Tailor the cover letter to the company you are applying to.  The resumes may be the same for multiple opportunities, but each cover letter should be individually focused on the company you are sending it to.

Writing your resume, part 3: The Combination Format

For those of you who have been holding your breaths in anticipation of the final installment in the resume postings –  here it is!

Today we are looking at the most flexible but most difficult resume to compose: the combination format.  As the name implies the combination format is actually a blend of the functional and chronological styles, which makes it more impactful in many industries.  It is the preferred format in situations where you have a very good idea of the job you are seeking and can tailor your resume to show your skills (think functional style) and experience (think chronological).

The difficulty in writing the combination style is that even though you are bringing in the best of both worlds you still need to fit it into two pages or less without doing something cheesy like shrinking the font down to microscopic size or using bigger sheets of paper.  Ruthless editing is everything!

What will greatly help you edit is researching the company and position where you are applying.  This will help you refine both your skill set and experience so that you are showing only what is relevant to the job or firm; you don’t have room for everything, so you can pick and choose what needs to be presented.

As with all things, there are some advantages and disadvantages to the combination format.  That said, if well written and focused on the job and firm where you want to work they can be easily mitigated.


  •  If you have little experience in the work area that you are seeking you can offset it by showcasing your skill set
  • Likewise, if you have a tremendous amount of experience you can use it to offset a limited number of entries on your chronological history
  • If you are changing careers, you can emphasize both your skill set and your experience to show why they are relevant for a new career path


  • If you have been job hopping the chronological section will still show the frequency of change in your employment history, as well as any significant gaps.
  • If you have no experience and no skills in the area where you want to work this format will highlight both situations.  You may be hoping to change your life and go in a radically new direction, which is great, but since this resume style is tailored to demonstrate both your skill set and experience that may be problematic if you have neither.

In this format we also introduce a new element: The Objective Statement.  This is where you, the applicant, articulate why you are the best person for a particular job.  Interestingly, if you surf around and read some of the posts and articles about resumes you will see that the objective statement is a controversial subject.  Many writers feel that it is unnecessary and wastes space, while others feel that it is an important component of a well written resume.

My take on it is that the objective statement is the best way to focus the reader (think hiring manager) on what it is that you can do for them.  It makes their job a little easier.  Think of it like the thesis for a term paper – you state your position up front and then support it throughout the rest of the document.

A large number of transitioning military folks seek work in the Civil Service or with a government contractor.  The objective statement is particularly useful for those who are seeking those jobs because the requirements to fill those jobs are generally fully disclosed and readily available, which means that you can tailor your resume to fit the stated requirements.  Showing the person who has to fill a position that you are the right person is the purpose of the objective statement, and a well written one that is supported throughout the resume has the advantage over someone whose resume is not focused.

The tight focus on the job you are seeking also allows for more latitude in the use of jargon and acronyms.  If you are seeking a job with specific technical skills then the odds are that the reader of the resume will understand your area-specific terminology.  That said, be judicious and use jargon sparingly unless you know for certain that the reader will understand what you are saying.  My example resume contains a fair amount of jargon and acronyms, but in my research I found that using them was not a problem.  You can see it here: Combination Resume Sample.

After the objective statement comes the Summary section.  This is a few sentences that show a thumbnail sketch that backs up your objective statement and shows why you are the right person for the job.  It also introduces the functional areas (as bullets) that showcase your skills that support your objective statement as well as your summary –  and, of course, why you are the right candidate for the job.

Immediately following the summary section are the more detailed narratives for each of the functional areas that you identified in the Summary section.  I title this section of the resume “Accomplishments” and use it to show how my skills in each area make me the best candidate for the job.  It is important to remember that each skill must relate to the objective and summary; otherwise you are wasting space and confusing the reader.  Remember: Focus, Focus, Focus on the job you are applying for!  Anything that does not bolster your objective and summary is taking up valuable space that you do not have to spare.

The accomplishments section is the end of the functional component of the resume.  The next section is a whittled down version of the chronological format, presented from the newest experience to the oldest.

This is where editing is really important!  In a traditional chronological resume you have a couple of pages to work with, but now you are down to half that space.  What I recommend is to only go back in time as many years as are needed to directly support your objective and summary statements.  For my resume (Combination Resume Sample) I chose to go into detail on the jobs that I held for the previous six years.  Those jobs are directly related to the job I was pursuing.  I then wrote a brief paragraph about other previous work experience that again supports the objective and summary statements.

The format ends with a recap of Education, Affiliations, and Awards that highlight those areas.  Here is where it is OK to include some things that may not be directly related to the objective and summary.  If you have received awards that are unique or show recognition for your great work or leadership, then by all means include them because they will show that you have distinguished yourself.  Likewise, if you have completed education or training that shows a depth of experience beyond the scope of your target job that can help as well.

In a nutshell the Combination Format is the right one for most government and contracting jobs as well as others that are have clearly defined requirements for employment.  The best part about this format is that it showcases both your skills and your experience, but to do so effectively requires a lot of research and ruthless editing.

And with that our string of posts about resume formats comes to a close.  Next we’ll dive into the wonderful world of cover letters!


Lessons Learned:

1)  The Combination Format is best for jobs and companies that are specific in their requirements.  This helps you focus your resume specifically on what the employer is looking for.  It is the best format for government and contracting jobs.

2)  You must focus your resume on the job you are applying for, which means that this particular resume format requires that you update and revise it for each job you are seeking.  A good idea is to place a date stamp in the footer of the document for the date that you complete it; just make the font the same color as the background and nobody but you will will know it is there.  Since you know where it is you can check the date by highlighting that area of the page – and this will be very useful because before you know it you will have multiple versions of your resume saved and it will help you keep them sorted.

3)  Ruthlessly edit and refine your resume.  You cannot go past two pages, and if you try tricks like filling up all of the white space or using smaller fonts the hiring manager will likely pitch it out.  Get to the golden nuggets of your skill set and experience – get rid of the rest.

4)  Write an objective statement that targets the job you are seeking and support it throughout the remainder of the resume.  It should grab the reader’s attention because it resonates fully with the job that they are trying to fill.

Back to class, part 3: the Ruehlin Associates Career Transition Seminar

Here we go for a third time- back into the interesting realm of transition training and education.  As the title indicates this is the third post that specifically address the classes, symposia, and seminars that I attended as part of the formal transition process.

Today’s post is about the Ruehlin Associates Career Transition Seminar (called just “Ruehlin” for short) which I was very fortunate to be able to attend.  The reason that I say that I was fortunate to attend is because enrollment is limited to around 15 participants (with spouses encouraged to attend), and the target audience is the most senior of the courses that I attended.  Not strictly limited to military people, it is also designed for senior government employees from the civil service who are retiring.  Their target audience, as shown on their website, is centered on that select group of senior people:

‘Many activities offer the seminar to senior officers (O-5 and above), senior enlisted (E-8 and above) and senior civil service (GS-14 and above) who are within a year or two of retirement, or who are on a known countdown. Nearly everyone who attends the course says, “Should have had this five years ago!” That might be too early, but the point is valid…people make gross errors and waste a lot of time because they miss opportunities or find that they have been “shopping in the wrong mall.” We believe 12 to 18 months out is a good target.’

The blurb on their website was on the money.  I wish that I had been able to attend the course at least a year earlier than the short seven months remaining to my separation date.  Even though I attended the session relatively late in the proposed timeline it was still worth every minute that I spent in the course. The Ruehlin course is a little different from the TAP/TAMP and 25+ Pre-Retirement courses, however.  The course is not offered through the base education or career center, but instead is a special opportunity offered by larger units and commands.  It is not a government or military symposium, but instead a private enterprise that specializes on assisting with the transition of senior military and civilian government servants.  In short, it is a professional course put on by a top-notch company that specializes in transitioning senior people.  It is a job that Ruehlin and Associates are very good at.

My personal opportunity to participate in the seminar came up as I made my plans to depart the service known.  I had heard about many of the educational opportunities available during transition, but the Ruehlin was a new one to me.  I had heard about it, but in typical hard charger fashion I didn’t pay any attention and as a result was ignorant of the great opportunity that the course presented.  At any rate, I made it onto an email list of interested parties (i.e., those on the way out or those smart enough to ask if they could get on the list well ahead of their retirement date) and was soon assured a spot at the table for the next course.  Since it is only offered a couple of times per year in my command I considered myself very fortunate to have made the list.  As I would learn, my good fortune was truly immense- as with the other courses I learned lessons that paid off immediately in addition to those that I will be putting to use for the rest of my life.

The focus of the Ruehlin course is identical to all of the other courses in one regard; that being that it is designed to prepare people like me who are leaving the service for life after we hang up our uniforms.  Ruehlin is very different, however, in its fine tuned focus and rigorous execution.  Where TAP/TAMP focused on the mechanics of transition and the 25+ centered on what the business world is like, Ruehlin pinpoints the process of getting a job.  The other two courses did fantastic work on more of a macro level, which dovetails nicely with Ruehlin’s laser-tight emphasis on the employment process.

Soon after I was selected to attend the course a plain brown envelope arrived in my mailbox.  A little puzzled, I opened it up and out fell a green booklet and a letter.  The letter was an introduction and welcome aboard for the upcoming session, and the book was a little homework exercise that proclaimed in bold capital letters:




That got my attention.  Very authoritative!  So did the last bit at at the bottom of the page:




What I found inside was a series of assignments unlike any I had seen in a long time.  There were about a dozen sections in the book and each contained a worksheet of sorts.  They weren’t like calculus word problems or anything really difficult, but instead were simple exercises designed to pull a little bit of information from the respondent (me!) about him or her self.  They all had a common theme, though, which quickly became evident.  One section focused on my career- not just what I had been doing in the military, but what would I like to do next?  Another section delved into education, and another looked at organizations and affiliations that I may be partial to.  It also had a memo for the spouse, which was not just a nice touch.  It brought into distinct focus that transition is not a solitary activity; everything that I would do from now on would be inextricably linked to my spouse.  A great and sometimes forgotten point.  So, with a little trepidation and a couple of sharp pencils, I sat down to fill out the blanks and learn a little about myself.

Not long after completing my exercise with the green book it was time to go to class.  It began at 0730 on Monday morning, and was scheduled through Friday.  The dress code was listed as Business Casual, which may as well have been top hats and tails for all I knew.  After a quick search on the internet, I found that the expectation was a collared shirt and slacks with jacket and tie optional.  Sweet!  Not a problem, since I had all of those things.  Thanks to my friends from the 25+ Pre-Retirement seminar, they even matched.  A sharp dressed man indeed!

I arrived at the class which was being held at conference room on base.  I stepped into what I supposed to be a business meeting of short-haired professionals approaching middle age; everyone seemed to be in their forties.  We all were dressed pretty similarly in the uniform yet non-uniformity of “business casual”, with business suits, sports coats, and button down collared shirts as far as the eye could see.  There was a lady with us as well, and she was as smartly dressed as the men.  I saw a few faces that looked familiar, and we chatted a bit as we waited for the class to start.

Promptly at 0730 a thoroughly professional gentleman closed the door and we began our shared journey through the seminar.  He was our facilitator, and like us had completed a full career in the military, retiring as a Navy Captain (which in the Navy is the senior paygrade of O-6, whereas in the Army and Marine Corps a captain is a much more junior O-3) after about three decades of service.  He shared that he worked in a large corporation in an industry that was related to his military background, but that he found transition to be a bit daunting.  He joined Ruehlin and Associates in the mid 1990’s, and had been leading seminars actively since then.  He was very experienced and a thoroughly smooth and professional facilitator.  He was aided in the course by a very good powerpoint slide package that he very professionally and smoothly presented.  In addition, he handed each of a large red book titled What’s Next?  This would be our notebook, hymnal, and Rosetta Stone all rolled into one; it was a comprehensive, well written, and very useful book that took the information presented in the daily seminar to the next level.  In fact, it is such a useful reference that I still keep it on my desk at home and refer to it often as I work on my resume or pursue job opportunities.

One of the first things he shared was John Ruehlin’s story.  He retired from the navy as a Rear Admiral, which is no small feat!  What he found upon retirement, however, was that the lofty office of admiralship did not seamlessly transfer to civilian employment.  Despite his impressive accomplishments and mountains of experience he had garnered through his successful career he couldn’t find a job.  He was unprepared to enter the private sector, and went through a very humbling period of months and months as the impact of transition fully settled in.  After many months of failing to find a job, he had a chance encounter with with a fellow beach-goer while he was attending a cocktail party.  They chatted, and the result of the conversation was a phone number that John could call- his new found friend knew somebody who was looking for somebody like John.  After mulling it for a while, John followed up and called the number he received from his beach encounter, and as a result ended up in a very senior position with a multi-billion dollar bank.

The story is important, because it frames the the entire course.  John Ruehlin learned several things in his troubled transition, and those things became the central themes that we would be learning about and focusing on for the week:

– First and foremost nobody in the private sector really cares what you did in the military.  They care about what you can do for them in the business world.

– Transition is just that- it is transition from one phase of life to the other.  To be successful at it you must be fully prepared to move on.

– Getting a job or starting a new career takes a lot of work, and the best way to be successful is to treat it that way.

The course did an exceptional job of addressing each of those themes.  They were not presented as blocks of instruction, but instead where more like strands of a rope that were woven together through the weeklong course.  Each of the themes deserves a much more detailed explanation, so here goes….

– First and foremost nobody in the private sector really cares what you did in the military.  They care about what you can do for them in the business world.  That seems like a pretty brash statement, but it is true.  While in uniform we are all in a very homogeneous environment where we are surrounded by people just like us.  In the civilian world, that is simply not the case.  Civvie street can be broadly broken  down into two groups of people: social people and corporate people. Social people are friends, acquaintances, or pretty much anyone you meet outside a work context, while corporate people are those who can either offer you a job or know someone who can.  Social people will be interested in your service and will love to hear your sea stories, but corporate people are listening through different ears.  Corporate people want to know two things about you- can you make them money or can your save them money?  If the answer to one or both of those questions is yes, then there is job with them in your future.  If not, then you are just another military dude or dudette with a bunch of stories to tell.

The problem is that you really can’t tell the two groups apart most of the time.  So what do you do?  Stop telling sea stories?  No, because that has been your life for decades.  What we learned to do was to leverage our experiences and desires into any conversation with the goal of connecting with the corporate people.  This is known as networking, and networking is the most likely way that you will get a job!  Research shows that well over 75% of jobs are found interpersonal contacts, and that a tiny proportion are found in the classified ads in the newspaper.  Networking was a central and constant theme throughout the course, and it proved to be very effectively taught.

We worked on our ability to network through a series of academic exercises and roleplaying, we developed short sales-type pitches that we could use when when the opportunity presented itself.  Up to this point, most of us responded to the question “What are you going to do when you get out?” with “Get a real job…”  While that sounds witty, we learned that it was probably the dumbest thing we could say- it instantly discounted us as viable employees to corporate people, and that was certainly no way to get a job!  To overcome this, we crafted a “thirty second sound bite”, which is referred to as an “elevator introduction”, and it is intended to be used when you have a brief amount of time, for example the interval it takes an elevator to move between floors, to introduce yourself, present your credentials, and articulate what line of work you would like to go into.  A more in-depth version is the “two-minute opener”, which expands on the three components of the elevator introduction.  This one is used at job interviews when you are asked about yourself or when you have a conversation with someone and they would like to know more about you.

– Transition is just that- it is transition from one phase of life to the other.  To be successful at it you must be fully prepared to move on.  This is a bit more philosophical, but it is critically important.  Our facilitator told us anecdote after anecdote about people who were just like us that had a miserable time because they never could fully transition.  Examples are the hard charger who cannot let go of the lingo; dropping the “F” bomb in every other sentence at a job interview is a guaranteed way to remain unemployed.  Another is refusing to embrace little things like fashion by wearing horribly outdated or inappropriate attire to an interview or networking opportunity.  You don’t have to look like you stepped out of GQ or Glamour, but you shouldn’t wear the polyester leisure suit you wore to your senior prom either.  One of the most common problem, however, is clinging to the past.  Your career was a great one, but you will be hired for what you can do in the future for the company, not what you did in the military.  The course does a remarkable job of putting your career into a context that it can be a positive and integral part of building your future career instead of having it be the anchor that keeps you from moving forward.

– Getting a job or starting a new career takes a lot of work, and the best way to be successful is to treat it that way.  In the first morning of class we were all introduced to our newest job title: each and every one of us became the Director of Marketing for the company that was ourselves.  We learned that in order to get a job or start a new career we needed to be able to let the world know we were available and potential assets to businesses, and that nobody besides ourselves was going to make that happen.  Ruehlin has an incredibly organized and effective program to teach us how to accomplish this in a few short days, and I what I learned fundamentally changed how I viewed life after the Marine Corps.  We learned to critically assess ourselves in order to learn what our strengths and weaknesses are.  Based on those, we analyzed what we would be good at, and more importantly, what we wanted to do (that was an epiphany for me- I was so used to doing the same line of work that I had never seriously considered anything else!) in the future.  We learned the ins and outs of building a network, including little things like what our business card should look like (don’t hand out your old military card!), the aforementioned introductions, and tips such as what to do when somebody give you their business card (write down a little about them so that you will remember who they are and why they gave you the card).

The meat of the course was spent on resumes.  We learned how terrible ours were (and mine was really bad!) and how to write effective ones that would result in a job offer.  We learned how to write the many types of business correspondence, such as cover letters, thank you notes, references, and responses to job offers as well.  We learned how to write the three basic types of resumes – chronological, functional, and combination – but focused mainly on the combination style (I will be posting extensively in the future about resumes- don’t worry!)  Writing a good resume is a lot harder than I had thought.  It requires a lot of introspection, a lot of research, and a lot of analysis.  Anybody can write a love letter to themselves that says how great they are, but that won’t land them a job.

We also spent no small amount of time on the the mechanics of getting hired.  Resumes will get you an audition, but it’s your performance gets you a spot in the band.  We learned about the etiquette of the interview (be early, but not too early; smell nice, but not like a gigolo on the prowl;  dress like you want to get a job- professionally, not like a surfer dude fresh off some tasty waves) and the importance of the little things, like sending a thank-you note to show appreciation to the interviewer for his or her time.  It helps to do some research on the company that you are interviewing with, too.  If you can show your interviewer that you know more about his company than he does good things will happen.

The course was not just lectures and powerpoint presentations, either.  The facilitator took us through a series of practical exercises where we practiced our elevator pitches and how to interview, and he capped the week off with an hourlong one-on-one session with each participant.  He had the same offer for each of us- an hour of his time to talk about anything we wanted.  In my case, he scrutinized my resume (which had greatly improved thanks to his instruction and mentorship) and we talked about my future.  He pointed out something which I had not really considered- why even go back to work at all?  I had an opportunity to pursue higher education, so why not pursue it?  After all, I was going to be receiving a pension, which wasn’t enough to live on forever, but the GI Bill and other benefits offer some fantastic opportunities outside the traditional career path.  His candor and professionalism made quite an impression, and thanks to him I was able to look at my future from a different perspective.

I  have been truly fortunate to be able to participate in three different transition courses, and each provided a different perspective on the same important subject.  Ruehlin’s seminar taught us in great detail how to go out and get a job, which is a skill that every one of us in the class needed to learn.  More importantly, though, the course demystified the job search process and provided us with the tools to go out into the next great adventure.  In the words of Colonel Mike Frazier, another recent graduate:

“[T]he Ruehlin course was like the end of the Wizard of Oz movie–it pulled back the curtain on retirement.  Now it’s not a mysterious scary thing–it’s just a short fat guy pulling levers–or more accurately, an old bald guy getting organized to do a bunch of planning and networking–which like all field grades, I’m pretty good at doing.  It’s still a challenge, but now I know what I need to do and am much better prepared to attack post-USMC life vice my previous level of uncertainty…”

Well said.  And right on the money!

Lessons learned-

– The Ruehlin course is not offered everywhere, nor is it offered by all commands.  You may have to do some sleuthing around to find where it is being offered, but if you can find it the course is absolutely worth the time and effort.

– This course is complimentary to the TAP/TAMP and 25+ Pre-Retirement courses.  Although they all teach the same basic subject, their differing perspectives and areas of focus make each one incredibly valuable.  You cannot take advantage of enough educational opportunities, and the Ruehlin seminar is a certainly a great one.  It is not the only one, however, so make sure to take it in conjunction with as many other programs as possible.

– The focus of the course is on landing a job, more specifically landing a job while you are still on active duty.  They introduce the concept of the “Hot Window” for employment, which is a few months before your last day in the service.  It is the hot window because employers are not looking to fill positions much farther out than that, and the closer you get to your last government paycheck the more desperate you are likely to become.  To land a job interview and a follow on job offer in that window requires a lot of work, and the course shows you how to do it.

– Successful transition requires a lot more than taking off one set of clothes and putting on another.  There is a significant change in perspective required as well, not to mention a ton of work.  Many separating military people take the first job that they are offered, and in many cases it proves to be disastrous, or at least unsatisfying and unfulfilling.  You have a golden opportunity as you prepare to leave active duty- you can actively prepare for your next career while being supported to do so by your current line of work.  It isn’t the same in the corporate sector- job hunting on the clock at a civilian company would likely get you fired.  You are crazy if you don’t take advantage of all the opportunities available to you, including the excellent Ruehlin seminar!

Back to class, part 2: the 25+ Pre-Retirement Seminar

“The phonebook’s here!  The phonebook’s here!”

Well, this isn’t the phonebook and I am not Navin R. Johnson, but this is the much anticipated and often promised posting on my second foray into education on transition.  This is the second of three posts about the transition classes and seminars which was fortunate to attend.  The subject today is the 25+ Pre-Retirement Seminar, which is a week long symposium that focuses primarily on training us, the soon to depart active duty set, on the finer points of changing careers. Specifically, this course is intended to provide jobseeking training on a more senior level than the previous TAP/TAMP classes.  Consistent with the title of the course, the student body was comprised with career Marines and Sailors who had served over a quarter of a century in uniform- a truly distinguished (at least we liked to think so!) group of about forty men and women.

Unlike the TAP/TAMP curricula, this seminar did not meet the requirements mandated by the Department of Defense for a transition class.  As such it is truly voluntary but proved to be well worth the time spent!  TAP/TAMP was a broad array of briefs and classes that centered on the mechanics of transition and is intended to educate the nation’s newest veterans on the rights and entitlements that they had earned through their service.  Since all of those subjects were thoroughly covered in the TAP/TAMP classes, the 25+ Pre-Retirement Seminar could focus on what each and every one of us was most worried about: how to get a job.

The course spans an entire week, with an introduction on the first day by a retired Marine named Dan from the Marine Corps Community Services Personal and Professional Development center located aboard Camp Pendleton.  We were shoehorned into a smallish classroom in a building that was new sometime around the Cuban Missile Crisis, but the air conditioning worked so we didn’t really have anything to complain about.  After Dan went over the schedule and the administrative details (like where the heads, I mean bathrooms, were located and more importantly where we could find some coffee), he introduced Chuck.  Chuck would be our teacher, mentor, and confessor for the succeeding days of the course, but the first day belonged to Dan.

Dan’s portion of the class covered some of the same topics from TAP/TAMP, but from a more senior perspective.  For example, one of the guest speakers was a businessman from the local area who discussed entrepreneurship and the exciting possibilities of owning your own business.  “When you own your own business,” he observed, “you are realizing your own dreams.  When you work for somebody else, you are helping them realize theirs!”  True enough!  The concept of being an entrepreneur was more in line with our “older” class, because most young guys and gals getting out after a few years aren’t going to be in the position to go into business for themselves, but the education level and practical experience garnered over a few decades in uniform lend themselves to entrepreneurship.  Hmmm… for thought.

One of the most interesting and useful parts of the first day centered around a couple of sheets of paper held together with a standard government issued staple in the corner.  Starkly white with black text (in true government fashion- no fancy graphics or glossy paper for us!), its’ title grabbed my attention right away:

How Prepared Are You to Become a Civilian Again?

Great question!  I read on.

“How prepared do you think you are for the rest of your life?  There are many things to consider as you prepare to leave military service.  Think over each of the questions below and circle the answer that is most applicable to you.  The more “Yes” answers you have, the better prepared you will be.

Hmmmmmmmm.  How ready was I?

“1.  Do you discuss you upcoming retirement freely with your spouse, children, friends?”

Yep.  So far so good!

“2.  Do you know what community, state, and federal resources are available to help you make the transition from military to civilian life?”

Feeling a bit perplexed, I wasn’t so sure that a solid “yes” was the best and honest answer.  I circled “yes” anyway because I wanted to make sure my score at the end of the questionnaire was a good one.

“3.  Do you have a support system – friends, family – away from your work place?”

Whew!  Another easy “yes”!

“4.  Have you thought about meaningful off-duty roles that will prepare you now for civilian career opportunities?”

“5.  Do you have a lawyer with whom you are comfortable?”

“6.  Is your will up to date?”

“7.  Do you have a psychologist, religious adviser, or other professional to whom you can turn for sound personal advice?”

Gulp.  The questions were getting harder, or at least less easy to convince myself that I could continue to happily circle “yes”.  I didn’t realize that having a shrink or a priest was part of transition.  Needless to say, I wasn’t as prepared as I thought, but the exercise of completing the questionnaire did admirably serve to focus my attention.

Not long after being humbled by a simple 25 question questionnaire another lecturer took the stage.  He was a youngish looking guy with a nice suit, and the initial impression was that he was another businessman here to tell us what we needed to do with our lives.  His introduction, though, changed that misguided perception!

It turns out that he was recently one of us, and had made the transition to the other side a couple of years ago.  He was also a graduate of this exact seminar, and was standing before us to spread the gospel of hope and positivity- he was the “after” that we all wanted to become.  Dapper, smart, and articulate, he told us his story, which in a nutshell was that 1) transition is confusing and daunting at times and 2) once you transition, life can be pretty good.  It is the tweener time bookended by getting out on one end and getting a job on the other.  Not to worry though, he said, because we were in this course.  He credited his success to the lessons that he learned in the same seats that we were keeping warm- all we needed to do was pay attention and do everything that Dan and Chuck said.

Not long after his pitch we finished for the day.  Happily, the remainder of the week would be held at the old Officer’s Club, which was much more spacious and comfortable than the Hobbitlike warren we occupied on the first day.  An added piece of happiness was provided as well- we each got our very own copy of the book “What Color is Your Parachute” by Richard Nelson Bolles.  A good class and free stuff to boot!  Not bad!

Promptly at 0800 the next morning we all piled into the O’Club and got ready for Chuck to show us the way to our collective futures.  Before I go into the fine course he gave us, let me give you a little of his background.

Chuck enlisted in the Marine Corps back in the 1950’s.  He did four years on active duty and then got out.  One thing that has always followed him is that his transition from the Marine Corps was not as genteel as it should have been.  More of a “don’t let the door hit you on the way out!” than “thanks for your service”.  It always bothered him.

Chuck had a very successful career despite the failure of the service to prepare him for life on the other side.  He was a salesman and later an executive in the medical devices industry, and after retiring from that line of work he opened his own practice as a career consultant.  He has helped literally thousands of people prepare for interviews and snag successful jobs- including Marines and other servicemen and women.  At a Marine Executive Association meeting (MEA is a great networking association- more on that in another post), Chuck was asked if he could put together a transition seminar for more senior folks (like me!), and after putting a significant amount of diligent work in, he created this seminar.

Fast forward again a couple of years and there I was, sitting on the edge of my seat learning lesson after lesson on what transition was like.  Each and every transition seminar is fantastic, and they are variations on the theme of transition and job hunting.  Chuck’s seminar focused on the hiring process, and most telling was his perspective as a businessman.  He started by handing out a workbook of sorts which contained the entire slide package for his classes along with space to take notes.  This proved to be very useful over the next few days, and my only regret is that I didn’t take more notes!  He used anecdotes from his experience as an employee and employer as well as a wealth of statistical data and research to teach us the ins and outs of how to conduct a successful job search.

There are four specific topics from Chuck’s seminar that were more in depth than the other seminars, and I learned a ton by participating.  Here they are in no particular order:

1.  The importance of professionalism.  Chuck has interviewed literally hundreds, if not thousands, of job candidates.  One of the things he does in his practice is to act as a professional interviewer for companies on the other coast.  He performs initial interviews for professional “C” level (CEO, COO, etc.) candidates- interviews that, if successful, will get them in the door with major companies at senior levels.  Chuck shared with us what it is like to interview senior people.  Some of the vignettes were hilarious, some were a little uncomfortable, but all were lessons in how to put your best foot forward when interviewing.  It isn’t just your resume and a new suit that makes an impression, but little things like cleanliness of your fingernails (engine grease under the nails is only acceptable when applying for a job as a mechanic), the condition of your shoes (ever heard of polish and a brush?) and your breath (is roasted garlic for lunch a good idea before an interview?) His perspectives really showed that it takes a lot of hard work and diligent effort to make an interview go well.  Likewise, it only takes a little laziness a little inattentiveness to make it go poorly.  Long story short- put the work in ahead of time and you will do fewer interviews and land a job.  Don’t do so an you will become a professional interviewee!

2.  Clothes.  The indefatigable Mark Twain observed that clothes make the man, and today I am sure that he would include women in that statement.  In this case it is absolutely true.  Too many of us have terrible wardrobes from decades ago or have a skewed perspective of what businesspeople really dress like (what?  I can’t wear my khaki tie with blue shirt?)  The first impression is critically important in a job interview, and if you look like an idiot things probably won’t go well when you try to dazzle the interviewer with your brilliance.  All they will see is a fashion disaster that they don’t want representing their company.

Chuck doesn’t just wax eloquent with anecdotes in the realm of haberdashery- he brings in the experts.  At the request of the seminar coordinator, the general manager from a nation-wide and well respected clothier gives a lengthy presentation on attire. Far from a sales pitch (and Chuck doesn’t get a kickback!), it is an in-depth education ranging from how suits are made (pretty interesting, really!) to the importance and differences between fashion and style (fashion being the trendy thing that is in this year, and style being timeless…for example, four button suitcoats were fashionable a few years ago, but the two button coat never goes out of style).  They went into great detail on the quality levels in clothing as well as how to dress, which surprisingly has a lot more to it than just slacks + shirt + tie + jacket.  Colors matter (I knew that) and textures do too (texture?  huh?)  Belts should match your shoes.  No bling- that nifty but obnoxious aircraft carrier tie tac is probably not a good idea…and best of all, they had a sale going on that weekend on clothing.  I went shopping and after a personal consultation I like to think that I am, indeed, a sharp dressed man!

3.  Resumes, cover letters, and other job related documentation.  Each seminar has a different take on resumes, and this one is no different.  Chuck preaches the merits of all of the various resume formats, but focuses on the chronological resume over the functional or combination formats.  In his words:

“I have a worksheet for the chronological resume that makes it easier to start. We have to start somewhere and filling in the blanks is easier than saying ‘let’s write a resume what kind of a resume do you want?’ Initially I took this approach [while teaching the seminar] and I had 40+ Marines and Sailors looking at each other. They honestly didn’t know where to start. We are all good at filling in the blanks and each person in the class knows the chronology of their own career. So if you fill in the blanks with your entire career we have a starting point. The chronological is easy for the class because they all have more than two decades of material to work with. When they finally decide on what they would like to do, then we can start discarding irrelevant information. But we had a lot of information to start with; at this point we can make the determination of what type of resume do I want to produce. Resumes are a very personal thing; the resume that you submit to an employer is the one that you decide is the best portrayal of you on paper. It is YOU in the absence of the real and physical you.”

Chuck’s point is a very valid one- the audience (including myself and 30 of my newest and closest herd-mates) have little to no experience with resume writing, and the chronological resume is a logical place to start.  I will devote no shortage of electrons to screen on resumes in the future, but in a nutshell the chronological resume is just that- a lineage of your career that starts with today and stretches back into the past.  How far depends on how much grey hair you have; if you are fresh out of college, then how you did in high school is relevant. Not so much for the “experienced” crowd.  In our case, the last ten years is the most important.  The functional resume is based on your skill sets and is not tied to a timeline.  This is good for situations where qualifications and certifications are important, such as the healthcare field (for example, a specialist in podiatry would probably address their ability to get around a foot pretty well).  The combination is just that, a combination between both of the other formats with the occasional other bit thrown in.  Cover letters are likewise important, because after all, you want to get a job, don’t you?  A mimeographed copy of the same resume sent to a multitude of firms won’t get you very far, and especially if there is not a cover letter to go with it.  The cover letter is a more specific introduction of you to the company you are submitting the resume to.  If you don’t have one, or if it is obviously a generic one, then you are guaranteed to feed the recyclable paper shredder without a second thought.  Other items are business cards, thank you cards, references…..all in all an extensive list of things about which I knew very little but that Chuck educated me on!  Again, I will be writing at great length about all of these in the future.  I promise!

4.  Negotiating salary and benefits.  Now this is important because it is something that all of us uniform are really terrible at.  We come from a background where our salary and benefits are the same for all of us:  you can look it up on the internet.  If you want to see how much I make a year, Google “2011 Military Pay Chart” and look up Lieutenant Colonel (paygrade O-5) with over 26 years of service.  Not so much in the civilian world!  You can get fired for telling everyone how much you make!  Biiiiiiig difference between the civilian world and the military, let me tell you.  Getting back to negotiating, Chuck breaks it down in easily understandable chunks that we can use to negotiate our salary and benefit with a potential employer.  Little things like 37% of people who ask for something get it, while 100% of those who don’t ask for anything get nothing.  Another gem is doing your homework- how much is the position worth?  More specifically, how much is the position worth where you want to live?  A salary in the midwest  is simply not the same as one in New York or San Francisco- you really need look into the background in order to determine what is right for the job, for you, and for your family.  He also goes into great detail about benefits, perks, and the like.  Company car?  Parking?  Mileage?  All of those things that I had not thought of were laid out in a logical and thoughtful manner.  There are literally dozens of resources just a few keystrokes away- try an internet search for the average salary and benefits for the type of job you are looking for.  Search several sites and average them together, and that will give you a benchmark from which to negotiate.  After all, the person with whom you are negotiating does this for a living, so you had better be diligent!

I learned a tremendous amount about transitioning from Dan and Chuck, and I am truly in their debt.  If you are on the West Coast, then start breaking down doors to get into the course.  If not, hopefully their seminar will be established at a base near you….


Lessons learned:

– Find out if a senior level retirement seminar is available in your area.  The successful implementation of Dan and Chuck’s hard work here at Camp Pendleton has resulted in bases far and wide trying to copy the program.  Also, sign up early as there are only so many seats per class.

– First and foremost, calm down and get yourself organized as you begin your search for a job. It’s easy for me to say calm down, but when you are faced with the prospects of finding a job in today’s market, it’s a daunting task.  Organization will make it a little easier.

– Do your planning in a logical order. Don’t try to do everything at once. You want to make a time-flow chart with all of your tasks laid out. Each entry should have a start and finish date. You can follow the workbook and lay out your projects in logical order. Some of these tasks should be: Resume, Cover Letter (Each one should be personalized but you should have a plan) Reference Page, Networking plan in writing, Practice interviewing skills, Research employment possibilities, put together your interviewing wardrobe, develop ideas for thank you notes, and spend only 15% to 20% of your time contacting employment agencies and headhunters because that is the percentage of jobs that they tend to provide.

– Be comfortable in talking about yourself at an interview. Your interviewer really wants to know two things about you (1) What are your qualifications for the job and (2) based on your qualifications what are your accomplishments.

– Follow-up on all leads!  Networking is where most jobs come from, and one of the follow-ups that you do may be the job that you are actually seeking.

– Job search is the worst job in the world. The sooner you get going on all aspects the sooner you will get a job and a paycheck!

I would like to extend a hearty thank-you to Chuck, as he helped with this post!

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!