Photo Caption: GRAFENWOEHR, Germany -- Command Sgt. Maj. Rodney J. Rhoades, the 21st Theater Sustainment Command's senior enlisted advisor, speaks to competitors of the 21st TSC's Best Warrior competition prior to the start of the days events April 30. Twenty Soldiers from throughout the 21st TSC and the NATO Brigade participated in the event in hopes of becoming the 21st TSC's best warrior, best leader and best officer.
August 7, 2014
By Staff Sgt. Warren W. Wright Jr.
KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany -- For Soldiers leaving the Army and transitioning into civilian life, the unknown future can be stressful -- even scary. Fortunately, there's light at the end of the tunnel and leaving a life in uniform is not only the end of one phase in life but the beginning of an exciting new chapter.
Without proper preparation a Soldier can find himself lost and may struggle finding adequate employment or perusing an education after the service. But with adequate planning and support, the transition can be a smooth one.
Floyd Lewis, the Soldier for Life transition service manager for the Kaiserslautern, Baumholder and Wiesbaden communities, said Soldiers must prepare early for their transition, ideally by taking advantage of the many resources available to them through the Soldier for Life program.
"Eventually, every Soldier will transition out of the military," he said. "The direct intent of the Soldier for Life transition program is to ensure that Soldiers receive the transition assistance support they need to help facilitate them in accomplishing their individual transition plan."
Command Sgt. Maj. Rodney J. Rhoades, the senior enlisted advisor of the 21st Theater Sustainment Command, emphasized the importance of qualities developed in the military as well as civilian education.
"The military builds discipline, attention to detail, leadership and many relevant technical skills," he said. "A Soldier who has served his country proudly has not only earned benefits that will help long after his service, but developed habits that create success. A Soldier's character, competence and commitment are well known to our civilian counterparts. The habits Soldiers develop throughout their time in uniform translate very well into the civilian workplace. The Army Values embody the qualities companies are looking for in new teammates."
Service also provides educational advantages.
"The military offers numerous incentives for personnel who want to continue their education," said Rhoades. "The post-9-11 GI Bill is only the most popular of many programs that subsidize college costs. So transitioning Soldiers who want to continue degree programs they started before or during the Army, or enroll in college for the first time will find no shortage of programs designed to get them into the classroom and help with expenses. So whether a Soldier wants to leverage skills he's already acquired for a civilian career or learn new skills through civilian education, he has numerous opportunities before him -- the sky's the limit."
Soldiers 18 to 12 months from separation or 24 to 12 months from retirement are encouraged to begin the Soldier for Life transition processes, formerly known as ACAP.
The transitioning Soldier visits the ACAP website and completes a checklist. Afterward, the website automatically generates a form required for local transition counseling.
From there, Soldiers can sign up for a number of briefings and workshops designed to help them seek and gain employment, write resumes, conduct interviews, choose proper schools and interact with the Veteran's Administration.
"All of our workshops are designed to make sure Soldiers have the right skills and the right information that will support their efforts to meet career readiness standards," said Lewis.
Soldiers can learn about VA programs and sign up for benefits.
"VA benefits is what I call a game-changer," said Lewis. "In other words, knowing how to access those benefits and put those benefits to use can really make a big difference because they are directly associated with dollars."
Leaving the active Army does not necessarily mean a Soldier stops wearing the uniform. All first-term Soldiers initially sign up for an eight-year commitment and when they serve less than that on active duty, they serve the rest of the time in the Reserves.
Most will serve this time in the Inactive Ready Reserve. In this status, Soldiers "muster" only annually; but they're subject to recall. Soldiers can also opt for service in the Army Reserve or Army National Guard or the Inactive National Guard. For more information on the reserves, Soldiers should speak to a reserve career counselor.
Junior and senior personnel alike require guidance and support during the transition process.
"Leaders need to make sure that we continue to teach, coach and mentor at all times -- that never stops," said Rhoades. "When a Soldier (begins the transition process), the leader has to be positive and they have to sit down with that Soldier to make sure they plan, prepare and execute their plan. It will reduce the stress in Soldiers' and their families' lives."
Family input is also essential.
"It's important for Soldiers to sit down with their spouses and explain the entire process with them and allow them to be involved throughout the transition," said Lewis. "In some cases the spouse may not be supportive of the Army's decision to separate a Soldier, but it's still important for them to support their Soldier, communicate their worries and talk about them."
Spouses are encouraged to participate in transition activities.
Not all transitioning Soldiers are doing so voluntarily. Most separating involuntarily were selected through the enlisted qualitative service program, which encompasses three programs -- the qualitative management program, over-strength qualitative service program and promotion stagnation qualitative service program.
Soldiers selected for separation through QMP are typically denied due to unfavorable information in their records or failure to meet Army performance standards. But not all Soldiers involuntarily separated fall under QMP provisions. Soldiers selected for involuntarily separation due to an OS-QSP or PS-QSP board generally belong to over-strength career fields.
Rhoades noted the QSP affects not only junior but senior NCOs. NCOs ranging from staff sergeants to command sergeants major have been impacted.
"Structurally, the military is changing," he said. "The cost of training, equipping and maintaining our force has almost doubled since 2003, and we simply can't retain as many Soldiers."
While negative discriminators can make a Soldier an "easier" QSP selection, "it may just come down to numbers. If a career field is over-strength, the Army may simply have more outstanding NCOs than it needs -- boards are just trying to select the very best among highly qualified NCOs to retain."
Rhoades also urged NCOs to keep force reduction measures in perspective.
"Overall, QSP and QMP will only impact a very small percentage of our NCO corps," he said. "My recommendation to all NCOs, and I can't say this enough, is to stay focused on your two basic responsibilities -- accomplishment of your mission and the welfare of your Soldiers. Give 100 percent each and every day to your command, your team and your Soldiers, civilians and their Families."
Lewis added that despite natural disappointment inherent in selection for involuntary separation, transitioning Soldiers have the skills and knowledge necessary for very successful futures regardless of the reason they're leaving the Army.
With the drawdown well underway, Soldiers confident of retention five years ago now face an unknown future. In order to maximize retention chances, Soldiers must distinguish themselves from peers.
"Soldiers need to do their very best in everything they do in order to remain competitive," said Rhoades. "They need to excel and not sit back and wait because those who sit back and wait will find that opportunities won't be there for them."
Rhoades added that Soldiers can get an edge on their peers by seeking out broadening assignments and tough leadership positions. They should also get involved in their installations and communities as well as special organizations such as the U.S. Army Europe Sergeant Morales Club.
"In our community, it's often Morales professionals who take initiative and distinguish themselves with their leadership, mentorship and outreach," he said. "They do great work, not only as some of our best leaders and mentors for their fellow Soldiers but as volunteers who engage with the broader community. When it comes down to a QSP board, something like that can really make a Soldier stand out above the rest."
Above all, Rhoades said, Soldiers should be proud of their service, whether it lasted three or 30 years.
"Very few individuals wear the cloth of the nation," he said. "Many will never have the experience of service or understand the brotherhood that we have as Soldiers, and for those who have, it's a remarkable experience. Hopefully it was a very positive experience -- one of brotherhood, one of trust and one of commitment that will carry forward to the next chapter of a Soldier's life and have a positive impact -- not only for the individual but the family, the community and the nation."
For more information on the Soldier for Life Transition Assistance Program, visit www.soldierforlife.army.mil or call the Kaiserslautern transition center at DSN 483-7089/commercial 0631-411-7089.