TAP helps Airmen make change from military to civilian life

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Brian S. Orban
  • 366th Fighter Wing Public Affairs Office
Anxious ... worried ... nervous ... apprehensive ... hesitant ...

It pretty much sums up how I feel knowing I'll retire from the Air Force about six months from now -- scared to death that I'm not ready.

Turns out I'm not alone.

For most Air Force people, these words describe the range of emotions those in uniform face when dealing with the reality of separating or retiring from military service. Regardless if people stay on active duty four years or past the 20-year retirement point, making the transition brings with it new challenges.

The Airmen and Family Readiness Center can help.

Once a month, the center hosts a four-day transition assistance program for those in uniform making the change from Air Force blue to the civilian workforce. The transition assistance program -- TAP for short -- provides hands-on training and outlines benefits available to those who served their country.

According to Linda Bretz, community readiness consultant with the AFRC, the program remains highly popular with many class seats filling up weeks in advance.

"We've had several people, mostly retirees, tell us that [TAP] was the best thing that's ever happened to them in their past 20 years of military service," said Ms. Bretz as she highlighted the benefits the program offers to those facing the transition back into the civilian world.

TAP starts each month with a three-day, hands-on resume writing and job search class covering everything from dressing for a successful interview to avoiding common mistakes that often cost people a potential job.

Ray Cotton, Idaho Department of Labor, teaches the resume writing and job search workshop and offers students plenty of advice.

"Be bold; don't be afraid to pull the 'trigger,' " Mr. Cotton said. People must be willing to take chances and "turn over every rock" to find their next job and keep trying when their first, second or third job interviews don't work out.

A common mistake folks make during the job search is thinking too much like a job seeker versus an employer, Mr. Cotton said. Instead of searching the classified ads -- the last place employers turn to for new workers -- use your network of contacts for possible job openings.

"Swallowing your pride is sometimes necessary. Don't be afraid to ask for help," Mr. Cotton said. There's no shame in telling your contacts about your pending retirement or separation.

Writing resumes is trickier than some people may realize, he added. The worst mistake people make is writing a "one-size-fits-all" resume, photo copying it and sending it to multiple businesses. A well-written resume and cover letter targeting a specific business works best.

The final day of TAP features briefings from the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Disabled American Veterans and the Idaho State Division of Veterans' Services to give people an overview of available benefits for those separating and retiring. It also serves as a reminder that people must plan on buying things that were normally "free" while they are in the military. This includes buying a home that fits within their new (usually smaller) budget and finding reliable health insurance, a low-cost dental plan and life insurance.

The change in benefits prompted people like Staff Sgt. Sanita Freeman to enroll in the workshop.

"I was mainly concerned with how my medical benefits were going to change," said Sergeant Freeman, who plans to leave active duty service to join the Tennessee Air National Guard. "Having to deal with my family and my kids, I was really concerned how I would be able to take care of them."

According to Sergeant Freeman, the transition workshop helped her avoid making rash, panicked decisions and showed how she qualified for certain military benefits she earned while on active duty.

"Because of TAP, I feel far more confident," she said. "Making the transition is a decision I know I can make."

To give people the best chance at having a smooth transition, the AFRC staff recommends people start planning at least a year before their expected separation date. This includes attending TAP about 12 months before their anticipated separation or retirement date and again at the six-month mark for those still struggling with the pending transition.

Master Sgt. Glenn Austin, 366th Component Maintenance Squadron avionics sensors section chief, was one of dozens of students attending TAP in February hoping to make an informed decision on whether the time was right to retire. Fear of the unknown drew him to the workshop.

"I've had so many years in the Air Force, and now I'm looking at the possibility of stepping out of the job I've known and going into something else," said Sergeant Austin, who hopes to pursue a career in secondary education as a grade school teacher. "I'm so used to doing something for 23 years, but now I'm looking at being on my own. It gets pretty scary."

Because of TAP, the sergeant looks at retirement with greater confidence.

"TAP solidified my decision," Sergeant Austin said. "There's no fear factor. If I choose to leave the service, it's no big deal because I know I can make it once I retire."

While TAP doesn't guarantee that every person won't be anxious or hesitant about leaving the service, it does offer people the best chance possible of making the change as smooth as possible.

At least I'm not scared to death anymore.

Well maybe just a little.