Center makes transition from active duty easier

    The Air Force Transition Assistance Center at JBER is a hub for service members separating and going back to the civilian workforce. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman Greg Nash)

    The Air Force Transition Assistance Center at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson serves as a hub for helping any service member, regardless of rank or reason for leaving service, the tools needed to adjust to civilian life.

    Although they primarily service the Air Force, any service is welcomed. The specialists within the Transition Assistance Program team focus each day on their primary goal: helping transitioning members prepare to succeed in the next phase of their life.

    TAP is a one-week program designed to offer transitioning service members a broad range of counseling services and help strengthen the transition from military to civilian life.

    Attendees learn about employment resources, the Department of Veterans Affairs programs and services, financial tools, changes in benefits, and other information affected by the change. The program is congressionally mandated due to previous veteran unemployment percentages.

    “It used to be a three-day optional class for transitioning service members,” said Jeri Romesha, AFTAC TAP Team work-life specialist. “Congress saw the unemployment numbers for veterans were too high, so they initiated the Veterans Opportunity to Work Act in 2011. The purpose behind it was to make sure people are really prepared, have a plan, have thoroughly looked at the job market, and have assessed their finances to help them prepare before they separate or retire.”

    Timothy Miles, AFTAC TAP Team work-life specialist and veteran, said he left service during that time.

    “When I got out, this didn’t exist,” said Miles. “So one moment I am employed, and the next moment I am back on the block trying to figure out what the heck I am doing. The first two years were pretty miserable. Mycontemporaries had already moved on and had been in the work force for maybe six years, and I was just trying to figure out what a resume is, what is the proper way for this interview and application process. It was a mystery. I was learning as I went along … it was tough.”

    Miles said his experience has made him very passionate about the program, and he likes sharing his story to help people realize how important it is to take advantage of TAP.

    Romesha said in addition to providing the tools to be ready for the changes in general, they also offer career-track classes to enhance the goals of the transitioning member.

    Career tracks are classes that focus specifically on the next career, whether seeking federal employment, understanding the GI Bill benefits, creating a civilian professional resume, getting on a path of higher education, starting a business, and others.

    “We have higher education, crew technical training, and a variety of other two-day optional career tracks that a member can take,” said Romesha. “There are so many great resources in those tracks that can help you plan.

    “There was a survey that kept track of businesses that went through the entrepreneurship track program and they reported that after a year in business, 91 percent of them are still in business,” Romesha said. “That is huge when compared to the national average of 20 percent of businesses that fail with people who started a business with no classes like ours and no military experience. The entrepreneur workshops empowered those people and gave them the resources they needed to be successful.”

    The specialists at the AFTAC take steps to make sure information is available, and the environment keeps everyone comfortable enough to receive it.

    “Retirees and separatees all have the same requirements, so we treat them the same,” she said. “It doesn’t matter to us or any attendees what rank they hold or whether they are retiring, separating, medical board or whatever reason. Everyone is in civilian clothes. Just treating people with courtesy and respect, regardless of rank, also help with the transition to civilian life.”

    Many times, the open environment helps the students learn from each other and find out they have common needs.

    “One thing that gets interesting is when people address: what will be changing in their lives,” Miles said. “When you get a class that really taps into that and how they feel, you get some feedback like ‘fear’ and ‘terror’ that comes up. The whole concept of this program, and reason for all the information provided, is it allows that individual to start gathering information. Information will mitigate a lot of terror and fear. I recognize fear as false evidence appearing real. The more you know, the more you can offset the unknown, and the transition may not be as fearful as it was before the class.

    “One thing that I think is done well here is teaching how to find the tools that are available and how you go about searching careers,” Miles said. “We teach how to find the tools to search careers, find how much a job pays, what does that pay look like in this community versus that community, what is the trend for the industry … the more you know, the better decisions you can make.”

    Romesha said the difference in culture, language and other factors can make the transition difficult; integrated the member’s spouse and family into the process can make a big difference.

    “That’s the thing a lot of family members don’t realize, we encourage and want them to come to the TAP class because they are going through a huge transition themselves. Also, there are a lot of things the spouse may catch in TAP that the service member is not ready to hear. When they are discussing things later, one may provide feedback that the other person missed. There is a lot of information in that one week of TAP. It could be overwhelming, especially for that military member who is used to the military and this is opening up an entirely new view on the world for them. So having a spouse who has been in the private sector realm may help. They have a different perspective than the service member. We have space in our classes for spouses to come and we welcome them.”

    Miles suggested everyone go into TAP with an open mind and take it more than once if they can.

    He described TAP as being like when service members first enlisted.

    “When we enter into the military, it’s about nine weeks,” said Miles. “The purpose is to take people from all over the country, different cultures, different life experiences … They learn the customs, the language, and the culture of the military. Here at the AFTAC, we are getting military people and they have one week, essentially, to reassume civilian life. For some people, that was 20 years ago and for some it was about four years ago. So we are kind of a faster,kinder, reverse basic training.”

    To learn more about the AFTAC services or schedule a class, call 552-4943 or 552-6619.

    By TECH. SGT.
    JBER Public Affairs