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Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2012

New order strengthens transition assistance

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FORT KNOX, Ky. — All Soldiers planning to separate from the Army are now required to begin their transition process at least a year before leaving, according to a Department of the Army execution order, known as an EXORD, signed Dec. 29.

The order is part of an effort by the Army to beef up transition assistance, and it places responsibility for the program squarely on the shoulders of commanders, said Walter Herd, director of the Army Transition Office, located at Human Resources Command.

“It really changed Army transition from a staff responsibility to a commander’s responsibility,” said Herd about the order.

Sgt. Maj. of the Army Raymond Chandler III said during this period of transitioning to a smaller Army, that it’s essential to have better transition assistance.

“We have a great program, but we can do better,” Chandler said. “I believe that Soldiers need to take some time and take a little responsibility for themselves and to understand that they are going to be transitioning out of the service.

“Then they need to speak with their commander, and their commander has a responsibility to speak with them.”

The effort to make transition assistance more robust also includes the opening this week of a new toll-free call center for transition assistance. Soldiers can call 800-325-4715 for transition advice, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. And a new website or virtual ACAP Center will soon be available, Herd said.

The added emphasis on transition is partly due to a study undertaken by West Point about two years ago. The U.S. Military Academy Transition Study sent about two dozen scholars, noncommissioned officers and officers all over the Army to talk with transition counselors and Soldiers preparing to separate.

“They came back with a couple of truisms,” Herd said. “Number one is, the more time a Soldier has to prepare, the more likely they are to succeed. And that’s pretty simple. If you begin the transition process a week before getting out of the Army, your chances of failure are extremely high.

“Two is, the more your commanders are involved, and the more they support it, again the more likely you are to succeed. In a nutshell, that’s the gist of this EXORD that was signed December 29th.”

What this EXORD does is tell commanders to get their Soldiers into the Army Career Alumni Program, or ACAP, 12 months prior to their planned separation, Herd said. This allows synchronization of requirements with the unit mission, with exercises and operations. The most common comment from Soldiers participating in the West Point transition study was, “ACAP is a great program, but I don’t have enough time to attend,” Herd said.

So no later than 12 months out, Soldiers now need to schedule a preseparation counseling at their installation ACAP Center. Herd said counseling could actually be scheduled as early as 18 or 24 months out, if Soldiers are able.

At that first counseling, Soldiers begin to draft their Individual Transition Plan, he said. They will set their goals and decide if they want to go back to school, go home to work the family farm or business, or join the job market. Then they will determine what ACAP services and programs are necessary to reach that goal.

“You may want to eat everything on the menu,” Herd said of the list of available ACAP services, or just sample a couple of items.

Programs include a new Department of Labor employment workshop. Resume-writing assistance is available. A Veterans Affairs Benefits Workshop can be attended. And assistance can also be obtained on sending job applications out.

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