Successful Transitions from Soldier to Civilian
In the October 31 issue of The Standard we highlighted the Soldier for Life - Transition Assistance Program, formerly known as the Army Career and Alumni Program, to encourage those transitioning out of the service to take advantage of the program's proven resources. Then, in the November 14 issue we featured a few local organizations that actively recruit prior military members for a civilian career. Now, we're spotlighting five individuals who have successfully transitioned from Army careers - short and long - to civilian lives. Read on to learn about their transitions and some of their key takeaways.
Marie O'Brien, Director, Logistics Readiness Center, Army Sustainment Command
O'Brien dedicated nine years of her life to the Army working in transportation. After leaving in 1995, she found a job as a general manager with a household goods moving company. After about six months, the friends she had made in the field on Fort Irwin in California directed her to a job opening with the government, which led her to Fort Detrick 10 years later.
Regarding her transition from active duty to civilian life, she said, "It was a matter of taking the uniform off and putting civilian clothes on."
O'Brien transitioned smoothly because she never stopped providing logistical support to service members. Her experience working with and relating to Soldiers became a life-long skill.
As a civilian, she appreciates working regular business hours and maintaining a routine schedule, but she does miss the camaraderie she and her fellow Soldiers enjoyed.
"I miss the interaction we had with each other. I still see it when I talk to Soldiers today," said O'Brien. "But I feel blessed that I had that opportunity; it's an honor to be a veteran."
O'Brien's experience with the SFL-TAP, then the ACAP, allowed her to take advantage of benefits she wouldn't have known she had.
"The Disabled American Veterans came in and reviewed my records and I filed for Veterans Affairs benefits," said O'Brien. "I always try to share with Soldiers that they must file with the VA whether they think they have a disability or not, because you never know what something small could become."
Kenneth Daniels, Chief, Military Personnel Division, U.S. Army Garrison, Fort Detrick
Daniels spent 21 years serving the Army in human resources. He retired from Japan as the assistant chief of the Military Personnel Division, and immediately transitioned into doing the exact same job as a civilian.
"I was very fortunate to transfer to the same job outside of the Army. I had other opportunities when I got out, but it was a blessing to work in HR all of that time and then to walk right into the civilian world the next week into the same job," said Daniels.
At the beginning of the transition process, Daniels thought a life outside of the Army seemed daunting.
"The scariest thing when you transition is the unknown," said Daniels. "In the Army, if I were to PCS to Germany, one thing I knew was that I had a job. I didn't have to apply; all I had to do was to show up and I would have a job and a paycheck."
The SFL-TAP helped Daniels realize the importance of a resume and the technique of building one.
"I tell people job hunting is like fishing. You apply for jobs you don't think you can get because you just want to see that your resume is working, that you're getting bites," said Daniels.
For Daniels, the most challenging aspects of his transition were adjusting to the change in culture and the change in clothing.
"My first step in transitioning was figuring out what I was going to wear. I would be up at night stressing about it for the first two to three months," said Daniels. "I thought that was my biggest challenge at the beginning; I didn't think it would be a challenge to be in charge of civilians until I got here. I would come in talking to them like Soldiers, but you can't do that."
Using the SFL-TAP and being proactive made Daniels' transition seamless.
"As a transitioning Soldier, weigh all of your options and start early. As a leader in the Army, your main responsibility is taking care of Soldiers. You need to dedicate that year before you retire to yourself and make sure you have enough time to think about your family and everything you need to consider," said Daniels.
James Shaheen, Plans and Operations Specialist, Logistics Readiness Center
After 30 years in the Army, Shaheen and his family decided it was time for them settle down. Enjoying the Frederick area, and with a son at the Naval Academy at the time, 2011 was as good a year as any to begin a new chapter in their lives.
As a medic in the Army, Shaheen's operations background proved to be of value to the civilian sector, as he received multiple job offers in the operations/planning field. His selection of his current position with the Logistics Readiness Center proved to be the right decision for him, as he has experienced a good translation from his military training.
"Having all of that time in the military, it's a pretty easy transition to continue reporting to a military chain of command," said Shaheen.
Shaheen's early preparation helped him secure a job almost immediately after he left the service. Through the SFL-TAP, he learned how to write his resume, navigate USAJOBS and successfully interview.
Although the technical aspect of his job remained the same, the culture did not and he required some time to transition his mindset.
"If you're transitioning from active duty to a civilian job, remember to go home at the end of the workday," said Shaheen. "I had to get reminded by my boss to go home at the beginning. You aren't as aware of the clock after the Army so you feel like you have to stay and get something else done."
Shaheen received a lot of support from the community at Fort Detrick when he retired as the Garrison Command Sgt. Major. He recommends others to seek the same kind of assistance.
"Regardless of the location or type of employer, go and speak to someone in that field and find out what it's like and what they do there," said Shaheen. "Ask them to review your resume and provide any assistance they can; they can help you translate your military experience to the civilian sector."
LaDawn Koharski, Financial Analyst, Garrison Resource Management
LaDawn's Army career included three years of service as a military police officer. She took a unique transition path when she decided to be a stay-at-home mom after the Army, but quickly realized she needed to return to work to occupy her time in a familiar way.
After trying out the private sector for about a year working in credit card applications approval, she decided it was time to return to the government. Considering a return as a police officer, she came to the conclusion she was not the same person she was when she joined the Army, so she dove into payroll, eventually working her way to the financial analysis world.
Upon leaving the Army and entering the civilian sector, Korharski learned what kind of schedule and skills she worked with best. An eight-hour daytime shift and situations where she could diffuse frustrated people suited her best.
"Police work is actually similar to providing payroll support," said Koharski. "As a police officer, when you first arrive to a situation, people are upset and you have to try to get everybody to their neutral corners. It's the same thing in this world; when people call me at first about their paycheck they're mad and upset, and it's my job to help them."
Since Koharski's husband was also in the military and had left before she did, he was able to provide the support she needed to enter the civilian world by helping her with her resume.
Koharski's advice to anyone transitioning, whether after a few years or several years, is to assess yourself.
"Make a plan. Figure out if you want to continue doing what you were doing in the military as a civilian or if your heart is somewhere else. Once you figure that out, you'll be good," said Koharski.
Thomas Yocklin, Chief, Operations, U.S. Army Garrison, Fort Detrick
Yocklin served as an infantryman in the Army for a little more than 21 years, most of which he spent as a paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne. Since retiring in 2006, Yocklin has worked for the U.S. Army Installation Management Command in different parts of the country.
Leaving the Army to spend more time with his family, Yocklin found his civilian life to differ only slightly from his military life. The biggest difference for him is the change in environment. Apart from being outside for a majority of the time, he noted how dangerous his job was as an infantryman. Intellectually, however, he uses the same analysis and communication skills today as he did in the Army.
Yocklin was grateful for the SFL-TAP when he was preparing to retire because he didn't realize how much he would need to prepare.
"The ACAP was definitely an eye-opener for me because I soon realized how unprepared I was to retire," said Yocklin. "There were a lot of things that many civilians have that military people don't have, like resumes and even different financial plans."
Once Yocklin learned about the requirements to retire and transition successfully, he completed the process.
"I had a fast-paced career, like being on a train. Being retired is like getting off of the train," said Yocklin. "When you're active duty, you're going from event to event, always on the go. Then when you retire, it's like you pull into the station and the train stops."
Yocklin found a number of differences between the military and civilian worlds to which he needed to adjust. He first noticed the difference in respect. In some situations, he received more respect than to which he was accustomed, such as peers addressing him as "Mr." In other situations he received less, including rude interactions using public transportation.
To ensure a Soldier's transition is as smooth as possible, Yocklin recommends preparing early.
"They need to begin the transition as soon as the Army will allow them. They have to go to SFL-TAP and take advantage of the assistance," Yocklin said. "They should also involve their families as far out as they can."
Considering the wide range of challenges, the SFL-TAP and early preparation have supported many transitions from active duty to civilian life. This career change doesn't need to be difficult. Make it easy on yourself and think about all of your options as well as the resources before you know you will leave.
For more information on the SFL-TAP call (301) 619-2174 or email USArmy.Detrick.USAG.mbx.DHR-ACAP@mail.mil.