Transition GPS helps chart civilian careers

  • Published
  • By Susan Griggs
  • 81st Training Wing Public Affairs
A GPS, or global positioning system, helps people find their paths in the world.  The Defense Department's Transition GPS helps departing military members chart their courses for civilian careers.

Transition GPS - for goals, plans and success - is a weeklong program that updates and strengthens the Transition Assistance Program that was in place for more than 20 years.  The Veterans Opportunity to Work Act of 2011 created a mandatory policy for service members to meet career-readiness standards before separating or retiring from the military. 

Transition GPS is a collaboration between the Departments of Defense, Labor and Veterans Affairs, along with the Office of Personnel Management and the Small Business Administration.   The agencies jointly determined what service members need to prepare for re-entering civilian life.

Transition GPS relieves some of the mental and emotional challenges of separation from the service and allows military members to make informed decisions, set goals for civilian employment and gain the skills and tools needed for success.

"The Keesler Airman and Family Readiness Center stands ready to provide the utmost services," said Jackie Pope, flight chief.  "We start at the 12- to 24-month timeframe with pre-separation counseling and cumulate with the Capstone event where we ensure the member has met and completed career readiness standards. 

"We encourage spouses to attend all components of the program, too," Pope commented.  "We know that separating or retiring can be stressful and scary, but we also know that knowledge is power -- we're here to empower you."

Transition manager Steve McDaniel and community readiness specialist Paul LaRive are responsible for Transition GPS for the base.  McDaniel and LaRive are two of the six retired NCOs on the A&FRC staff who have personally experienced many of the challenges facing all military members, especially in today's uncertain job market.

From September 2013 through September 2014, 550 members went through pre-separation counseling and 646 went through Transition GPS at Keesler.  The increased demand is attributed primarily to force management actions, LaRive said.

"We had to double up on everything for four months because of the sheer numbers of people who needed the program," he added.

LaRive said the service members who come through Transition GPS are all facing a new life chapter but have different vantage points about the road ahead.  Some officers and enlisted members have completed their original Air Force obligation and are heading out into the civilian arena just like they had planned.  Others are excited about retirement, while some are apprehensive about the unexpected changes they're facing because of manpower reductions and a smaller Air Force.

"There are a lot of emotions, especially for the people whose lives are impacted by force shaping," LaRive observed.  "That's changed a lot of people's plans.  We do what we can to give all of them a comprehensive package and the tools they need to transition career-ready."

Mandatory pre-separation counseling is the launching point of the program and must be completed before enrolling in Transition GPS.  Those planning to retire can schedule this counseling up to 24 months in advance, while people who are separating can attend up to 12 months beforehand.  Those impacted by force management programs should schedule this counseling as soon as possible.

The Transition GPS workshop is the next step in the process.  It's mandatory except for service members retiring with 20+ years of active-duty service, those with documented civilian employment or acceptance to an accredited technical training or academic program, members with specialized skills which require deployment within 60 days, and Air Force wounded warriors enrolled in an approved education and employment initiative.

The workshop is considered official duty, so members don't have to take leave to participate. It provides a broad range of information through a variety of seminars from dressing for success to financial independence.  Skills building, counseling services, interviewing tips and necessary preparation for succeeding in new career environments are emphasized.

"Businesses and employment programs are becoming more veteran-friendly these days with programs like Hiring Our Heroes and Boots to Business," LaRive remarked.

Job seekers are introduced to the Labor Department's Occupational Information Network.  O*NET is a free online database that contains hundreds of occupational definitions to help students, job seekers, businesses and workforce development professionals to understand today's world of work in the United States.   For each job, occupations are described in terms of required skills and knowledge, how work is performed, typical work settings and the labor market's occupational outlook and pay scale.

Participants learn to navigate USAJobs, the federal government's official jobs site and the differences between pursuing federal employment and jobs in the private sector and tailoring résumés and employment packages to fit the position they want.  Veterans Affairs benefits briefings and Labor Department employee seminars are also included in Transition GPS workshop. 

Three optional two-day training tracks are also available.  One is aimed at those interested in college education, another is directed at technical training and the third is for people who want to start a business.

One recent Transition GPS participant is Master Sgt. Traci Devereaux, who was 17 years old the last time she interviewed for a job. 

"I need all the help I can get to make myself marketable after retirement," said the 85th Engineering and Installation Squadron first sergeant.  "Going through the Transition GPS program has helped set me up for success.  I now have resources to help translate what I did for the Air Force into sought-after skill sets for the next chapter in my life."

Devereaux, who's spent six of her 23 years in the Air Force at Keesler, is retiring to join her husband, Chief Master Sgt. Jason Devereaux, at Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland.  She plans to take advantage of the Post-9/11 GI Bill to return to school for hospitality/restaurant management studies.

Maj. William Tennyson III, critical care flight commander at Keesler Medical Center, has spent 25 years in the Air Force, both in the enlisted and officer ranks on active duty and the Reserve.  He plans to retire in October 2015.

"The transition assistance program has opened my eyes to the civilian employment process," explained the major, who's been assigned to the 81st Inpatient Support Squadron for nearly three years. "It's been many years since I've interviewed for a job, written a résumé and sought civilian employment.

"The entire transition team has kept in touch about workshops, as well as provided general information to make the transition to civilian life less stressful," he continued.  "From the first intake briefing, everyone has been very helpful." 

After retiring, Tennyson plans to "obtain my master's degree as a mental health nurse practitioner so I can continue to serve our wounded veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injuries."

Two captains in the judge advocate general corps who entered the Air Force five years ago, Aaron Buzawa and Joy Meadows, gained skills for their future legal careers through Transition GPS.

Buzawa, a medical law consultant for the 81st Medical Group, said the transition program "was most beneficial in understanding the veteran benefits that are potentially available upon separation."  He plans to go into private practice as an attorney after he separates.

"The transition program assisted me with drafting my federal résumé and preparing to respond to interview questions," said Meadows, 2nd Air Force assistant staff judge advocate.  She hopes to find an attorney position in federal civil service.

The culminating activity to verify career readiness is Capstone, which is intended to increase the ability of separating members to be successful in pursuit of their chosen career paths.  In conjunction with the transition counselor, each commander or approved designee must affirm that career readiness standards, such as a 12-month post-separation budget plan, résumé and other transition requirements, have been completed.

"Capstone completion is probably the most challenging part of the process, but it helps that we have a smooth working relationship with commanders and first shirts," LaRive said.

The focus of the transition program is job preparation, not placement, but the A&FRC provides an employment resources center equipped with computers, job fair information, job postings and other resources for job seekers.

"Every service member, whether they're completing their first tour of duty or they're separating as a four-star general, will separate from active duty," said Susan Kelly, director of DOD's Transition to Veterans program office.  "So the best plan for everyone is to start early, because this is your exit strategy."

For more information, call the A&FRC, 228-376-8728.

Air Force News Service contributed to this report.