Transitioning From the Military -Tips to Know

Last Updated on May 22, 2020

In this post you’ll learn all bout transitioning from the military. I recently retired from Active Duty Army after 20+ years of service. My transition from the military back to what is affectionately referred to as the “civilian world” was fairly easy, but a little bumpy along the way. I hope to share with you some hints and tips to make your transition a smooth one.

Transitioning From the Military -Tips to Know

Transitioning From the Military

This list is numbered in no certain order. Each is equally important.

  • Paperwork. Surprised? Yes, even on your way out, you will have a mountain of paperwork to complete. You will have clearing papers requiring signatures from every Tom, Dick and Harry from every shop all over post. Pay close attention to the hours of operation and plan accordingly for this will help you get the most out of your limited clearing time. Also, you will have paperwork for your DD214. Yes, you must fill out a request for the request to request your DD214. When you finally receive that golden piece of paper, make copies. Then make more copies. Save a copy to your email, computer, iPad, external hard drive, take a photo with your phone, and anything else you have available. Never, ever, ever give away your last copy of anything, ESPECIALLY your DD214.
    Story time:  Everyone wanted a copy of my retirement orders. You will receive two forms of retirement orders – long form and short form. Make copies of both because you will need both. A few places wanted copies of my DD214. Prior to signing for my DD214, I thoroughly inspected it with a fine-toothed comb. Ensure everything is on there – awards, schools, training, deployments, and definitely check your personal information such as correct spelling of your name, DOB, and SSN. Just check everything for accuracy.
  • Central Issue Facility (CIF). When you decide it’s time to throw the boots over the wire, take a trip to CIF and request your records. Your CIF records will show what you keep and what you must turn in. Do not rely on your online clothing records through your branch specific website (i.e. AKO). Although your online clothing record is “supposed” to mirror what CIF has on record, I have found a few contradictions on mine.
    Story time:  While stationed at Fort Lewis, I came down on orders for Korea. I wasn’t sure if I was going to retire, but I planned for it regardless. I received a copy of my clothing records from CIF and made note what I was required to turn in. I ensured I took the required clothing to turn in. This saved me both time and money.
  • Transition Classes. Each branch puts their own twist on these classes, but they’re all the same, just different. For instance, the Army calls these classes Soldier for Life – TAP (Transition Assistance Program), formerly known as Army Career Alumni Program or ACAP. This week-long training is comprised of a series of classes including resume writing, Department of Labor briefing, and a series of other classes to assist you, the service member, in your transition. Take notes, keep what you need right away and put the rest in your tool kit for later. Also, there are many other classes offered that I highly encourage you to take advantage of, such as the social media class and resume writing 2 class.
    Story time:  If you are like me and haven’t written a resume in a really long time, start a master resume now! Don’t worry about a finished product. Think of it as an Evaluation Report or informative counseling statement, if you will. List some resume categories and write your accomplishments and achievements under those categories (e.g. Training, Leadership, Education, etc.). When it comes to writing your resume, congratulations! It’s finished! Also, I took advantage of an organization that helped me write my resume. If you haven’t heard of Hire Heroes USA, please look into this fantastic organization. They assisted me in so many ways throughout my transition and helped me land jobs along the way. They have HR professionals that are standing by to help you land a job. Seriously, reach out to them!
  • Social Media. Be careful what you post on social media. What you post on Facebook can come back to haunt you. Also, establish a LinkedIn account. Your profile picture should be professional. Build your network of professionals and keep your account clean and tidy and don’t be afraid to reach out to business professionals for assistance.
    Story time:  Reverting back to the Hire Heroes USA organization, they also helped me fix up my LinkedIn account. I also added my LinkedIn URL to my resume so potential employers could see more detailed information about what I can bring to their company. LinkedIn has helped me in terms of interviews, resumes and detailed job searches. I have also reached out to VPs of various companies/organizations through LinkedIn to help better prepare myself for the next interview.
  • VA.  Oh, yes, the VA. We’ve all heard the horror stories. However, on your side of the VA, things work out rather well. The representatives are there to assist with your needs and answer your questions. However, they are unable to coach you in the completion of your disability claim paperwork. When you decide to ETS or retire, start your process early. You will be given two options for your VA process – Standard and Quick Start. I chose the quick start. The process will still take anywhere from 60 – 180 days. Regardless which process you choose, the VA will also need copies of your medical records and possibly your dental records (if you have a dental disability you are trying to claim). You will need to request these records from your medical facility and the process could take anywhere from 1-4 weeks, if not longer. Request your records with plenty of time to spare. The last thing you want to do is try to claim a disability while you’re on terminal leave or, worse, after your transition.
    Story time:  I reached out to some of my old Army buddies who had recently transitioned and they helped me complete my VA disability claim paperwork. The medical facility in Korea took approximately 3 weeks to transition my medical records onto a digital copy. I copied the disc onto another disc as well as saved a copy to both my computer and external hard drive. Once I left Korea, I had my initial VA appointment approximately 45 days into my terminal leave. These appointments are set in stone. Do not, I repeat, DO NOT miss these appointments.
  • Permissive TDY (PTDY)/Terminal Leave.  Permissive TDY (Temporary Duty) is free vacation granted to the service member to assist with the transition process. Terminal leave is the vacation the service member has accrued prior to leaving service. Take advantage of both!
    Story time:  I used my permissive TDY to unwind and spend much-needed time with my family. If you’ve been deployed or leaving from a high-tempo unit, you need time to decompress. Please, take time to decompress. Find a hobby or continue a hobby. If you’re married, ask your wife or husband to create a “honey-do list.” Focus on the list and keep your mind preoccupied. I also took this time to continue my job search and setting up interviews. Take advantage of your leave by preparing for interviews. If you’re college bound, take advantage of this time to get your ducks in a row with the college you plan to attend.
  • Job Search.  Start your job search early. There are a list of websites to visit when looking for a job. I used USAJobs and Indeed. If you’ve spent 20 years in the military, things have changed quite a bit. I urge you to begin your search early. Don’t be afraid to take the first job offered, but also don’t be afraid to say “no” if the job is not a right fit for you and your family.
    Story time:  My PTDY began April 2015. I actually began my job search October 2014. Early? Yes, quite early. However, I spent 20 years in the Army and never actually interviewed for a job. I figured why not get some experience behind me. I downloaded the Magic Jack app to my phone while in Korea (the app gave me a stateside number). The first interview I had was with a tile shop. Did I really want to work with tiles? No, but I desired the experience with interviews. After the interview, I asked the interviewer to give me feedback. The feedback was constructive and greatly helped in my preparation. Besides, it’s never too early to start looking for that job. Once I returned to the states, I did what I knew to do prior to enlisting in the Army – I applied in person. Well, that doesn’t exactly work anymore. Everything is online now. You have to fill out an application, submit your resume, submit a cover letter and give references. It is tedious, but necessary. It’s almost like filling out an SF86 for a security clearance.
  • Money.  Get ready for a world of hurt. The money you’ve grown accustomed to is about to stop. It might not be much in your mind, but it’s a guaranteed salary twice a month. Save up what you can when you can. The transition from a financial perspective can be a huge burden if not properly planned.
    Story time:  My last tow paychecks was withheld because of an overage of weight allowance in my household goods (HHG) shipment. I have 2 special needs kids that require additional equipment. I submitted all the proper documentation, but paperwork and a lack of communication between offices were lost in the shuffle. Imagine that! We weren’t ready for the loss of wages. We didn’t plan, we weren’t prepared, and it set us back tremendously. Although we did receive the wages months later, the damage was already done. Take my advice and try to have at least 2 months of salary in your savings account in the event something happens. 
  • Family.  Your family is transitioning as well. This transition will not be easy for them neither. Think back to how difficult the PCS (Permanent Change of Station) was on them. They were taken to a new place, probably not any friends or family, and told to bloom where they’re planted. This new chapter in their life is much the same. After your transition, you might be staying close to your current location. Sure, they’ve made friends, but those friends will soon be PCSing. You might be moving back to your or your spouse’s hometown. The relationships they had prior to the military are no longer the same. They’ve been building relationships with new friends with common interests and living a similar life as an Army spouse. The civilian friends they have will never understand the hardships or resiliency your family illustrates. Yes, it sounds almost ridiculous, but a period of adjustment is needed for all involved.
    Story time:  When my wife and I decided where we wanted to retire, she completed the legwork. She found a house, coordinated with the moving company, found a church, explored the area and enrolled the kids in their activities. It was tiresome and stressful for her, but it helped make her final move that much more enjoyable. I know how my wife is wired and so I let her steer the ship in this process. She quickly became friends with many in our area and her blog has grown exponentially.
  • Your transition.  This might be easier if you’re transitioning from your initial enlistment. I say this because you’ve only been gone for a few years and the transition “should” be that much easier. However, I was transitioning from a 20+ year military life. I enlisted when I was 19 and still wet behind the ears. I left when I was almost 40 and starting a new career. I expected some sort of discipline and adherence to rules and regulations. What I got was the opposite. I was met with a disregard to the rules, people complaining about working 45 hours a week and no discipline. That rank I was wearing proudly carried absolutely no weight anymore. I was now known as Clay or Mr. Prater instead of my military rank. As a friend once told me years ago, “Good luck with that out in the civilian world.” He was absolutely right. 
    Story time:  As my wife continued to thrive in her new role as a military spouse (retired), I was sinking into a depression. She went from being known as my wife to me being known as her husband. She was the nameless face standing beside me while I was in uniform. Now I’m the nameless face standing beside her. It was a role reversal that I was not ready for. I went from being the guy who prepared short-term and long-term training plans for his Soldiers to the guy who was given a work schedule. I was never that guy who wore his rank while beating his chest. I enjoyed coaching, counseling and mentoring Soldiers. I went from having a lot of responsibility to no responsibility. Don’t get me wrong, my family is my responsibility. But it’s hard to transition from a place where you’re the top dog to a place where you’re just trying to figure it all out. I reached out to some of my fellow retirees and the connections I made on LinkedIn. Their advice and mentorship helped me get through this difficult time. Never be too shy or think it’s weak to ask for help.

Transitioning From the Military-Tips

My hope is that you find this list of tips helpful and beneficial when you decide to transition from military back to the civilian world. Take time to decompress and always communicate with your spouse. Don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for guidance.

Transitioning from the military is a process. But transitioning from the military can be accomplished with less stress with helpful tips and advice from friends.  

I wish you all the best in your new adventure.

Good luck!

Clay Prater
SFC, United States Army

Halfway Homesteaders