I proudly served my country faithfully in the U.S. Army for more than 31 years, and I knew the decision to retire was going to be life-changing process. So before making that decision, I started having conversations with my mentors to ensure I was taking the appropriate steps and making the right decisions for me and my family.
For example, I spoke with one of my most influential mentors, retired Command Sgt. Maj. Luther Thomas Jr., the 12th senior enlisted adviser for the Army Reserve. He walked me through the process of preparing an exit strategy from the military, which consists of different phases that start about four years out from a service member’s proposed retirement date. He urged me to take my transition from the Army seriously and to take advantage of all the opportunities afforded to me because, as he put it, “You only get one time to transition.” I participate in the Soldier for Life-Transition Assistance Program, and he reminded me it was my responsibility to make the most of the courses and to start thinking about a civilian career a few years before leaving the military. This was to ensure I was prepared to obtain my desired job. It also gave me time, if needed, to complete any degrees, certifications, or credentials to qualify for a civilian profession.
About three years before my proposed retirement date, once I was sure I had the appropriate degrees, I started networking with people who could assist me in obtaining my dream job. However, it was not until I was a year out from retirement that I first heard about the Army’s Career Skills Program during a Soldier for Life-Transition Assistance Program retirement briefing.
After more than three decades of donning a uniform, I had no idea how beneficial the Army Career Skills Program would be to the success of my transition strategy and how well it would prepare me to enter the civilian workforce. The Army Career Skills Program leverages the DoD SkillBridge Program to give transitioning service members the opportunity to participate in employment skills training, on-the-job training, and pre-apprenticeships and internships up to 180 days before the end of their active service — with a good probability of employment in high-demand and highly skilled jobs. I researched the Army Career Skills Program website and visited my installation’s Career Skills Program office to gather the information to apply to the program. The Career Skills Program can be done as a COHORT or through an individual internship. I decided to do an individual internship and personally contacted the company for which I wanted to work. They were more than willing to assist me, and the process was extremely easy thanks to the outstanding assistance provided by the Career Skills Program office. During the program I continued to receive my military pay, and the company assisted me with additional training or certifications, which was a tremendous benefit.
During my participation in the Career Skills Program, I not only obtained additional training but also invaluable mentorship from senior executives within the company. Upon completion of my internship, I was offered a high-paying position. Participating in the Career Skills Program relieved me of a lot of stress associated with transitioning from the military and it allowed me to enter the civilian workforce with confidence.
I would encourage any transitioning service member to take full advantage of this opportunity and to invest in yourself. If you are a transitioning service member interested in participating in the Army Career Skills Program, please visit its website at: https://home.army.mil/imcom/index.php/customers/career-skills-program.
Sgt. Maj. Derrick Witherspoon is the sergeant major for U.S. Army Reserve Command Public Affairs.