By Jeff Hansen:
Whether you are planning to ETS (Expiration of Terms of Service ) or retire, you should always have a plan in place before that time comes. Some of you may look forward to the day that early morning phone calls, deployments, and charge or quarters ends. One thing that is hard for some when they leave the military is the change in the norms, such as structure. Lack of structure is in line with an article in Career Planning and Adult Development Journal where Anderson and Goodman stated that “transitioning veterans are moving out of a society maintained by a hierarchical structure with clear rules and expectations” (p. 41). For some who have not served as long, this may not be a barrier, but for those retiring after many years of service, it is quite common. Others may dread the day that is coming, as so much change and uncertainty faces you. Anxiety is common for members of the military as they begin thinking about and starting their transition. Despite this big change, there are plenty of resources that can assist you, and with a little planning and time you can contribute to making it smoother.
Don’t wait, plan!
The reality of the situation is that many of us were not able or can’t predict when our time in the military ends. Maybe you were set to ETS five years ago, but received a promotion and became busy. For others, it may be the unfortunate incident of an injury that prematurely ends a career. Here is where it is important to do some very basic things that can help you both in your career and in your future.
- Use your Tuition Assistance – It is free money, and you can go to college, tech school, receive certificates, and many other opportunities.
Hint: Explore these sites to find more out about certifications:
- Volunteer: Another great way to gain experience for your future is to volunteer for activities that interest you. Often, this will allow you meet with different people to help expand your network.
- Network: Collect business cards and keep in social media contact with anyone you meet. You never know who can help you down the road in planning for your future.
Create a Nest Egg
Whether you are married or not you will incur some expenses when you decide to get out of the military. For those retiring, you can expect to wait around 45-90 days to receive your first retirement check. With disability pay, it may be around 90 days to 180 days. Here is where having a savings account or extra money comes in handy when it is time to get out. In a perfect world, you will have your first job lined up and not have to worry about this, but you never know. Having worked with veterans transitioning from all services, this was one of the most eye-opening aspects. We had them fill out a yearlong budget to see where they were financially. While it is scary and daunting to think about, you can plan for it. There are many financial options out there to help with these types of things. Find a financial advisor in your community, or possibly through your branch’s community services. Take financial planning classes, with a goal of sustainment after your career. If you have been contributing to your Thrift Savings Plan (TSP), make sure that you are diversifying your holdings. If you do not know what that is, talk to a financial planner ASAP to help get the most bang for your buck with your TSP.
Don’t do it alone.
It is important to find a mentor as well as involve your family members or loved ones when you decide to exit the military. Having a mentor is a huge step, providing you with someone who can give advice, or even simply to have a sounding board when you are stuck with something, such as a career choice or where to move. More than likely you have friends or supervisors who have already exited the service and have someone who is more than willing to provide you with advice and what they learned from their experiences. Ultimately the next step in your life and career is your choice, but having someone who has been through it always helps. With these few steps laid out, you have a foundation for a very basic plan that can allow you to achieve success after the military.
Jeff Hansen is an OpsLens Contributor and former Master Sergeant in the U.S. Army. Hansen served as a senior level advisor to the Commander, conducted multiple combat deployments and served as the facility operations manager at the Department of Defense detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Anderson, M. M., & Goodman, J. G. (2014). From military to civilian life:
Applications of Schlossberg’s model for veterans in transition. Career Planning & Adult Development Journal, 30(3), 40-51.