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Transition and a Career Beyond the Call of Duty

There typically is a learning curve at the start of something new, whether it be a new job, the purchase of a new home, a new baby, or a change of status. For roughly 30,000 Marines who transition each year from the Marine Corps to a new status as a Veteran Marine some are not ready for change. 

According to LtCol Michael Sayegh, U.S. Marine Corps, careers begin at boot camp standing in a line on the yellow footprints. “Later we participate in combat operations by crossing a line,” said Sayegh. “Throughout our career we will execute missions in steps that have phase lines.  However, the most difficult line we cross is the last one. The finish line of our military careers.  Ironically, this is the one line we are generally not prepared for and it ends up being the one that will have the most significant impact on our professional and personal lives.” 

The Department of Defense recognizes the struggles associated with transition and for years has required all military personnel leaving Active Duty to go through an intense and thorough training which falls under the Transition Readiness Program (TRP). These requirements include Pre-separation Counseling, Department of Labor Employment Workshop, and Department of Veterans Affairs Benefits Briefings. Transition Readiness Seminar (TRS), part of TRP, is one of many opportunities to ease a Marine’s transition and help them succeed in the civilian sector. Through personal self-exploration, Marines gain insight into who they are as individuals, make life decisions, and develop holistic action plans for gaining knowledge and performing essential tasks to bridge the gap between where they are as Marines and where they want to be as Veteran Marines. 

According to Personal and Professional Development Advisor Rick Butler, Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va. the Career Technical Track (CTT) offered during TRS improves understanding of the transition process and connectivity with stakeholders outside of the Marine Corps. “An Active Reservist who served 28 years is going to look for a career,” said Butler. “They may not know exactly what they are looking for in a future career outside the Marine Corps, but they are definitely seeking one.”

Although more Enlisted Marines than Officers transition from service each year with a ratio of 21:1, the challenges of separation are the same across the ranks. Questions about healthcare, retirement, career and job searches, connecting with recruiters, writing a resume, avoiding military jargon during an interview, and determining how to dress for an interview are experienced by all Veteran Marines seeking employment. LtCol Lia Koloski, U.S. Marine Corps, has two kids under the age of seven years old, so finding the right job that accommodates motherhood is essential, as is navigating what attire is appropriate for a civilian office. “Getting dressed every morning in civilian clothes is challenging,” said Koloski. “I am used to the uniform and I want help planning what I should wear every day to work or to an interview.  I also need to find a job that works within my parameters as a mother of two young children.”

Marines will experience many changes after retiring from Active Duty, especially in finances.  “For instance, a Second Lieutenant with 24 years drawing BAS (Basic Allowance for Subsistence) and BAH (Basic Allowance for Housing) earn $150,000 yearly,” said Ted Parks, Personal and Professional Development Advisor, Marine Corps Base Quantico. “Upon retiring, a Marine could possibly only earn $44,000 yearly and non-taxable allowances are no longer available. In addition, all pay is subject to federal, state and city income tax, social security to include expenses related to coverage for medical and dental.”

Certified Career Management Coach Kelly Brown, Marine Corps Base Quantico, will use assessment tools like Kuder, Myers Brigg, and Strong to help identify what type of jobs Marines and their spouses should apply for.  “I will do a mock interview with our Marines and their spouses,” said Brown. “Any type of career assistance our Marines need, I am here to help with their job search.”

U.S. Marine Corps Col Robert Couser brought his wife, Jennifer, to the first two days of TRS because he knows it takes a team to move through the transition process. “Because we are close to retirement, I was listening today,” said Jennifer Couser. “There are so many things I had discovered during the seminar that my husband and I need to explore before he retires next year.”

As the Corps works to reduce its forces by 20,000 Marines by 2017, it’s imperative that spouses prepare for the change. “Even though military spouses can attend the Transition Readiness weeklong seminar like Jennifer, much of the information isn’t specific to their needs,” said Demetria Thomas, Transition Readiness Program Manager for the TRS at Marine Corps Base Quantico.

The Spouse Transition and Readiness Seminar also known as STARS, is a one-day transition program created to address the specific challenges spouses may face. "It’s imperative that spouses prepare for the [drawdown], which could mean entering a highly competitive job market," said Parisa Fetherson, Personal & Professional Development Director at Marine Corps Base Quantico.

The TRS has emerged from a one-time training event into a self-guided approach located at every Marine Corps installation delivered throughout a Marine’s military career. The Marine For Life Cycle model which begins at recruitment and is extended to Veteran Marines, has now incorporated transition readiness action points across the Marine’s service to enable them to gather resources and information to align with their future goals and aspirations. The Marine For Life Cycle approach allows the Marine to meet required Career Readiness Standards prior to attendance at the TRS. 

Marines and family members interested in learning more about the TRS should contact their local installation’s transition office. They will then be connected to a transition readiness staff that will help them fill out appropriate forms and connect to online webinars.

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