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Your Inevitable Transition and Education

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Successful transitions into the civilian world require a lot of planning. It’s never too early to prepare, especially when it comes to education. Below is commentary from Chief Master Sgt. Gordon Drake with wise words about saving money and taking responsibility for your new civilian life. He also lays out a few educational opportunities any service member should consider taking advantage of.

JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. -- It's been said that life's only two certainties are death and taxes. However, for those of us in uniform, I'd also add to the list our inevitable transition from military to civilian life. It doesn't matter where you are in your military career, at some point, each and every one of us will make that transition and if you haven't already started, the perfect time to begin planning for it is right now.

Sometimes we don't get as much time to prepare as we'd like. Maybe a family issue, a health problem, educational opportunity or a force shaping initiative might alter or even derail your current career plans - life is uncertain, be ready! The more effort you put into the planning and preparation, the smoother your transition will be, and there are two main areas I'd suggest you concentrate on - your education and financial security. Both are an investment in yourself and will pay you dividends while you're on active duty and later in life as well. 

If you haven't been saving money regularly for your inevitable retirement, be it from active duty or a civilian occupation, you're missing out on the single biggest wealth-building factor - time. Time plays a huge factor in how your savings will grow. For example, if you start saving just $50 per pay period at age 20, assuming a 10% return, you could be a millionaire by the time you're 65 years old. That's less than $3.50 a day! Maybe you could pack your own lunch rather than eating out, eliminate trips to the vending machine or skip that fancy coffee drink. 

Contributing to the Thrift Savings Plan through direct deposit, another benefit of your military service is about as easy as it gets and the sooner you start, the more you stand to gain through time and compounding interest. For more info or to start saving through the TSP, visit www.tsp.org.

Hopefully you've already taken advantage of your generous education benefits your military career offers. The Community College of the Air Force is the largest multi-campus community college in the world and offers fully accredited associate in applied science degrees in your Air Force specialty and gives credit for the training you've already completed. Tuition assistance can help you reach further educational goals while you're still on active duty while offsetting the majority of the cost along the way. Certainly, continuing your education will make you a better Airman and will make you more competitive in the civilian job market when it comes time to separate or retire. According to a recent report from the U.S. Census Bureau, a bachelor's degree is worth almost a million dollars more in lifetime earnings over a high school diploma.

If you're a supervisor, it's incredibly important that you learn as much as you can about transition so that you'll be prepared when your time comes and so you'll be able to educate and counsel your subordinates as well. Right here at JBLM there are some amazing apprenticeship opportunities available to transitioning service members. 

The Veterans in Piping program is an 18-week, full-time industrial welding, pipe fitting or heating, ventilation and air conditioning training program offering direct entry into a 5-year paid apprenticeship program. 

The 6-week Veterans Entering Trucking apprenticeship program offers full commercial driver's licensing training with all endorsements. 

The International Union of Painters and Allied Trades program is 3-week, full-time training program offering direct entry into a 4-year paid apprenticeship. 

Finally, the Microsoft Software & Systems Academy is 18-weeks of intensive computer programming training offering graduates college credit and a guaranteed interview with Microsoft. 

For more information on these and other programs, visit the JBLM Transition Program Website at www.lewis-mcchord.army.mil/dhr/acap.

The bottom line is the more you know, the earlier you start and the more effort you put into planning and preparing for your inevitable transition, the smoother and more successful it will be. What are you waiting for?

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GI Bill® is a registered trademark of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). More information about education benefits offered by VA is available at the official U.S. government Web site at www.benefits.va.gov/gibill
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