I have the opportunity to meet many people during my travels, and recently struck up a conversation with the spouse of a Service member who overheard me talking about the drawdown. She told me that her husband had been alerted that he would be released from active duty in September 2012. She was visibly upset, and I requested the opportunity to speak with him. I’m sharing his story because I can tell that several of the blank stares in the audience during our “The Handwriting on the Wall” educational awareness briefings believe that the drawdown will not affect them. However, no one is immune from the impact of a drawdown. Meet one Service member (we’ll just use “Sailor X” for anonymity) that has had the wake-up call of his life and is leveraging education to ensure that he will be ready for transition to the civilian workforce.
How did this happen? When notified that Sailor X would go before a retention board, he and his peers assumed that those impacted would be Service members with PT failures or disciplinary actions, but that wasn’t the case. “Twenty eight percent of the personnel within my military occupational specialty in my year group were cut due to being over strength,” he said. Sailor X was both surprised and not by the news – he saw the direction the military was taking with the drawdown, but at the time, he didn’t know it would impact to him!
“I have two children under the age of 12, a wife and a mortgage. When I leave, I’ll have 14 years of service, so I’m ineligible for any benefits,” Sailor X said. Although Congress approved temporary early retirement authority (TERA) to help Services manage troop cuts, it requires at least 15 years of Service according to Army Times – and not every Service will participate. Given the facts presented, Sailor X immediately started planning, asking several critical questions: “What are my resources? What are my options? How much time do I have? And most importantly, what do I want to do with the rest of my life now that I won’t reach 20 years in the military?”
“The day I found out, I applied for Tuition Assistance (TA),” he said. Sailor X is now enrolled in an accelerated BS degree with Southern Illinois University in Workforce Education and Development. They accept up to 30 semester hours for work experience, military and corporate training and other non-graded training and education. With his transferred credits and the school’s accelerated pace, it will take a year to complete his degree, but it will not be completed before he is separated. Sailor X plans to use his Post 9/11 GI Bill after losing TA when he leaves active duty, and hopes to become a vocational educational teacher after completing his degree.
“Without a degree to back me, it’s all just experience – no FCC license, no A and P (airframes and powerplants) license and no private sector experience. Then, of course, it comes down to who you know and that leaves it all too much to chance,” he said. Sailor X continues to try to get into the Reserves, but has to be assessed each month for transfer to a different field. The results are released every month until he separates, and he remains hopeful while pursuing other opportunities.
Hopefully, this experience will shed some light on the fact that the drawdown can impact anyone. Sailor X continues to mentor other Service members. “At my schoolhouse, we constantly tell the ‘kids’ (new sailors) the same thing – doing your job is not enough anymore, and it will never be again.” However, our case study, ever the consummate Service member, says nothing has changed for him. “What will I do except my job until I separate? Until then, I carry on!”
Of course, he has done a lot. He took the bull by the horns, immediately identified a degree program and pushed full-throttle for completion, although he will be the first to note that he did it because he had to. “If I already had a degree in hand, I’d probably already have job offers. As it is, I’m scrambling, and I’ll probably swing a hammer for awhile until I can finish my degree and then apply it to my resume.”
If you know you would be in the same situation under similar circumstances, let this Service member’s experience hammer home the need for you to identify and complete a degree or certificate program ASAP. Time waits for no one!