No matter how different the details of the transition itself, we know transition is not just a veterans' issue -- it is a military family issue.
One of the most important pieces of it is actually very simple: When all is said and done with military life, where will go next? Will you go where the job is, or will you pick a perfect place to live? And whose job is transition, anyway?
Which Comes First: the Job or the Location?
"We followed the job," reports Ann-Marie, an Air Force wife and Tampa resident. Her husband's time in the service prepared him for a job in project management, so he was recruited by a department store chain to overhaul their security system.
"They saw he was a leader," Ann-Marie said. "He had the experience to start a project and finish it, and he would be able to maintain it once it was done."
For Ann-Marie, transitioning out of the military was a welcomed, elective choice. For her neighbor, Kelli, a former Army wife, transition was much harder.
"My husband did not choose to leave (the Army)," she explains. "But we had family here, so we thought moving here was smart," she says. "There's a large military population in the region, so we figured people would understand his resume better."
Who is Responsible for Planning: Service Member or Spouse?
While their experiences with transition were very different, Ann-Marie and Kelli have one important thing in common: Much of the planning in the transition process fell to them.
"My husband was so overwhelmed," Kelli reports. "It was just so new to be able to choose where we moved," says Kelli. "I kind of felt lost without orders."
Ann-Marie agrees. "I would describe the whole thing as a whirlwind," she says. "We felt so lost! But knowing where we going made it so much easier."
Nailing down your ETS location is the first step to solid ground. These four tips will help you do so.
Be Tough: Put the Job First
When it comes to the major questions facing transitioning families that need to be addressed head-on, geography tops the list, says Kevin M. Schmiegel, Vice President of Corporate Relations and Development at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and founder and former Executive Director of Hiring Our Heroes.
At Military.com's National Veteran Employment Summit, Schmiegel noted that service members and their families aren't always logical about where to move when the military chapter of their lives is over, "They're making decisions of the heart," said Schmiegel.
When a family's stability is at stake, that is not always the best decision. For example, Schmiegel said, three out of four Marines leave the military after four years of service. When Schmiegel spoke to transitioning Marines about what they were going to do after completing their service, he found they all had the same answer: "Sir, I don't know. I'm just going to go home and figure it out."
Unless you are living in a hotbed of veteran employment, chances are high that moving home and figuring it out might not be the wisest decision for your spouse or your family.
If the unemployment rate alone (still around nine percent for veterans aged 25-34 and much higher for those under 25) does not have you prioritizing potential job locations over the comforts of home, it should.
"We need [transitioning families] to get off this decision of the heart and make an informed decision about where the jobs are, what industries are hiring, and what they need to do to land that good paying job," said Schmiegel.
So if your spouse is leaning towards moving home, how can you refocus the conversation on a more promising next step?
Search Like Crazy Where Veteran Hiring is High
In partnership with Hiring our Heroes, USAA recently released a list of the ten best cities for veteran employment. At the top of the list: Pittsburgh, Austin, Oklahoma City, and even San Antonio.
"I think the wife needs to focus on what the new location would offer the family," encourages Ann-Marie."You have to think about schools, cost of living, finding a faith home, and a community. We wanted someplace with a large military community. We continue to feel that support, and knowing a Reserve component is nearby also helped us feel comfortable with the change."
Kelli agrees. "We actually decided not to move to where I'm from because the schools are so bad -- even though I could have gotten a teaching job there. [Your decision] has to be more than just that. We needed to be someplace where we both could get work. No one was going to hire him in Nowheresville, Kansas."
If the cities on USAA's list do not appeal to you or your family, consider looking directly at major veteran employers and their geographical locations. For instance, both JPMorgan Chase and Boeing have very strong veteran hiring programs.
Pretend for the Positive
If your family is struggling to piece together a financially viable next step, keeping up positive exterior may be difficult. "But you still have to do it," laughs Kelli.
"We thought we would have plenty of job offers. We didn't. So I kept pretending that was okay. I would focus him on the fact that we were moving someplace he would be able to find work. We would be able to make ends meet."
Kelli kept a mental "positivity list" going so that she always had something reaffirming to bring out when conversation got heavy. "I would talk about how great it would be that we were moving someplace with a support network in place. I talked about the hiring in the area and how it would so much easier to network once we were there. I talked for a LOT about how we would be able to live affordably there, so that if we had no job offers right away, we would be okay for awhile."
On this side of transition -- with her husband fully employed and bills being paid each month -- she thinks her positivity paid off.
"It's about more than that," she says. "It's that we also made a positive choice. We thought hard about where we would move, and moving someplace without work potential was not an option."
Fast Track Yourself
Following Kelli's lead and telling yourself and your spouse that things will be okay when you are facing the pink slip is not easy.
"It's kind of dangerous to slip into a false comfort that it will be okay," Kelli warns. "Do whatever it takes to make sure it will be okay. Don't just tell yourself it will be."
For both Kelli and Ann-Marie, that meant taking matters into their own hands. Where their military-led transition classes let them down, they found other resources stepping up to help make their transition easier. Kelli found that getting in touch with local veterans groups in her new town was a strong way to network in the place they would be. Ann-Marie reached out to national organizations with transition assistance programs to see what would be available for her as a spouse.
If your local TAPS class leaves you wanting, consider signing up for Syracuse University's Veteran Career Transition Program. Their spouse program, developed in conjunction with MOAA and devoted specifically to the needs of spouses, will help you develop the soft skills to handle any job searches you may navigate as well as help you achieve certification in actually-hiring fields.
We know that having two incomes in play can be a huge relief to a transitioning service member, so think about what you can do to take on some financial responsibility for your family. (If you are a stay-at-home parent and are sure that isn't for you, we hear you loud and clear! But take a minute to read what one SAHM like yourself had to say about considering work during transition. Meet Stephanie.
You have heard it before: Transition shows up dressed up in overalls and looking like hard work. And believe us -- it will be.
But it is also hard work that you, as the spouse, can take on and help with. "A good transition is so hard to do," says Kelli. "But you get to be in the driver's seat, too. Make sure you're driving that car someplace where there is work!"
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