The Pentagon is laying off thousands of soldiers, including those currently serving abroad in Afghanistan, as part of the planned drawdown of forces.
If you're a soldier who received a pink slip, my heart goes out to you. I couldn't have imagined coming back from a long patrol in Afghanistan and being told that I would be discharged upon my return home. What an empty, irresolute feeling that must be in a time when soldiers need steadfast support from the Army command and the nation's leadership while they continue to risk their lives for their country.
As a soldier, the only thing you can do is accept your new marching orders and carry on like you've always done. No one said your service would be easy or that you'd be guaranteed twenty years of active service with retirement benefits. Just a few years ago service members were being extended in Iraq and Afghanistan for months of additional hardship service beyond their contractual obligations. Overall, it's a good thing that the trajectory of soldier deployments is shifting back home.
So what now? If you're deployed overseas and you're one of the many soldiers leaving active service upon your return home, here are a few things to think about to help prepare you to make the transition:
1. The mission and your soldiers remain the priority. Continue to focus on accomplishing the mission and supporting your soldiers. Just because you're leaving active service at the end of your deployment doesn't mean you can drop your pack. Your country and your soldiers still depend on your leadership and competence. From a career transition perspective, you will also need to provide recommendations as well as your fitness reports to prospective employers. Finish strong and ensure all your men and women come back home safely!
2. You have time. Don't feel that you need to line up a job the second you get home. You'll most likely have a few months of active service time when you return stateside and you will also have some terminal leave saved up after your long deployment as well. Be deliberate with your transition, take well-aimed shots and think things through. Don't rush!
3. Begin discussing your transition with your family. There is opportunity in every circumstance and this is one of those instances in life when you have the potential to go anywhere and do anything. Make the most of it! Here are a few questions you and your family should consider: Where would you like to live? What military benefits or resources do you rate? How will you continue to serve your country and community after leaving active service? What are you passionate about? What are your financial commitments over the next three, five and ten years?
4. Reach out to veterans that have transitioned out before you. Re-connect with your fellow soldiers and ask them how they are enjoying civilian life? Where are they working? Where are they living? What challenges did they face transitioning? Pick their brains and don't make the same mistakes they did!
5. Start researching your options. Begin contacting veterans at the colleges and corporations that you're interested in. Most all colleges and corporations have a veterans network representative that you can contact through their websites. Not only will these veterans give you solid information but they will also be your biggest advocates and assist you with your transition when you decide on a course of action.
Michael Abrams is an Afghanistan veteran and Founder of Four Block, a veteran career development program based in New York. He is the author of Business Networking for Veterans as well as an Adjunct Professor at Fordham University.