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TAP inspires a new beginning

John Leonard Harris, a career transition trainer with Insignia Federal Group teaches job-interview techniques to a group of service members transitioning to civilian life as part of the Transition Assistance Program seminar at the Offutt Airman Family and Readiness Center, Nov. 22, 2013. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Markus M. Maier/Released)

John Leonard Harris, a career transition trainer with Insignia Federal Group teaches job-interview techniques to a group of service members transitioning to civilian life as part of the Transition Assistance Program seminar at the Offutt Airman Family and Readiness Center, Nov. 22, 2013. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Markus M. Maier/Released)

OFFUTT Air Force Base, Neb -- In response to rising unemployment rates, especially among veterans returning from service in Iraq and Afghanistan, President Barack Obama signed the Veterans Opportunity to Work to Hire Heroes Act on Nov. 21, 2011.

Among other initiatives, the bill calls for a major restructure of the military's transition assistance program, which had not been changed in more than 20 years.

Since then the Department of Defense, in partnership with the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Labor, has phased in a completely new version of the program.

"The goal of TAP is to prepare people as best as possible," said Julia Noe, 55th Force Support Squadron's community readiness consultant and transition assistance program manager. "Too often people wait until the last minute to do anything, and then they get out and get overwhelmed. Attending TAP allows service members to be more effectively prepared and assures an increased possibility of success for the next chapter of life."

On the surface, the two most notable changes to the program are that it is now mandatory for all service members planning to separate, or retire, from the military, and that it has increased from three and a half to five class days. In addition, there are also three optional 2-day classes being offered with a focus on specific post-military goals, the education, entrepreneur and technical training tracks. The education track is currently available once a month, the entrepreneur track every two months and the technical training track is scheduled to be available starting in March 2014.

To sign up for TAP, members attend a pre-separation briefing where the Individual Transition Plan is introduced and enrollment in the e-benefits website is verified.

The first day of TAP serves as a wake-up call highlighting some of the issues service members might face upon separation. It begins with an overview laying out what attendees can expect over the next five days, followed by the resilient transition module and a Military Occupation Code crosswalk.

"The military has a lingo, that the civilian sector doesn't understand," Noe said. "So you go in to get a job, or you put together a résumé, and [potential employers] see all this military talk. You might be qualified for that job, but they can't tell, because they don't know what you are talking about. So the MOC crosswalk starts getting you into the mindset of translating military skills into civilian language."

Financial planning is also on day one's agenda to highlight some of the changes members can expect in their pay upon separation and tangible advice on how to plan ahead to avoid potential financial hardships.

Day two is about self discovery, challenging participants to explore their true value in the job market based on the experiences they gained during their time in the military.

"So many want to immediately dive into the opportunities and job possibilities, but not truly assess their worth, their value, their skill set and their preferences," said John Leonard Harris, a career transition trainer with Insignia Federal Group. "So day two indeed is the self-examination that might lead to some different discovery and then maybe a different direction as it relates to that discovery."

On day three attendees learn how to target the right employers and how to be visible.

"It starts with research," Harris said. "I'm going to target employers, and I'm going to begin to look at those employers that actually are the kinds organizations, companies that meet my needs. Not just I meet their needs, but meet the kind of needs that I might have as a potential employee. I want to factor in my personal preferences; I want to factor in my research as it relates to their organization."

After research, the next step is proper positioning to where employers are looking.

"It's not just a one-sided proposition, not just me looking for them, but employers are looking for good candidates," Harris said. "So if I can position myself to be online, to have a profile on a job-board and to have a Linked-In page then it's more likely that a potential employer can find me."

Day four starts with a presentation by Dick Lerner, a local clothier and author, on what to wear for an interview and tips on corporate dress and appearance.

"Be a mirror image of your résumé," Lerner said. "If you have a stellar résumé, your dress, appearance and image need to mirror each other. When it comes down to hiring, dress and appearance can make the difference. Use it to your advantage. It's the combination of all the little and big things you do that makes a difference."

This is followed by an in depth look at résumé and cover letter writing and the importance of having a list of reliable professional references.

"There is no one single part of this that's any more significant," Harris said. "It all comes together as well as those references. Making sure that we have quality references that can speak to our professional life."

After lunch Harris shares an in-depth look about the job-interview process, followed by mock interviews where participants get to practice what they have learned during the briefing.

"Again, that's not a one-sided process, Harris said. "It's not just about what the interviewer wants to ask you, though important, but what you need to ask the interviewer as well. This is to make sure this indeed is the place, the environment, the responsibilities and the kind of expectations that allow you to be the best you can be in that particular environment."

During the last two hours attendees learn about the basics of the federal hiring process.

"It's a more involved process in some respects," Harris said. "It's about your total military life. So we have to make that clear delineation and differentiation for everyone here, to make sure they understand that it is a more involved process."

All of day five is dedicated to VA benefits, and how to apply for them.

"We talk about education benefits such as the Montgomery and Post 9/11 GI bills, medical benefits, the VA home loan guarantee program and how to file claims and disability and compensation packages," Laurie Kline, Department of Veterans Affairs benefits advisor. "There is a lot of information crammed into one day, but it's only meant to provide the basics in the hope that they come in to see us [at the Airman and Family Readiness Center] for more information."

At the end, participants are asked to fill our surveys seeking their feedback on what they have experienced in the last five days.

"This course provided me with a lot of extra information I didn't have," said U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Shawn Adams, 55th Security Forces Squadron. "This course has helped me 10-fold, because I thought I was prepared and I now know that I'm not. The information about the home loan was a big one for me, and all the preparation I have to do before I get out with regard to the medical benefits; as far as applying for things and getting my medical and dental records straightened out."

The final step of the TAP process is the capstone where TAP representatives go over and sign off the member's DD Form 2958, the Service Member Career Readiness Standards ITP Checklist.

"This is my second iteration of TAP, and I've done that on purpose," said U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Robert Anderson, U.S. Strategic Command Joint Cyber Center chief of operations. "To me, the things that are most useful are identifying some of the items, especially on the employment side with regard to cover letters, résumés and other areas to where I will need to improve on what I currently have. This class also helps plan out your future, and the benefits the VA and DoD can still provide you over the course of a lifetime. It helps identify those critical components you need to initiate and understand your benefits."

For more information about TAP contact the Offutt AFRC at 294-4329.