5 Reasons Why All Service Members Should Attend Transition GPS ASAP
By Ryan R. Sofranko
Graduate and University Ambassador, American Military University
During the first week of October, I attended Transition GPS (Goals, Plans, Success). For those who are not familiar with this course, Transition GPS is the Department of Defense’s educational curriculum that prepares service members to transition out of active-duty military service.
Several colleagues said everyone should attend Transition GPS at least twice prior to separation. So I thought I would attend early to see if their recommendation was justified, since I have 18 months left until I separate from the U.S. Air Force.
A note on eligibility: The live classroom course is available only to service members who are within 24 months from their date of separation. All others may attend the online version, available through Joint Knowledge Online (JKO).
The program was an eye-opening experience. Besides gaining an abundance of new knowledge, I was surprised at the lack of preparation in the room.
I spoke with a service member two months from separation, who was just beginning to seriously plan for his transition. As the wave of information began to crash upon us all week, this service member acknowledged that he had underestimated the importance of and requirements for separation.
Having gone through Transition GPS, I too now believe this course should be taken twice prior to separation. I also believe all eligible service members should attend right now for five different reasons.
- Preparation for the Unexpected
If you have completed or are near completing your first term of service, chances are you know someone who experienced an abrupt end to his or her service commitment. The reasons for an unexpected discharge include medical, administrative, conduct and even budget-driven force reduction initiatives like the one that cut 19,000 Airmen in 2014. It is important to remember that the job security we enjoy in the military can be taken away unexpectedly.
Attending Transition GPS before the unexpected strikes is advantageous for several reasons. It gives you the opportunity to grasp the course content with an open mind and you are free from the stress of a time-crunched separation. You do not want to be in panic mode when it’s time to learn the information that you need for the next chapter of your life.
Transition GPS also gives you a head start on resume and interview preparation. The days of one generic resume are far behind us. Resumes must be targeted to each position and industry that interests you, and they should also be adapted to applicant tracking system software.
Furthermore, you need to develop an elevator pitch so you can sell who you are, what you do and where you want to go. Interview responses must relate to a situation, task, action and result. Successful resume and interview preparation will take time and practice, which you may lack when you face an unexpected separation from the military.
- Information about Your VA Benefits
During Transition GPS, an entire day is spent on VA benefits. This is the perfect time to soak in the information and ask any questions.
I have found that the benefits offered by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) are barely mentioned while you are serving. The one exception might be the Post 9/11 GI-Bill, but even the details of this program are not discussed as well as they should be.
There were several separating service members in my class who learned that an additional service commitment was required before they could transfer their Post 9/11 GI-Bill benefits to their children or spouse. You can imagine their reaction when they discovered this news, after it was too late for them to take any action.
Attending Transition GPS now gives you the opportunity to learn about all of the VA’s programs. Some of these programs are available while you are still on active duty.
The Post 9/11 GI-Bill and the VA Home Loan are two popular examples. You are also given a copy of the VA Benefits Briefing Participant Guide. It does a decent job of breaking down the descriptions and requirements for all VA benefits and programs.
- Free Financial Planning
Service members should always welcome free, unbiased financial advice. A full day of coursework is dedicated to financial planning, budgeting, savings and retirement plans.
You will learn how to make the most of the Thrift Savings Plan, a 401(k)-like retirement savings plan, during your remaining years of service. You’ll compare military compensation and benefits against civilian salaries, so you can make informed decisions.
In addition, you get one-on-one guidance on how to make a budget, using the Financial Planning Work Sheet. This knowledge is useful, regardless of where you are in your career.
- Networking Opportunities and Chances to Learn from Others’ Errors
In Transition GPS, you’ll have the chance to learn from the experiences and mistakes of other service members. Take the time to get to know some of your classmates, especially those who are close or closer to their separation date than you are.
Your classmates will be able to share the lessons they learned, which could be invaluable to your own military separation. Take notes so you can remember to plan and take appropriate action when it’s your turn to separate.
Transition GPS also suggests that attendees create social media accounts, such as the business networking site LinkedIn, to build your online presence. This is a good way to market yourself as you’re searching for employment.
LinkedIn is an affordable way for companies to recruit new employees, so this type of exposure can have a positive impact on your job search. A 2015 Jobvite survey shows that 92% of recruiters utilize social media networks to recruit candidates.
Just like your resume, social media profiles take time to build. Take this time to network with your classmates and grow your social media connections.
- Additional Free Resources
Transition GPS provides you with an abundance of useful resources, regardless of where you are in your career. Copies of the following resources are provided at no cost:
- S. Department of Labor (DOL) Employment Workshop: Transition from Military to Civilian Workforce
- Military Occupational Codes Crosswalk
- The Military to Civilian Transition Guide
If you attend the classroom course, the moderated, interactive discussions bring out the true value of these products. For example, the DOL’s Employment Workshop was taught by a civilian human resources manager with years of experience assisting service members with their transitions. Take advantage of that experience and guidance to build a successful transition plan.
You will also leave the service with links to dozens of tools designed to simplify the research required for your transition. Are you thinking about using the Post 9/11 GI-Bill, but do not know how much of your tuition it will cover? Check out the VA’s GI Bill Comparison Tool.
Are you moving and need to compare the cost of living at different locations? Check out Bankrate’s Cost of Living Calculator. These are just two examples of the types of resources you will take away from Transition GPS.
All service members will have to make the transition to civilian life at some point. So be proactive and take control of your future. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Attend Transition GPS now.
About the Author
Ryan R. Sofranko has nine years of active-duty service in the United States Air Force. He has held assignments in Mississippi, Virginia, Korea and Hawaii and has deployed to the Middle East. Currently, Ryan is assigned to Headquarters, Pacific Air Forces, Joint Base Pearl Harbor Hickam, where he coordinates the joint use of international airspace with host nation partners throughout the U.S. Pacific Command. Additionally, Ryan is the Chief Operations Officer at the Lint Center for National Security Studies. Ryan completed his B.S. in Information Systems Security from American Military University and will graduate with an M.S. in Data Analytics from Southern New Hampshire University in January 2017.