NEWS | Aug. 20, 2020

Pandemic, physical distancing do not stop transitioning service members

By Lori A. Bultman 502nd Air Base Wing Public Affairs

The coronavirus may have changed the way many things happen at Joint Base San Antonio, but they still happen. Service members still train, security forces still protect installations, firefighters still respond to calls, and transitioning service members still depart military service.  

In an effort to provide all transitioning service members at JBSA with the services they are entitled to, ensuring a smooth readjustment to civilian life, JBSA’s new Joint Transition Readiness Center, or JTRC, staff members stand ready to provide information and resources virtually to all who need them.  

“When COVID shut us down for face-to-face appointments in March, the JTRC had to come up with a way to continue providing services without missing a beat. That avenue was through virtual meeting applications,” said Sally Gonzalez, community readiness consultant and acting Transition Assistance Program manager at the center.  “The Soldier for Life - Transition Assistance Program team transferred all in-person classes to a virtual format in April, without a break in service. We were actually one of the first locations to offer virtual classes.” 

Service members departing military service start their transition journey at the JTRC by contacting administrative staff members via telephone or email to set up an Initial Individualized Counseling Appointment.  

Then, a counselor emails the service member the documents they will need to complete the transition process and an appointment by telephone is scheduled.   

“During that appointment, the service member completes a self-assessment used to gauge what level of support, resources and tools the member will need to make a smooth transition into civilian life,” Gonzalez said. “The self-assessment determines whether they will be in Tier 1, 2 or 3 for support.” 

Gonzalez said the team members at the JTRC are there to support the service members, not make decisions for them.  

“The service members will work on their own Individual Development Plan, which sets the course for their transition,” she said.  

“Every person separating from military service is different, their situation is different, their goals are different, and we want to determine how we can best provide them with everything they need for a successful transition,” she said.  

To best determine what level each service member needs, Gonzalez said counselors determining the tier of service for each person they assist.  

“For example, a Tier 1 service member is retiring with 20 or more years of service and has an adequate plan for transition, such as a year's worth of savings, has made connections with companies who have jobs in their own career field, or may already have a job offer,” Gonzalez said. “That member does not need all the services available at the JTRC.” 

Gunnery Sgt. Marcus A. Ricks, administrative chief at 4th Reconnaissance Battalion, is retiring from the Marine Corps next year with 20 years of service and already plans to work in human resources for the federal government after his military service. Therefore, he is considered in Tier 1.  

“Be proactive on how you engage in your transition, meaning having a running resume already established, have an idea of what you really want to do as your leave the military, and research different programs that the military has for personnel transitioning out of the military,” he said.  

Ricks also advises transitioning service members to have a financial plan that includes a projection for not being able to find employment when first separating from military service.  

“Having these things already in mind can better help the counselors point you in the right direction,” he said.  

“A Tier 2 separating member may not be retiring, may not have much in savings, and may have a plan, but is in need of guidance on resume writing, job searching or reviewing a budget to develop a financial plan,” she said.  

“At Tier 3, a service member might be getting out of the military after the first enlistment with no real plan, not much work experience, and needing to select a career track,” she said. “In this case, the person might need assistance in finding full-time employment, locating educational opportunities or vocational training, or they might need information on starting a business.” 

Each tier has a different set of mandatory classes and deliverables due 90 days before separation, Gonzalez said.  

Completing the requirements and transitioning out of military service during a pandemic can be a challenge for anyone at any level of preparedness.  

“The transition thus far has been a little bit of a challenge, mostly because the pandemic is affecting a lot of things,” Ricks said. “It affected the Transition Readiness Seminar I attended in April.  

“I am a person who prefers things like this to be presented in person,” he said. “Although this is not my preferred method of learning, the team conducted themselves very well, providing resources and answering questions.” 

Ricks said that while the counselors have been amazing, providing information to help him embark on his new journey, servicemembers must take the lead in their own transition.  

“The thing I would recommend for any service member, regardless of the branch, is to do your own research ahead of time,” he said. “Remember no one will take care of you better than you.” 

Service members should start their transition process up to 24 months before retirement or 18 months before non-retirement separation, Gonzalez said. At a minimum, in accordance with NDAA-19, the National Defense Authorization Act, transition must start 365 days prior to separation.  

To schedule an initial virtual appointment with a counselor at the Joint Transition Readiness Center, call 210-916-7322 or 210-916-6089, or email usaf.jbsa.502-abw.mbx.mfrc@mail.mil.