VETERAN CAREER COUNSELOR LEARNS NEW TRANSITION LESSON

Guest Post – Nelson Akeredolu

One day, Master Chief Velasquez woke up to a sudden realization – the person who needed his counsel today the most, was staring back at him in the mirror.

When your job is helping others, it is easy to lose sight of your own needs.  That was the case for Navy Career Counselor Jose Velasquez.   At the end of his military career, after dedicating his career to helping other Service member find their own career transition paths, he was struck with the realization that it was now his time to find a new career.

To his surprise, he also realized that he was unsure and anxious about his future like so many others he had counseled. Who would counsel him and who would be there to help him find his way to a successful life after military service?

Former Master Chief Velasquez helped transitioning Sailors for a living until one day, he found himself looking into a mirror for his own help.

For many young Service members, the thought of re-entering the civilian world after finding their place in the daunting arena of the U.S. military is intimidating. Even more seasoned veterans like Velasquez sometimes find themselves questioning whether or not they are ready to fully move on from the life that has defined them and shaped who they are as parents, spouses, friends, and citizens.

Luckily, Velasquez remembered that he could turn to the Department of Defense’s (DoD) Transition Assistance Program (TAP).

He wasn’t’ alone.  Roughly 140,000 Service members leave active duty each year and receive some form of transition assistance from the TAP program; a career transition counseling program jointed managed and administered by the DoD and the Departments of Labor and Veterans Affairs.  The goal of the program is to ease the reintegration of Service members and their families back into the civilian community when their military service ends.  

“I had previous knowledge of TAP, because as a Navy counselor, I sent people to TAP all the time. So, I was very involved with it,” he said. “It was really a program that I made sure people took advantage of, and then when it was time for me to take advantage of it, I made sure that I did as early as I possibly could.”

Velasquez knew that was the key – start preparing as early as possible and use whatever tools you can find to help make that early transition easier.  He had an idea of the career path that he wanted to pursue after separating  from active duty, but didn’t know if he was informed enough to pursue it at that point. He attributes much of his post-Service success to the knowledge he gained through his participation in TAP. However, it was the very first TAP session he attended that gave him the most valuable piece of knowledge he would receive.

“Around 2006, I was about two years out from my end of active duty. I was at a position with US Fleet Forces Command and I wasn’t sure if I was going to retire at the end of that tour or if I was going to continue,” said Velasquez. “So, I went to a TAP class and during that class figured out that ‘OK, I want to stay in.’ I at least needed one more tour to try to get more education. While on that final tour,  I went ahead and got my education and made some strong network connections. This was all based on information that I learned while I was at TAP in 2006.”

You can now find many of those TAP resources online.

From that first experience with TAP, Velasquez was able to reach a better understanding of exactly what it was he needed to do in order to reach his post-military career goals.

 “What I learned from that particular course was that networks, education and setting up your resume for the particular field that you want after you retire were things that took time. It wasn’t something that was going to happen overnight. So, I decided to stay that extra tour to start building on those particular aspects to make sure I was going into the field that I wanted.”

After 28 years in the Navy, Velasquez retired as a Master Chief Navy Counselor on Sept. 30, 2010. Equipped with the knowledge and education he needed, he pursued his passion.  He started early, with a goal in mind, and used the tools available to him.

Today, he is the Education Service Specialist at the US Coast Guard Personnel Service Center where he continues to help Service members develop plans for furthering their own education. Though he no longer has much direct interaction with it, when it comes to TAP, he remains a firm supporter.

Defense Department officials are currently in the process of transforming TAP from an end-of-service event to a healthy mix of online education and career coaching that will be available to Service members from their first day of military service to well after they leave the military as proud Veterans. Their plans include program upgrades, such as virtual classrooms, that will allow remote and rural Service members to take advantage of the same kind of classroom “one-on-one” experience that helped Velasquez, as well as online access to the recently announced Career Decision  Toolkit.

“We are evolving TAP to the point that Service members will be able to access TAP early and often throughout their career, “said David M. DuBois, TAP Operations Director, Office of Wounded Warrior Care and Transition Policy.  “Like Master Chief Velasquez’ experience, the key is time. The earlier Service members of all ages begin taking and acting upon transition training, the more like they will experience positive outcomes when they return to the civilian community.”

This is a sentiment with which Velasquez wholeheartedly agrees.

“It’s never too early to start preparing yourself for life once you’re out of the Service. Whether you’ve been in three years or 15 years and you’re going all the way to 30. Attending TAP at the decision point of whether you’re staying in or getting out helps you start making the proper decision,” said Velasquez.

“It provides you information to help you make that decision. But most of all, it allows you an opportunity to stop what you’re doing, think about yourself for a couple days, and figure out exactly what it is that you want the next step to be.”

Learn more by visiting the the DoD Transition Assistance Program Facebook page:  http://www.facebook.com/DoDTAP.

If you would like to particiapte in live online TAP learning events for the month of April, click a course below:

April Sessions