I have a unique perspective on military transition . . . I did it twice. I first did it as a non-combat Veteran in 2000. Within a year, I had moved back into my parent’s house, and I was unemployed. I had no idea what I was going to do with my life. I was lost. I returned to active duty after 9/11, and I recently retired from the military. This time, I was a 3-time combat veteran who was retiring after 21 years of active service. My experience with transition is very broad and unique. But my conclusion through both experiences is the same: The current process of transition does not prepare Service members for a new life beyond the military.
So what does the Reverse Boot Camp do differently? Plenty . . . Here are some ways the Reverse Boot Camp will improve the process of leaving the military:
1. Remove the Stigma of Mental Health. The frequency, intensity, and duration of stressful events – like those experienced by members of the military – alter the physiology of the brain as part of the normal, neurological adaptive process. By acknowledging the expected consequences of repeated combat exposure, we fundamentally shift the burden for addressing behavioral health issues from the individual to the institution. The mental health culture will evolve from one of perceived weakness to one of acceptance and proactive intervention. Mandating all service members receive a comprehensive mental health evaluation at selected points throughout the transition process will (1) document and monitor mental and behavioral wellness, (2) relieve the stigma by transferring the burden from the individual to the institution, and (3) help anticipate health and wellness service demand in the future Veteran population.
2. Transition Cohort Group. Transitioning service members would be temporarily assigned on official orders to a cohort group similar to the process currently used in many installation training programs. This designation would remove any job-related conflicts that would ordinarily hinder the execution of the transition requirements. Transition is unique to each service member based on type of discharge, medical requirements, and accreditation support. Given these considerations, service members would be assigned a cohort to ensure sufficient time is afforded to accomplish all requirements of the basic and advanced transition program aligned with the service member’s approved discharge date.
3. Individual and Group Sessions. All transitioning service members would complete an initiation program – like Save A Warrior – to prepare and establish the foundation for the mental and emotional challenges to transition and subsequent integration into a post-military life. Also, service members would actively participate in a combination of individual and group programs to combine the benefits of peer support while providing service members the opportunity to participate in a wide variety of counseling, mindfulness, and therapy interventions. Some examples of group programs include REBOOT Combat Recovery for healing, Connected Warriors for mindfulness, and Operation Warrior Shield for transcendental meditation.
4. Professional Career Services. We are working with the Kenan-Flager Business School at the University of North Carolina to develop a program of career coaching for transition. This program is unique because it focuses on self-awareness and discovery to align competencies and interests with potential career opportunities. Furthermore, these career coaches would help prepare service members for adjustment into the civilian employment environment and corporate culture.
5. Accreditation. One of the most exciting benefits of the RBC is professional accreditation for experience, skills, and technical expertise acquired through military service. We are currently working an agreement with Delaware Technical College to provide these services as part of the pilot program. The intent for this program expands on current initiatives for technical skills and job certifications to include managerial and leadership accreditations such as project management, human resources management, professional coaching, etc. One example of such a program is Vets2PM which provides the training and support for Project Management certifications for military members. These certifications would more accurately communicate the capabilities of the Veteran and enhance his or her hiring potential in an increasingly competitive job market.
The Reverse Boot Camp is not a cliche. It is a complete change in mindset. Rather than “clearing” a Service member out of the military, it prepares that Service member for a new life. I didn’t have this the first time, or the second time, but I had the experience of going through this twice to learn a little about myself to find a path for my post-military life. And we should have program that helps all current and future members of our military do the same.
This is Part 4 of a 5 Part Series entitled “Why We Need a Reverse Boot Camp”. Tomorrow’s post will conclude this series by talking about the innovative approach of staying connected to a Service Member and their family after they depart from the military. The Reverse Boot Camp is an initiative sponsored by non-profit organizations across the United States designed to better prepare our service men and women for a healthy, empowered life after military service.