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Soldier For Life program targets transitioning soldiers

Army isn't 'kicking you to the curb,' Vice Chief says

May. 10, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
Gen. John Campbell wants soldiers to have the support they need to transition to civilian life.
Gen. John Campbell wants soldiers to have the support they need to transition to civilian life. (Army)
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Staying in service will become more and more competitive as the Army cuts the ranks and looks to keep its best and brightest.

“It’s not your right to re-enlist, it’s a privilege to re-enlist,” said Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. John Campbell in a May 1 phone interview with Army Times. “Not everybody is going to be able to re-enlist, as we make sure we keep the very best.”

But the Army is “not kicking you to the curb,” Campbell said.

To help soldiers transition, the Army continues to refine Soldier for Life, an 18-month-old program that is designed to help troops through every stage of their career, including their exit and return to civilian life.

“Even after you get out, you’re still a soldier for life,” Campbell said. “You’re still one half of one percent that wants to serve, [so] we’re moving forward and doing a lot more than we ever did in terms of helping soldiers move forward.”

As the Army grapples with shrinking budgets, the service must reach an end strength of 490,000 by the end of fiscal 2015. Even deeper cuts will follow after that, with the force slated to shrink to 450,000 soldiers by fiscal 2017. If sequestration returns in 2016, the Army could be forced to cut the ranks even more, to an end strength of 420,000.

“We’re trying to do as much by regular attrition, but there comes a point where it’s all about keeping the right talent in,” Campbell said. “I don’t think, for the most part, we’re going to kick many soldiers out, but, having said that, we’re going to have to ask some of our captains and our majors to leave.”

Thousands of staff sergeants and above are also facing involuntary separations.

“Given a choice, we don’t want to cut,” Campbell said. “But we’ve got to be part of the solution.”

The Army projects about 130,000 soldiers will transition from the service during the next five years, the vast majority through attrition. More than 1 million are expected to do so in the next 10 years, said Col. Adam Rocke, the director of Soldier for Life.

On May 1, the Army unveiled its new Soldier for Life website, which provides soldiers, veterans and their families with information on everything from employment assistance to education benefits.

In October, the program will unveil a number of social media platforms — blogs, Facebook, LinkedIn and more — to better connect retirees with one another, Rocke said.

Soldier For Life could also help you gain a financial boost as you leave by helping match troops with apprenticeships.

Across the Army there are now 13 apprenticeships for transitioning soldiers, he said. Some examples:

■ Veterans in Piping, at Fort Hood, Texas, and Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., which offers skills training and jobs to transitioning troops and veterans seeking to work in the pipe trades.

■ Veterans in Welding, also at Fort Hood and Lewis-McChord.

■ Veterans Entering Trucking program at Lewis-McChord.

■ Firefighter academies at Fort Rucker, Ala.; Fort Jackson, S.C.; and Fort Benning, Fort Stewart and Fort Gordon in Georgia.

■ A Software Engineer Academy recently piloted at Lewis-McChord and since expanded to Fort Hood.

“Now we’re providing the ability for service members to get skills, because that’s what industry and employers want,” Rocke said.

“All transitioning soldiers came from those communities across America, and that’s where they’ll go back to,” he said. “Those grassroots connections, those relationships, those foundations that we build out in those communities, to harness that goodwill, they help us establish networks, create centers of influence that want to help those transitioning soldiers and their families.”

The Soldier for Life effort also is critical to sustaining the all-volunteer force, Campbell said.

“We really want to make sure we honor all of our soldiers and support them,” Campbell said. “When people tell me, ‘You don’t care about your soldiers,’ when it comes from another soldier, that hurts. And you want to do everything you can to show them it’s not the case.”■

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