Transition program prepares Soldiers for life after service

“There’s a lot of opportunities for veterans out there because employers want veterans because of our leadership values (and) qualities of just being a Soldier.” – Master Sgt. Jason Snell, Noncommissioned Officer In Charge Of The Soldier For Life Transition Assistance Program At Fort Riley

Staff Sgt. Dawayne Krepel joined the Army in 1998 as an infantryman; in less than 200 days, he is scheduled to retire after 20 years of service and five tours in Afghanistan.

At 38 years old, Krepel will be leaving the first and only job he has had as an adult. It is a move he has not taken lightly. With help from Fort Riley’s Soldier For Life Transition Assistance Program, Krepel has laid plans to move forward into a second career.

“I started SFL TAP because I knew I was going to retire at 20 years,” Krepel said. “I’ll be 38 when I retire. It’s still young enough to pursue another career … As soon as I hit the 18-month mark I contacted Master Sgt. (Jason) Snell, the (noncommissioned officer in charge) for SFL TAP and said ‘what do I need to do? I want to get the ball rolling.’ I know I’m going to retire in 2018 so I don’t want to wait to the last minute.”

Expiration-Term of Service is a transition every Soldier must make, regardless of time served or reason for departing. Previously, the Army required Soldiers approaching their ETS date to attend the Army Career and Alumni Program. However, the now-defunct program lacked the same scope and effectiveness of its replacement, SFL TAP.

The program derives from two pieces of legislation, the Vow to Hire Heroes Act passed by Congress Nov. 21, 2011, and Department of Defense instruction 1332.35, which includes regulations on transition assistance for military personnel.

“When the Vow Act was created, the reason was because the unemployment compensation for the Army was half a billion dollars,” said Snell, who works primarily as a liaison between multiple agencies that support SFL TAP and the units on post.

“Because of the success of the program just since 2012, our unemployment compensation is now down below $175,000,” Snell said. “The Career Skills Program is one of the major fac¬tors because the Soldiers are getting trained (and) the employers are training them what they want them to be.”

The program comprises multiple organizations and offices designed to help Soldiers in their transition from the Army to civilian life. In addition to the Career Skills Program, the group boasts counselors in financial readiness, education specialists, veterans’ affairs contractors and the USO’s Pathfinders program.

“You can expand it even further and say the local chambers of commerce, the workforce centers, the mayors all the way up to the governor of Kansas and the secretary of commerce for Kansas,” Snell said. “These are all components of the SFL TAP because they’re all opportunities and network branches for Soldiers to use.”

On average, SFL TAP at Fort Riley processes about 300 Soldiers a month, roughly one fifth of the 1st Inf. Div.’s formation, according to Snell. Unlike previous transition programs, Soldiers who plan to ETS are required to begin the SFL TAP program 18 months before they depart the Army.

“There’s a lot of opportunities for veterans out there, because employers want veterans, because of our leadership values (and) the qualities of just being a Soldier,” Snell said. “Just showing up to work on time is a big deal on the outside. Several times a month we come across a new employer that has no idea how to hire veterans or get in touch with them and we connect those dots, our whole team does.”

For Krepel, the benefit to the new program was apparent from the beginning of his transition process.

“I knew that I was retiring in 2018, I had to find a job to take care of my family,” Krepel said. “With the skills that I learned in the SFL TAP, and the networking class, I already had my resume in my bag. When I talked to the potential employees or whoever we went to talk to, I had everything there. SFL TAP set me up for that.”

During his time in Afghanistan, Krepel found that interacting with the civilian population was an aspect of his job he enjoyed and wanted to carry over into his next career. After consulting with his wife he determined he should become a police officer and applied for an internship with the Overland Park Police Department. While the internship was intended for military police, he applied anyway and was accepted. Following the internship and approaching his ETS date, Krepel applied and was offered a full-time position with the department.

“I sent them my resume; they were tickled pink about it,” Kre¬pel said. “Now me being an infantryman, I don’t know how to write a resume, that’s not what I do. I shoot, move and communicate, that’s what I do. But SFL TAP … helped me build my resume … made my resume stand out.”

After receiving help from SFL TAP, Krepel felt more prepared to take on the next chapter of his professional life, he said.

“The Army is not going to be for everybody and the Army is not going to last forever,” Krepel said. “You can only go so high … You’re going to have to find something afterwards. It’s helping Soldiers not become homeless, living on the streets, in jail. It’s giving them an avenue of approach where they can successfully transition out of the military into another job. “

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