Story and photo by Staff Sgt. Wallace Bonner
4th Infantry Division Public Affairs Office
Transition University, a 10-day program designed to fully prepare Soldiers for adapting to civilian life as they leave the Army, held its pilot class at the Education Center, Nov. 5-20.
Transition University was developed to provide a more comprehensive knowledge base for Soldiers entering civilian life, since the Transition Assistance Program wasn’t providing Soldiers all the tools they needed, said Skip Blancett, Fort Carson education services officer.
“This is the pilot for the whole Army,” said Blancett. “No one else is even beginning to do Transition University.”
He said the program absorbed much of what the Army Career and Alumni Program does, and is a partnership between ACAP, Army Continuing Education Services and Army Community Service.
“This program has one goal: to ensure Soldiers and their Families have a successful transition out of the Army,” said Blancett.
The Soldiers for the initial class were referred by unit leaders, to ensure the best chance of success, said Blancett.
“The Soldiers were handpicked for this class,” said Blancett. “We wanted Soldiers who were serious about what was going to happen when they get out.”
The course covered many subjects, including building resumes, veterans’ benefits, interviewing skills, business networking, running a small business, self-marketing and touring two- and four-year college campuses.
“We spend a lot of time on interviews, resumes and talking for five minutes (in front of an employer),” said Blancett.
The time dedicated to preparing Soldiers for the civilian workforce has been noticed by the students in the class.
“It’s been really good, the amount of effort they’ve put into everything,” said Sgt. Tyler Adams, 3rd Battalion, 29th Field Artillery Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division. “They want to make sure you know what you’re doing when you go to work or school.”
The course also presented some new realities for the Soldiers attending.
“The amount of stuff that you have to go without, like benefits that don’t kick in until six months down the road, I hadn’t thought about that much,” said Adams. “They open your eyes, but also prepare you. The way they’ve done … it’s gone really smooth, and if somebody leaves here unprepared, it’s their own fault.”
The program has also received support from the local community.
Blancett said the program helps Soldiers with job searching by bringing in four representatives from companies that are currently hiring, to provide Soldiers the opportunity to get answers from the people who do the recruiting.
“I’m here to help you find a job,” said Ken Dryden, program manager, Quantum Research International. “I’m here because you don’t know what you don’t know.”
Soldiers in the class said the course is something all transitioning Soldiers can use.
“I’m going to let my chain of command know ‘You gave me this opportunity and it worked out great; now I want you to give it to everyone in my company that’s getting out,’” said Staff Sgt. Samantha Brenneman, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 204th Brigade Support Battalion, 2nd BCT, 4th Inf. Div. “It’s friendly and comfortable; everyone can talk, share their experiences, and no one is judging you.”
The course has also benefited from the feedback of people with prior Transition Assistance Program class experience in attendance.
“I had the three-day class where they came in and gave you a brief synopsis,” said Dana Martinez, spouse of transitioning Soldier Staff Sgt. Rick Martinez, 748th Ordnance Company, 242nd Explosive Ordnance Disposal Battalion, 71st Ordnance Group (EOD), who separated from the Army seven years ago. “They told you there was a Veterans Affairs, you should file a claim, a basic resume class and told you to enjoy yourself when you get out there.
“That they take time to provide the resources necessary; the Army is moving in the right direction,” Dana Martinez said. “They spend more time on each topic. They get really in-depth; you just get more time to ask questions, and get more information.”
Retired Master Sgt. Robbie Rohren, who separated from the Army in September, was invited to the course to provide feedback on the changes between the pilot program and the three-day TAP course. He said he had a positive experience with the class, and attributed that in a large part to the three individuals who put the program together over the last four months — Mike Webb, director of human resources; Lyle Dickason, transition services manager, ACAP; and Blancett.
“This is the second time I’ve gone through transition, and there’s a night-and-day difference,” said Rohren. “I really feel like I’m going to come out of this thing with a job, and I didn’t feel that way last time. The passion and involvement they’ve shown in this is impressive; having guys like them on this installation is a real asset.”
Maj. Gen. Joseph Anderson, commanding general, 4th Infantry Division and Fort Carson, has also been involved in the program.
Anderson has made this class the place of duty for any Soldier who wishes to attend, said Blancett. This program wouldn’t exist without his support.
The program will be the standard for transitioning Soldiers at Fort Carson.
“This is a labor of love,” said Blancett. “We are going to run this every 10 days for five years, or until we are told to stop.
“We need to give Soldiers this opportunity; we owe them a lot,” said Blancett.
For more information on Transition University, contact Lyle Dickason, ACAP transition services manager, at 526-0410.