I spent a good portion of my 20-year military career in and around the Lockheed Martin C-130E/H models flying all over the world on a wide variety of missions. Given all of those experiences, it’s no wonder they influenced how I saw the world and how I process information to this day.
I don’t know if you have similar experiences in your life, but I’ve gotten a lot of use out of describing various life events through the lens of my experience as a U.S. Air Force pilot. I’ve found that these experiences create useful analogies that have been very helpful in explaining complex environments in a much simpler and easily digestible manner.
One such example that’s stuck with me for years now is how similar a standard flight profile is to the process of military transition. It’s particularly useful in describing why the existing transition assistance system is so challenged because it is designed to be executed while you are in the busiest phase of your military career: descent.
Before I get into the model, don’t feel like you have to be a pilot to understand or make use of it. Simply having been a passenger in a plane will give your brain the context you need to really understand why this model is so challenging and has created less-than-optimal results for transitioning military members.
To get started, let’s take a look at the “standard” flight profile.
Standard Flight Profile
For the sake of this analogy, let’s assume you are part of a C-130 crew working together to fly this aircraft from Point A to Point B to carry out a mission.
Following the chart really helps tell the story. Pay particular attention to the blue flags that we’ve labeled “planning actions.” As you can see, on the Standard Flight beige line, for an actual aircraft flight, the crew has its first planning event before they ever go to the aircraft to fly it.
For this planning event, the crew usually assembles at base operations and goes over the entire mission, from Point A to Point B. In addition to the more procedural things—when they are going to take off, what route they are going to fly to get from point A to point B, the altitude they are going to fly—the crew also reviews roles and responsibilities for each crew member in executing the mission during different segments.
The next planning action you see in a standard flight occurs just prior to descent. The timing for this second planning action is critical to mission success for one simple reason—things change over time, they always do. So, prior to descent the prudent crew gets updated information so they can make required changes to the original plan. Even if there are no changes, the crew once again goes over the plan and the roles and responsibilities of each crew member so that things will continue going smoothly.
And this happens before descent begins—which is critical. Why, you ask? Well, while the crew is flying straight and level flight, the cockpit environment is quiet. This “down time” is the right time to get additional information, make required changes to the plan, and have the crew be in a mindset to absorb those changes and be ready for execution.
Descent is different. The second the pilot points the aircraft’s nose down and pulls back the throttles, life begins to get much busier. The pilot is flying. The pilot not flying is speaking to air traffic control. The crew begin coordinating with one another on their roles. As the aircraft gets closer to the ground, it becomes increasingly important that the crew get things right and make smart, well-informed, and prudent decisions.
The crew must be in perfect sync to ensure their actions are coordinated to ensure the flight remains safe in this critical phase of flight as they get closer to the ground.
It is a busy, high-consequence time to say the least.
Why the Existing Transition Program is Challenged
Now follow the red “TAP GPS” line on the graphic to see why it is so challenged.
For starters, let’s make your military career analogous to the flight profile. As you can see, the first three quarters of your career is behind you. Early in your career—as indicated by mission planning, preflight, taxi/takeoff, and climbout—it was impossible to know exactly where you were going to end up after your career because you were just getting started.
Yet, at some point in your career, you find yourself in the equivalent of “straight and level” flight. Meaning you are, more or less, in a comfortable spot in your career where you understand your job, perform well with that job, and have time for yourself and your family. In other words, things are good—and relatively calm.
This is an important distinction because the second you don’t extend your service contract (for enlisted) or submit your separation or retirement papers (for an officer), you are officially in career descent. And, like the standard flight profile, once you are in descent, things get very busy.
As a military member transitioning out of the service, your activities grow to three times normal—the triple whammy. You need to:
- Continue performing well with your primary job and additional duties
- Begin your disentangling process from the military; this includes medical/dental appointments, outprocessing briefings, mandatory TAP attendance, etc.
- Figuring out what you want to do, what company you want to work for, how to create a resume, how to sell yourself, how to know your value, how to negotiate a salary, etc.
See the problem? And executing this program in career descent, when you have three times the obligations you normally have really puts you in a pinch. You may want to really take transition seriously but you are being pulled in several different directions.
On the surface, this plays a direct role in the stress and anxiety you feel as you go through transition because there is too much to do in too little time.
At a deeper level, you may be thinking of getting any job rather than getting a job that is a good fit. You may not know what the private sector values and how to value the talents you bring to an organization. You may decide the right option is to go back to school because it buys you some time to “figure things out.”
PreVeteran—the New Military Transition Paradigm
Instead of going down this road, we’d like to invite you into the new military transition paradigm—PreVeteran. To get started download our free “5-Step Guide to Getting the Job You Want, Post-Military” and read our next blog that explains the new paradigm.