A look at career transition options
YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan -- This article is part of a series informing Yokota Airmen of career-transition information and assisting programs.
As Airmen progress their career or bring it to a close, there are a number of career transition options to consider. This article touches on four major career decisions: cross-training, changing branches, reenlisting and joining the Air Force Reserves. In addition to basic information, it contains tips and advice that may not be included on official websites.
Master Sgt. Brad Claypool, 374th Airlift Wing career assistance advisor, strongly recommends that Airmen spend time researching their career on myPers.af.mil.
"Instead of passively allowing events to happen, your career will be much more rewarding if you know what your options are, what's going to happen and how to push yourself in the right direction," Claypool said.
For anyone making a major career decision, Claypool's first advice is to do soul searching.
"Ask yourself what is your 'why,'" Claypool said. "Why do you come to work, why do you do what you do, why are you happy or not happy? Is your satisfaction in life affected more from your job or from the people around you? Make sure to make your decision based on that."
"I always recommend anyone who is making the decision to cross train to talk to people in that career field and get their perspective first," Claypool said.
According to Claypool, the most common reason for cross training is a "grass is greener" syndrome, or a feeling that everyone else's job is better. He believes that once they retrain into a new job their satisfaction is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Basically, they believe they are happy and so they are happy.
Claypool also reminded Airmen that the same job can be very different from place to place. He has experienced completely different leadership and environments at different bases.
"If you know your 'why' and you know that your job will always make you absolutely unhappy, then try to cross train," Claypool said. "Otherwise, you'll probably be doing that same job until you push yourself out of the Air Force."
When cross training, Airmen can request a base of preference, but Claypool suggests Airmen know which bases are available for their prospect career field.
Those with an active-duty spouse, make sure that the new career field offers locations that coincide with the spouse's career field. According to Claypool, there are those who have inadvertently separated themselves from their spouse. Similarly, if an individual has a special needs dependent, they should check that the base they want can accommodate their dependent's needs.
Time is also a consideration. According to Claypool, there are not many openings for master sergeants and openings dwindle as members promote; even technical sergeants might have trouble finding a spot.
Lastly, remember that cross training is a program designed by the Air Force to meet the needs of the Air Force. Whether or not a members makes it into a preferred career is entirely dependent on the Air Force's needs.
To find out if you qualify to retrain into a preferred job choice, go to myPers.af.mil, click the retraining tab and click the link to "apply for retraining." The retraining tab also offers further information.
According to Claypool, as of now most Airmen with an acceptable record will be offered a chance to reenlist. Even those with a less than shining record can take steps to improve it, the first of which may be to speak to their supervisor or contact Claypool to help make a change.
For those who are considering reenlistment, Claypool has two suggestions. First, if a career field has a reenlistment bonus Airmen should make sure the money is personally worth another reenlistment. The money can be nice, but it does lock Airmen into a longer contract, so Claypool suggests Airmen be fully committed before taking the bonus. Claypool also said some career fields can make significantly more money in the civilian sector. The large lump sum of money may distract from other options, but a good amount of research can assist individuals in making an educated decision.
Claypool's second suggestion is to make a reenlistment ceremonial.
"You should put some thought into it," Claypool said. "I see too many people walk into a room with a flag, raise their hand and they're done. It means nothing to them. Take some time, find a place that has some meaning to you and do it there."
Air Force Reserves
For those who don't decide to reenlist, the Air Force Reserves may be the best option. Personnel who have never worked in the civilian sector might join the reserves to help the transition. According to Master Sgt. Jeffrey Walker, Air Force Reserve Command Recruiting Service recruiter, Airmen might not realize how much is taken care of for them in the military. Life in the civilian sector can come as a shock at first, as it was for him. Reservists retain similar benefits and some of the structure of military life. Also, Walker said, it is a way to keep playing a part in something bigger.
There are three categories of Air Force Reserves: Air Reserve Technician, Individual Mobilization Augmentee and Active Guard Reserves.
Air Reserve Technician is the traditional and most common way to serve in the reserves. It is also easer to be accepted as a technician than IMA or AGR. Air Reserve Technicians are federal employees with dual status as a civilian and reservist. They serve one weekend per month, usually about 39 days per year.
Individual Mobilization Augmentee Reserves are only available for some career fields. They attach to an active duty unit and train for about 26 consecutive days per year. Their service is focused entirely on training and there is some flexibility on choosing when to serve.
Active Guard Reserves serve as active duty personnel. According to Walker, AGR positions are typically open for high-demand jobs such as recruiting, security forces and training instructors, so it tends to be more difficult to be accepted into the program.
Some other considerations include the fact that reservists can take active duty orders in six months increments, which builds retirement benefits. The cutoff age to join is 40, plus one year for every year of active duty served. Another thing to consider is that there are restrictions to joining the Air Force Reserves which are similar to joining the Air Force as active duty. As a reservist, personnel must meet the same professional, fitness and health standards as active duty. One might want to consider whether they want to meet hair regulations once a month or maintain fitness standards.
Benefits are similar to active duty. Those who serve 20 years will receive retirement but how much and when retirement benefits begin is based on a point system. Points vary based on participation, such as serving active duty orders and taking leadership positions. Tuition Assistance benefits are the same as active duty but Tricare Premiums are somewhat higher. For example, a single Airman would pay about $54 per month as a reservist as opposed to about $12 as active duty, which according to Claypool is very reasonable compared to the civilian sector. Claypool said that some prefer Air Force Reserve Tricare benefits because they go through a civilian provider and a doctor of choice.
For further questions, to get a rundown of your options or to get started on joining the Air Force Reserves, contact Walker at 225-6388 or email@example.com.
Another path to consider is The Air National Guard, a federal military reserve force intended mainly to respond to emergencies on U.S. soil but who may be called on to serve anywhere in the world. To find out your opportunities with the Air National Guard, contact Master Sgt. Jaime Gomez, 374th Force Support Squadron Air National Guard in-service recruiter at 225-9329 or Jaime.firstname.lastname@example.org.
There are programs to cross train into any branch of the military. According to Claypool, however, it's very important for the individual to know what they are getting into before they make that commitment.
"You have to understand that a different branch is a different world and a different mindset," Claypool said. "For example, the Army might offer you a better chance of becoming a pilot, but if you're also going into a 'you're a soldier first' mentality. Make sure that's what you want."
For more information, Claypool recommends visiting your chosen branch's official website to chat with a recruiter or send them an email. The site will also have a full list of career fields and descriptions. For those who would like to speak in person to a member of your chosen branch, Claypool is available to assist.
For more career-related questions contact Claypool at 225-7829 or email@example.com.