Research Paper By Michael Rauhut, Executive Coach, Life Transition Coach, UNITED STATES
U.S. “Military to Civilian” Transition Coaching A Thought Piece
“Every year, approximately 200,000 men and women leave U.S. military service and return to life as civilians, a process known as the military to civilian transition.” U.S. Service members transitioning today experience much-improved transition assistance than those in past decades. Today’s veteran benefits from a robust “transition ecosystem”which supports efforts to integrate them back into the civil society from which they came. The Transition Assistance Program (TAP) is one such experience. It is a mandatory, 5-day program that enjoys positive feedback and includes important topics such as managing the transition; translating military experience to civilian needs; financial planning; Veterans Administration benefits and services; and civilian employment fundamentals.The scope and scale of topics and the unique needs of each veteran test the mandated, 5-day TAP course in ways the program can not fully address. The 5-day time constraint limits fuller exploration of some important topics, briefly describing, or merely pointing veterans to, the need to identify and define—on their own—some of the deeper drivers needed for their successful transition journey(e.g., purpose/meaning/identity; resiliency/stress). Despite the benefits of the TAP as currently designed, some transitioning service members would benefit further from coaching during their transition; specifically, group and individual coaching around strengths and purpose/meaning/identity would enhance the TAP experience and potentially smooth veteran transition and reintegration.
The Transition Assistance Program
Despite the clear value of, and positive feedback for, the Transition Assistance Program, statistics suggest room for improvement. A Military Times, Reboot Camp survey found 65% of veterans remain discontent with their first work experience and seek something else within two years of their transition from uniform.The reasons are not all negative and suggest establishing clearer employee-employer expectations may help. Veteran low satisfaction and lack of advancement opportunities were cited as major reasons. Clearly, the transition ecosystem must continue its work educating employers; but the TAP can do more to enable some veterans to know themselves better: who they are—their new, refined, or emerging purpose; what provides meaning/identity; and their innate and developed strengths.
A careful review of the current TAP curriculum, particularly the “Managing YourTransition” content suggests it addresses several important aspects of the transition process. Still, important topics around answering “Who am I?” are not addressed as part of the mandatory 5-day class. The curriculum rightly encourages participants to “take time for self-reflection and research to find your new purpose.”Without a sound framework and no facilitation through which to explore these deeper issues, however, some service members may feel lost as to how to approach self-discovery.
The current TAP approach also rightly inventories the service members’ experiences and crosswalks military occupation codes with potential civilian opportunities. This is necessary for that it helps with communications and identifying potential jobs. The crosswalk alone is insufficient as it focuses service members on what they have done and can do, not necessarily connecting them to their innate strengths or what they want to do. Statistics suggest at least half of veterans want to do something entirely different than what they did in the military: “55% indicate the desire to pursue a career different from their military specialty (MOS, AFSC, etc.); and 47% indicate the desire to pursue a career different from their actual (in practice) military role.”Rather than relying solely on the currently resourced and available Military Occupation Code crosswalk (mandatory) or Department of Labor Career and Credential Exploration (C2E) course (optional), service members may benefit from a current, holistic assessment of their strengths (i.e. Clifton StrengthsFinder, DiSC, etc.)to align themselves and communicate with potential employers using mainstream assessment tools.
Transitioning service members are often not alone on this journey. Military life challenges service- and family members alike. 31% of service members attribute “family reasons or obligations” as their reason for leaving military service. To its credit, the current TAP curriculum acknowledges this reality and encourages married service members to involve their spouses in the process, even opening the 5-day workshop for spouse attendance. Research suggests family members want more, not less, involvement and resources in the transition process.Naturally, topics around purpose, meaning, and identity will most often include family as a significant consideration; one that is best explored together when preferred.
The benefits of the TAP are clear, but it could be better for those who lack clarity and perhaps the resources to explore purpose, identify, and strengths on their own. Some transitioning service members would benefit from coaching during their transition; specifically, group and individual coaching around strengths and purpose/meaning/identity would enhance the TAP experience and potentially smooth veteran transition and reintegration. Further, involving an important family member in the process could go a long way in developing clarity, action steps, and forward progress. The TAP process should include the following as optional, resourced opportunities while service members are in transition.
- Group coaching session(s) wherein transitioning service members are introduced to a framework to explore their strengths, purpose/meaning/identity.
- A current, civilian-model strengths assessment (CliftonStrengths, DiSC, etc.), perhaps taken before the TAP 5-day course for use during the course (especially for retiring members)
- One-time individual coaching to review current strengths and review a “roadmap” which includes the service members’ newly identified/refined purpose/identity.
- One-time group coaching spouse workshop wherein couples explore respective aspirations and expectations during and after the transition.
- Subsequent individual service member coaching for up to one year following transition (monthly or bi-monthly check-ins or group coaching sessions)
Fay, D., Maury, R., & Zoli, C. (2015). Missing Perspectives: Servicemembers’ Transition from Service to Civilian Life.Syracuse: Syracuse University.https://ivmf.syracuse.edu/article/missing-perspectives-servicemembers-transition-from-service-to-civilian-life/
Managing Your Transition, 2021 TAP Curriculum, Department of Defense. https://www.dvidshub.net/publication/1235/dod-tap-curriculum
The Military to Civilian Transition 2018, A Review of Historical, Current, and Future Trends. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. https://benefits.va.gov/TRANSITION/docs/mct-report-2018.pdf
The Military to Civilian Transition 2018, A Review of Historical, Current, and Future Trends. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, p vi. (Hereafter referred to as MCT). Transition defined: “Transition is a period of adjustment, which includes the planning and preparation accomplished during military Service when Service members and their families explore and embark on endeavors in the civilian world upon leaving active duty.”MCT, p vi.
 Ibid, p vi. The Transition Ecosystem: A “network of relationships, programs, services, and benefits, which includes transition planning and assistance efforts by individual Service branches, the interagency Transition Assistance Program (TAP), and community resources delivered through local government, private industry, and nonprofit organizations”.
 See the Managing Your Transition, 2021 TAP Curriculum for more on the TAP curriculum and other helpful workbooks. https://www.dvidshub.net/publication/1235/dod-tap-curriculum “Approximately 90 percent of transitioning Service members have provided positive feedback about TAP.” MCT, 13.
 Ibid., 7-13. Facilitated exploring of individual purpose/meaning is currently beyond the scope of the TAP 5-day course; indirectly, the Department of Labor provides additional resources and opportunities to take self-assessments and align to possible vocations. See the DOL Career and Credential Exploration (C2E) Participant Guide for more on this: https://www.dol.gov/sites/dolgov/files/VETS/files/TAP-C2E-Participant-Guide.pdf
“Survey: 65% of vets likely to leave 1st civilian job within 2 years”, Military Times, RebootCamp. https://rebootcamp.militarytimes.com/education-transition/jobs/2014/10/01/survey-65-of-vets-likely-to-leave-1st-civilian-job-within-2-years/ (accessed 21 June 2021). So, by our earlier statistic of 200,000 annual transitions: up to 134,000 service members may quit their first job within 2 years. By way of comparison, a recent U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics report for 2020 identified medium employee tenure for the general population around 4.1 years; in private-sector jobs around 3.7 years& public sector 6.5 years. https://www.bls.gov/news.release/tenure.nr0.htm (accessed 23 June 2021). Consider the costs to individuals and employers alike. What if coaching could alleviate some of those abrupt departures by more closely aligning people-purpose-profession/vocation? The Bureau of Labor Statistics also provides career outlook publications, one of which addresses life coaches: https://www.bls.gov/careeroutlook/2017/youre-a-what/life-coach.htm
The Military to Civilian Transition 2018, A Review of Historical, Current, and Future Trends. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, p 10.
 2021 TAP Curriculum, Military Occupation Codes Crosswalk, p 2. Purpose: “…relate civilian career opportunities and requirements to your military education, training, and experience.” https://www.dvidshub.net/publication/1235/dod-tap-curriculum
C. Zoli, R. Maury, & D. Fay, Missing Perspectives: Servicemembers’ Transition from Service to Civilian Life — Data-Driven Research to Enact the Promise of the Post-9/11 GI Bill (Institute for Veterans & Military Families, Syracuse University https://surface.syr.edu/ivmf/7/
“The assessment measures your talents -- your natural patterns of thinking, feeling, and behaving -- and categorizes them into the 34 CliftonStrengths themes.” https://www.gallup.com/cliftonstrengths
“DiSC is an acronym that stands for the four main personality profiles described in the DiSC model: D)ominance, (i)nfluence, (S)readiness, and (C)onscientiousness”. https://www.discprofile.com/what-is-disc
 Fay, D., Maury, R., & Zoli, C. (2015). Missing Perspectives: Servicemembers’ Transition from Service to Civilian Life. Syracuse: Syracuse University, p ii.
MCT, 35. “Recent research suggests that Veteran families transitioning to civilian life desire program content that includes assistance for family members…”
 Ideally, 18-24 months before their military transition(and with spouses if applicable).
 Essentially go much deeper in the My Transition Workbook, Finding New Purpose, and Identity, action items on pp 9-10. One,8-hour session (one full-day or two-half-day model).