Today we have the privilege of another guest writer, Mark Delaney. Mark left the Army and started The Veteran Professional, a site where he shares information with veterans interested in graduate school, entrepreneurship, and professional careers. He is a former Army Officer and headed to the University of Virginia’s Darden School of business in the fall. This piece should be particularly helpful for those looking to transition who are unfamiliar with the Army’s Soldier For Life Transition Assistance Program (SFL TAP).
SFL-TAP (The Basics)
Ok, you’ve decided to hang up the boots and leave the Army. At the end, you know you will receive the mythical DD-214, your summary of military service. But before you get there, you will have to go through SFL-TAP.
SFL-TAP (Soldier for Life-Transition Assistance Program) is the Army’s way of preparing you for the civilian world after leaving the military. If you remember ACAP (Army Career and Alumni Program), SFL-TAP is the replacement for that. Typical Army: exchange one acronym for another.
As a disclaimer, the broader authorization for this program is subject to change year-to-year. Additionally, your local installation may have unique policies regarding scheduling and online options.
When can you start?
You can start the process up to 24 months from your end of service. The sooner you can do so, the better, as the classes tend to fill up fast and you, by law, you HAVE to do them.
It’s also better to start early because it makes things easier for your chain of command. No one likes having things sprung on them in the last minute, and your boss isn’t going to want to hear that you are missing the big training exercise because you are going to transition classes. That’s just a bit unprofessional.
Instead, start the process early and look at your upcoming training calendar. This will give you the room to see when you can fit the required transition classes in without being an undue burden on your unit. Your chain of command cannot prevent you from attending, but you also don’t need to be a pain about it.
How to get started
Know that every base does this a little differently. While how they handle scheduling and appointments may alter from base to base, the major events are standardized across the force.
The first thing you will need to do is make an appointment at the SFL-TAP office on base for your Individualized Initial Counseling (IIC). Before your actual appointment , you will likely have to do some online work which will involve creating a profile and completing a 2-hour online course which provides an overview of the SFL-TAP process. From your IIC, you and the counselor will create an Individual Transition Plan (ITP) and your Pre-Separation Counseling Checklist (DD2648).
One of the first actions you can expect is to get your Joint Service Transcript (JST) and Verification of Military Experience and Training (VMET). You should be able to access via MilConnect or AKO.
What are the required classes?
SFL-TAP only has five days of required classes. That’s it. Typically, the classes will be separated by rank. One class will be junior enlisted (E-5 and below) and one may be E-6 and above. This is likely dependent on the size of your base.
You will have four different classes you are required to take:
- SFL-TAP Overview (1/2 Day)
- Financial Planning Workshop (1/2 Day)
- Department of Labor Employment Workshop / Vocational Workshop (explained later) (3 Days)
- VA Benefits Overview (1 Day)
Most likely, your office will line these all in a row for you so you and you can knock them all out in a single work week. Your base may also have varying policies about taking these online — an option you may want to ask about.
The SFL-TAP overview is a pretty generic class, but the main thing you will have to come away with is your MOS crosswalk. This is a fairly simple worksheet to help you align your military experiences with job skills relevant to the civilian world.
If your office is doing things the right way, they will schedule your overview in the morning of the first day, with the financial planning workshop after lunch. This class is meant to help you plan your personal financial situation for the first 12 months after the military. If you are reading this article on Military Money Matters you are likely ahead of the curve.
The next three days will be your Department of Labor Workshop (or vocational workshop, but I didn’t take this option so honestly don’t know exactly what to expect). I’ll be honest, I went in with extraordinarily low expectations and was pleasantly surprised. I won’t say the workshop was life-changing, but it was a lot more useful than I anticipated. You’ll cover the basics of the job hunt, from searching for jobs, networking, resume writing, interview prep, and benefits negotiation.
Pro tip: You can get out of this if you have a job acceptance letter OR an acceptance letter to a school. If you do, go to the office with this at least a week before the start of the class. I tried to do it the day the class started and they basically laughed at me.
While I generally found this workshop to be pretty good, your experience will vary a lot by the instructor. These people are well-meaning and can be helpful, but remember that they likely aren’t passing up amazing opportunities elsewhere to go instruct Department of Labor workshops. That being said, they likely still have more experience than you as a soon-to-be civilian.
The last required workshop is the VA Benefits Overview. This turned out being one of the more important days of the week. Heads up: about 97% of the benefits they mention will probably not apply to you, but the 3% that do could be crucial. For example, I had no idea that because I had combat deployments I would be eligible for free VA healthcare for my first five years after the army. Learning this took a huge weight off my shoulders.
As a final note, be sure to sign in for every class. If you don’t, you will not receive credit for attending and you just wasted your time and will have to reschedule.
Are there extra workshops?
During your IIC, your counselor and you will decide what “track” you are on. These tracks are:
If you are on the employment or vocational track, your requirements will be fulfilled as described earlier. And even if you are on the Education or Entrepreneurship tracks, you will still have to complete the Employment Workshop.
For the entrepreneurship track, you will attend the two-day Boots to Business class. Doing the in-person class then offers you access to more online training from the Small Business Administration. The workshop provides you a broad overview of how to start a business, fund it, and get started on the path to success. Even if you are unsure about starting a business, I would highly recommend attending. You may just realize it’s an easier process than you think.
If you are on the education track, you will also have a two-day workshop detailing everything you need to know about higher education and using your benefits as a veteran.
As a note, if you have never been to college, this is an excellent workshop. I attended and could see that those in the room who were planning to attend college for the first time were greatly interested in what was taught.
However, if you are planning on going back for another degree, I would discourage you from telling this to SFL-TAP. I told them I was planning on going to graduate school and so I was signed up for the workshop. It was a total waste of time for someone already familiar with the college landscape. My advice is that if you are going back to school for the second time- don’t tell SFL-TAP. If you’re worried about how to use the GI Bil, you can spend a lot of time researching and still save yourself a lot of waste time at the workshop.
Ending the process
Once you complete all the requirements with SFL-TAP, you will then take your DD-2648 to your base office. If you have fulfilled all the requirements, your Capstone paperwork will then be generated. This is the final document you need in order to actually fulfill the requirement and leave the Army. The purpose is to have your commander verify that you are ready to enter the civilian world. It seems simple, but you need to do it during final out-processing in order to leave the army.
I recommend scheduling some time (20–30 minutes) with your commander when they complete it. It’s just a fair way for them because they are signing off on things they may not really know about and it’s better for you to be in-person to answer those questions while they complete the document.
That’s it! There is still a lot you will have to do in order to have a successful transition, but this is what you can expect from the SFL-TAP process. $
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