Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to correct the name of the Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University.
If you’re in the Army, chances are you’ll feel better prepared when it’s time to get out than if you were in any other branch, according to the results of a recent Military Times poll.
Seventy-four percent of soldiers who responded to our survey said they agreed — either somewhat or strongly — that if they separated from the military today, they would be prepared for the overall transition.
Sixty-six percent of sailors, 64 percent of airmen and 59 percent of Marines said the same.
Soldiers were also the best-prepared for challenges related to family reintegration, benefits, education and health care — bested only in the area of finances by Air Force survey respondents.
One reason for this could be an approach taken by the Army’s Soldier for Life program, which emphasizes the importance of acing transitions within the military.
“Learn and understand how to transition from point to point now,” Southeast Region Director Lt. Col. Rynele Mardis told Military Times in a recent interview about the military-to-civilian transition. “What are those key benchmarks? What are those key milestones that you need to have at each transition in the military?”
Asking those questions can help when you get out, so it “doesn’t come as such a shock to you that you have certain milestones or certain benchmarks that need to be achieved,” he said.
The Military Times poll was conducted last fall in collaboration with the Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University. The confidential, online survey garnered 829 responses from active-duty troops, the majority of whom were white males at an average age of 31 years old. The results were weighted to reflect the overall population of the military and have a 2.6 percent margin of error.
Troops from all Defense Department branches were best prepared for education, followed by family reintegration. They were least prepared in the area of healthcare.
The data also showed that women felt more prepared than men.
The majority of respondents, 68 percent, did not plan to separate from the military within the next year, making it highly unlikely they had received formal transition preparation through the Transition Assistance Program, or TAP.
Research shows that people who start thinking about their transition earlier than a year out have a smoother time of it, said Rosalinda Maury, director of applied research and analytics at IVMF.
"Transition is a critical component,” she said. “You kind of need to know what your exit strategy is going to be the day you enlist. The reality is very few people make the military their career.”
Defense Department spokeswoman Air Force Maj. Carla Gleason has told Military Times previously that transition education is embedded into the military life cycle.
“That means at key touch points throughout the military member’s career such as their first permanent duty station, when they get promoted or when they re-enlist or deploy, we give them a refresher on financial management and planning so they have the resources they need to manage those events successfully,” she said in an email. “Career preparation to leave the military has to start early-on without impacting their military mission and we work to make that transition as successful as possible.”
Military Times contributor and former reporter Natalie Gross hosts the Spouse Angle podcast. She grew up in a military family and has a master's degree in journalism from Georgetown University.