An Air Force transition expert shares her best tips for getting the most out of the DoD's Transition Assistance Program.

When you’ve been in the service for most of your adult life, transitioning out of the military can be daunting. And though the Defense Department’s mandatory Transition Assistance Program may just scratch the surface of everything you’ll need to know, it’s a good start.

So how can you get the most out of it?

We asked Cathy Howard, chief of airman and family readiness at Los Angeles Air Force Base for her best tips.

1. Start early.

“There’s nothing easy about a transition, especially when you’ve been in the service for 20 years or 30 years and that’s all that you know,” Howard said.

But the earlier you start planning for it, the smoother it can be.

“If you set your goals early, and you plan early, you’re going to have a more successful transition than you are if you just wait until the last minute.”

2. Pay attention.

There are likely things about civilian life that you haven’t thought of, so you’ll really need to listen up during TAP.

Howard recommends bringing your spouse, if you can, because another set of ears could come in handy.

“Spouses are looking from it from a different perspective versus a military member. A military member is like ... ‘I got this. Spouses are like, ‘Oh, we’re going to have to start paying for insurance? Oh, that’s something new that we haven’t had to do before.’”

3. Let it be about you.

Howard said she tells airmen, “Stop worrying about everything that’s going on on the outside. ... This is your week to concentrate on you.”

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.

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