KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. – When Air Force leadership announced they would need to cut about 25,000 Airmen over the next five years, many people wondered if they would be affected.
A variety of programs were announced, including several allowing Airmen the option to retire early. The Air Force also allowed some Airmen the option to receive voluntary separation pay if they met certain requirements.
I personally received an e-mail from the Air Force Personnel Center announcing that I might be eligible for an early retirement option. Although I am ineligible to apply, I entertained the thought of early retirement and quickly realized that, like many of my fellow Airmen, I wasn’t prepared to leave.
In these fiscally-constrained times, do you have a plan for your future if you’re asked to leave military service? (All branches of service are going through force shaping, so please substitute the words Airman and Air Force with the proper term for your branch of service for the remainder of this article.)
Are you financially prepared for transition to civilian life? Leaders need to know their Airmen on a personal level. Does your Airman overspend? Are they living beyond their means? Do they live from one paycheck to the next? Many Airmen do not have an emergency fund established. Although there are many different thoughts on the amount of money to have in an emergency fund, most would agree the funds should be enough to cover two to three months of living expenses.
If you look at what you pay out monthly, don’t be surprised if this amount totals thousands of dollars. Airmen often don’t consider having an emergency fund while serving because we have a “steady” paycheck. Why would I need to have emergency funds? If I need something but can’t afford it, I can just wait until my next payday, right?
Not anymore. We need to be prepared for the future and, as many Airmen are finding out, that future may not include serving in the United States Air Force.
Are you marketable in the civilian sector if the Air Force asks you to become a civilian in the next five years? Fortunately, the Air Force also has Tuition Assistance. Airmen who are attending college or have already obtained a degree may be ahead of others if no longer allowed to serve. Some might argue that a bachelor’s degree is not enough to be competitive in the civilian job market.
However, in my opinion, Airmen looking for a civilian position will outshine those that have not served. Even without degree completion, an employer will see and certainly understand that Airmen have been faithfully attending college while serving their country, not to mention the added work and life experiences. By the way, college attendance also may have taken place during temporary duty away from home or deployments for months at a time. Also, the majority of Airmen exiting military service will have the Montgomery or post 9/11 GI Bill allowing them to continue pursuit of their degree or possibly begin a graduate degree program.
Are you mentally and spiritually prepared to exit military service? I would argue that being mentally and spiritually ready to take on civilian life is very important for Airmen. After all, these are two of the four pillars of our Comprehensive Airman Fitness. There are many resources available to aid with these pillars to include mental health, Military One Source, the Chaplain Corps and your chain of command.
As a first sergeant, I often ask Airmen if they are mentally and spiritually fit. Chaplains are great to talk to about any topic and can help with both pillars. You don’t have to be of any particular religious faith to share something with a chaplain and sometimes we just need someone to listen. Most Airmen work closely with their supervisors so you can also speak to them about ideas or problems.
Finally, don’t forget about your commanders, superintendents and first sergeants. Most, if not all, have open-door policies. Many have “life lessons” to go along with their counseling sessions. Often times, they might have experienced similar situations in the past to include force shaping. Force shaping has been going on for many years. I’m sure senior leaders have been through many different rounds.
Although most of this information is nothing new to the majority of you, perhaps it will be a reminder to some that we all need to be prepared for whatever the future holds. Those of us granted the privilege of serving in the United States military need to remember just that; it is a privilege, not a right. Many have personal reasons for joining but please remember that the Air Force still NEEDS you to serve honorably until the last day you’re afforded this privilege. Military members make up less than one percent of the United States population.
All who currently serve, as well as those who served before us, should be proud to wear the uniform of their branch of service. We are truly blessed to be a part of this great nation and need to be prepared to transition to civilian life at any time.
Are you ready?