Pre-Mission Training: Transition

by Mike Pritts

MikePrittsIn May of 2015, I wrote an article on LinkedIn criticizing the Army’s transition assistance program; (TAP). Since the article’s release, several people have asked me to outline my approach to transition. I approached transition in the same manner as I have approached countless combat missions, with a comprehensive Pre-Mission Training (PMT). PMT for transition is every bit as important as PMT for combat; more important in many ways. I retired after 30 years, so I realize that my experience will be different than others, but the principles of PMT are the same. Considering each of these principles, beginning your PMT one year before separation will help you better prepare for your transition experience.


Get Your Finances In Order And Eliminate Debt

Finance was my number one consideration as I approached transition. Many of us spent several years living with a guaranteed income financing homes, cars, and life experiences because there would be plenty of time to pay off the bills later. That is understandable for a time, given the nature of military service and deployment schedules. Guess what? The time to settle these debts is BEFORE you transition to the private sector. Your goal should be to separate debt free, or as debt free as possible given your time remaining in service, which may be the hardest thing you do as you approach transition because it requires discipline. Your installation’s transition office will require you to develop a budget for the first year after separation. I recommend you complete this budget a year out and as you approach your separation date, restrict all spending in your personal budget to essential living expenses and direct the remainder of your income to eliminate debt. Once you’ve eliminated unnecessary debt, work toward building a nest egg of 3-6 months of living expenses that will provide a cushion while you are looking for employment or continuing your education. Finally, you have to determine the minimum level of income that will sustain you for the first few months or years of transition. Knowing that amount will help you keep a range of income in mind when you begin negotiating your salary or determining if you need supplemental income while pursuing your education.

Determine What You Want To Do (Find your passion)

When I ask transitioning Veterans what they’d like to do when they separate from the military, I often get very confusing answers. Some have told me they want to find something fun while others seem to focus on the salary they would like to earn without a clear idea of in which industry they can best market their skills. Both are aspects to consider during your career search, but neither are focused enough to direct your planning. What are your passions? What motivates you to get out of bed in the morning? Spend some time thinking about exactly what kind of work you will enjoy doing. There are a variety of free tools available on the Internet to help you determine your interests and figure out where they apply in various professions. In my search, I realized that I wanted to maintain the kind of influence that I had found in the Army. To me, the ability to have an impact on people’s lives would lead to a deeper passion and be rewarding in my employment, keeping me motivated for work every day.

Build A Professional Network And Find A Mentor

Your professional network will be essential to transition and your post-military career. In transition, I divided my network into two distinct groups: former colleagues who had already separated from the military; and successful professionals in the industry I was interested in working. You should select a mentor or mentors from each group as a source of information and advice for your transition and movement into a new career field. First, your former colleagues have already navigated through most of your post-military situations and can help you through what can be a very intimidating process. This group has already selected between Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP) and purchasing additional life insurance, converted health insurance from active-duty Tricare, shifted investments from the Thrift Savings Plan, and they more than likely have completed the VA claims process. These topics are NOT covered during TAP. It was reassuring to me to discuss these decisions with a respected former colleague. Remember, you aren’t the first service member to go through this process, so learn from the experience of those who have already transitioned. Likewise, a mentor who has already been successful in the field you have chosen will be an excellent source of information about how to succeed in the industry yourself. I was fortunate to find mentors at multiple levels in my chosen field who have prevented me from making some early mistakes and have served as dependable advisors as I explore education requirements, career goals, and plans.

Apply Lessons From The Military

In his book “The Warrior Ethos,” Stephen Pressfield claims that service member returning to civilian life possess character traits to see them through the transition. “The returning warrior may not realize it, but he has acquired an MBA in enduring adversity and a Ph.D. in resourcefulness, tenacity and the capacity for hard work…these skills possess the capacity to lift him and sustain him through the next stage of his life and through every succeeding stage.” To my transition, this related directly to the transferable skills of detailed planning, discipline, establishing a routine, and the ability to accomplish multiple tasks on time.

  • Detailed Planning And Decision-Making. In a recent Mentors for Military podcast episode we discussed how the military conducts the military decision-making process in developing and selecting the right course of action to achieve your objective. The fundamentals of detailed planning can be applied across a broad range of topics and help you arrive at effective decision-making. Unfortunately, many service members do not use the same planning fundamentals to their transition from service. Conduct a thorough mission analysis. Stay with what you know, and follow the process.
  • Self-Discipline. Discipline is an essential quality of an effective leader and team member. The discipline you’ve learned from years of military service demonstrates that you follow organizational rules, are accountable for your actions, avoid harmful practices, will perform under pressure, and are resilient. Maintaining your self-discipline is important as you move to the next stage in your life.
  • Establish A Routine. Recently, LinkeIn launched a series of articles asking professionals to detail how they deal with stress. GEN (Ret) Stanley McCrystal’s article outlines how he maintained a strict schedule for years to help him manage stress and be a more effective leader. Everything we did in the military was covered in the weekly training schedule. We woke up early and conducted physical training every morning, followed by breakfast and work call formation. This plan set the tone for accomplishing the days training and tasks. Successful people establish similar routines to ensure they apply their time to ensure no minute is wasted. In my transition, I have set a routine similar to what I was familiar with in the Army. I still wake up very early, conduct physical training and professional reading. I make it a priority to get these two important items in first each day before I start on the day’s tasks to ensure no wasted time.
  • Time Management. Managing time and tasks is something we do very well in the military. Those of us who’ve served in the 82nd Airborne Division remember the long 9-hour sequence of events accomplished before every Airborne Operation. We started our time management process at the very end with the “time-on-target” for the jump and planned backward from that point ensuring that we allocated time to accomplish each task along the way. When faced with a restricted timeline and an overwhelming list of tasks to accomplish, plan backward from your objective or due date, in the same manner, to ensure all tasks have time allocated to their accomplishment.

Stay In Shape

As I approached transition, I often heard younger transitioning soldiers discuss being excited that they no longer had to conduct physical training, and could stop worrying about their weight. To each one, I would say the most important thing you can do for your wellbeing is to stay in shape by participating in a regular exercise program. Americans spent over 75 Billion dollars on gym memberships in 2015 illustrating just how important the fitness industry has become. Remember, of all the important things we had to do every day in the military, physical training was the first most important thing we would do. Don’t change this. Run, walk, swim, bike or lift heavy weights. It doesn’t matter what you choose to do, but do something to keep moving every day. Maintaining your level of fitness will also help to counteract your share of the rising health care costs we are experiencing. The better you maintain your physical condition, the less you will need help from the medical and pharmaceutical industries.

Most Importantly, Grow An Awesome Beard

You have upheld established grooming standards for your entire length of service. Now is the time to exercise a little individual expression and grow the Viking beard you’ve always wanted.


Mike Pritts is a former U.S. Army Special Forces (Green Beret) Command Sergeant Major that recently separated after 30 years of service. He resides in Colorado with his family and is working on a master degree in education. Mike is also a cohost on the Mentors for Military podcast show that has been on iTunes “New and Noteworthy” list since its inception. His wisdom, military and life experiences, and his down-to-earth approach to things has endeared him to nearly everyone he meets or who hear him on the podcasts.


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