Are you ready to transition out of your uniform?

Lt. Col. Sean Martin, 3rd Flying Training Squadron commander

Lt. Col. Sean Martin, 3rd Flying Training Squadron commander

Lt. Col. Sean Martin, 3rd Flying Training Squadron commander

Lt. Col. Sean Martin, 3rd Flying Training Squadron commander

VANCE AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- Leaving the military is not as simple as staying home the day after your service commitment is up.

Almost 23 years ago, after a summer vacation that lasted less than 48 hours, I showed up in Colorado Springs, Colorado, with about 1,000 of my new closest friends.

Fast forward to the present, and it is now time for me to plan an exit strategy from the only job I've ever known -- my days as a grocery store cashier were short-lived, so I'm not counting that.

It should come as no surprise that there are regulations that list what needs to be completed prior to leaving the military.

The Veterans Opportunity to Work (VOW) to Hire Heroes Act of 2011, and the Veterans Employment Initiative require that four mandates be completed by all military personnel prior to separation or retirement: pre-separation Counseling, the Transition Assistance Program, VA Benefits briefings, and CAPSTONE.

CAPTSTONE is an Air Force requirement to meet with an Airman & Family Readiness Center representative who fills out and Department of Defense Form 2958 which is signed by a squadron commander and confirms that you have attended TAP, and received Department of Labor and veteran's benefit briefings.

And, all of these mandates do not include the effort that goes into finding a new job, a house and creating a budget to survive on.

There are also mandatory timelines associated with the very act of applying for separation or retirement. It is important to know which timelines apply to your specific situation, so read the guidance, and ensure you understand what each step means for you.

I have not even touched on my medical out-processing yet. To be fair, there is a wide variation gap of complexity between a separating five-year senior airman and a retiring twenty-eight year colonel.

The airman's medical folder may not have anything in it compared to the "more experienced" colonel's, but there are always exceptions.

Leaving the military can be more complicated than just staying in. Luckily there are people who are experts on the process of leaving the military. It is their job to help you as early as two years out from your retirement date in some cases and get you ready for you civilian life. 

Recently, there has been a high volume of voluntary separations in addition to force drawdowns. The past couple of years have seen many well-publicized nationwide shortfalls when it came to the administrative needs of the nation's veterans.

It's important to start early to minimize and overcome delays. The experts suggest getting the pre-separation counseling two years prior to retirement, or one year prior to separation. I completely agree with that advice, because I cannot believe it has already been a year since I had my counseling session.

Here is the good news. The local people at the Airmen and Family Readiness Center are experienced, knowledgeable and eager to help you once you decide to call it a career.

Their knowledge and resourcefulness, coupled with the guest speakers that are brought in during the mandatory transition training, will set you up well for a smooth transition; provided you take the time to start it early enough.