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YOKOKUSA NAVAL BASE, Japan — When a servicemember begins to think about retiring or leaving the service, their first stop is generally the career counselor’s office.

That counselor has a checklist of more than 50 items to go over with the servicemember, items that range from veterans’ benefits and federal labor programs to savings plans. Traditionally, the counselor zips through that list and signs the servicemember up for a follow-up workshop.

But for the past year, the military has put more responsibility on its career counselors to give answers about the complicated transition of life after the military.

To make that happen, Air Force, Marine and Navy counselors worldwide have been participating in the Pentagon’s Pre-Separation Counselor Training Course, a session created and taught by the National Learning Center at the University of Colorado at Denver.

“Before, it could be five minutes on 52 elements,” said Vaune Shelbourn, director of the center, which the Pentagon hired to design and implement the career training program. “Now, it can be eight hours” of information exchange, she said.

This week at Yokosuka, Navy and Marine personnel from South Korea, Japan, Okinawa and Guam spent nearly four days learning how to answer questions from servicemembers about moving from military to civilian life. Typically, a servicemember leaving the military has a year to prepare for the transition. A retiree has two years, counselors said.

Chief Petty Officer Gary C. Simpson oversees eight career counselors at Naval Air Facility Atsugi. He said the emphasis on more detailed information in initial meetings will change how his office works.

In the past, his counselors might take inquiries from as many as 50 people a day. Now, they will likely set up twice-monthly workshops for people considering leaving the military. Those workshops will have two or three counselors on hand to lead discussions and answer questions, he said.

Simpson said the amount of information will make it harder to meet with sailors one-on-one. But he thought the change, would be better for the servicemember.

“It’s a long-time coming,” said Simpson, who’s been in the Navy for 18 years and been a career counselor since 2002. “It gives us a solid basis to start from.”

One of the goals for the learning center was to standardize the required information servicemembers get about leaving the military. All four branches are required to give the same information; the Army has yet to start executing any of the training courses, said LeeDel Cohenour, a senior instructor with the center.

Petty Officer First Class Alisha Clifton is a career counselor for the Command Fleet Activities at Yokosuka. Her office typically sees only a handful of servicemembers each month who are considering leaving the military. She said she looked forward to spending more time with each sailor in planning the next stage of life.

“It’s going to completely change the way I counsel people,” Clifton said.


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