According to a new Department of Defense policy, Soldiers are required to begin the Army Career and Alumni Program at least 12 months prior to separation from the military.

“ACAP is not something you go through and you finish it in five minutes,” said Bill McMillian, transition services manager at the Bragg ACAP center. “ACAP is a part of the Soldier for Life program.”

Soldiers may begin the process as early as 18 months before their estimated separation date. Those retiring may start at 24 months.

McMillian said that Soldiers may run into problems with getting the assistance they need after separating if they start the process too late.

“The misunderstanding is ACAP starts when they start clearing,” McMillian said about Soldiers. “It could be as much of a 17 and a half month difference in when we’re trying to get them and when their units are letting them come.”

One example he gave was obtaining medical records to get medical assistance and benefits from Veterans Affairs.

“For some of the medical facilities on this post, it may take 20 days or up to two months,” McMillian said about the length of time it takes a Soldier to get their medical records after requesting them while still in service.

While that may sound like a long time, McMillian said it takes much longer to do once a Soldier is out.

“They have to find where their medical records are,” he said. “They are somewhere between their medical facility on Fort Bragg and Fort Knox, Kentucky.

“It could take months to get a copy of their medical records out of Fort Knox.”

After obtaining the medical records and submitting a VA claim post-separation, McMillian said a Soldier may wait anywhere from 18 months to two years to get their results.

For Soldiers who are unable to meet the one-year requirement to start the program or those needing assistance, ACAP will still provide support to them and their Families.

“Once they leave Fort Bragg and are out of the Army, that’s not the end of our assistance to them,” McMillian continued.

McMillian explained that retirees and their spouse may use the program for the rest of their lives.

Soldiers who are ETS’ing and are short of their eight-year requirement, are encouraged to join the National Guard or Army Reserves to continue to serve their country.

If a Soldier has or has not met the eight-year requirement and they do not join the Guard or Reserves, they may use ACAP services for up to six months after they ETS.

“It’s not just a job search,” McMillian said.

He listed many other services the center does for Soldiers to include learning what benefits are available through the VA, learning how to write and perfect a resume, working with the small business administration if they want to go into business for themselves, and working with the education center if they want to go to school.

Bennie Wells III, a recently retired Army sergeant major from Fort Bragg, completed ACAP in January this year after working at Joint Special Operations Command.

“When you dedicate 31 years of your life to something, you become very regimented,” Wells said about how long he’s been in the Army. “You don’t have time to explore other ways of the world, such as the civilian sector.

I was clueless.”

Like many, Wells was not able to start his separation process until two months before his retirement.

“We always feel as though we must work up to our last day, as though the world would fall apart without us,” Wells said.

Even with such short time to prepare, he said he felt comfortable about taking off the uniform and exploring something completely unknown to him.

“That really speaks volumes of the program,” Wells said. “Even seeing how far behind the power curve I was, the program allowed me to get prepared in such a short period of time to make the transition.”

After going through the process, Wells now sees why it is important to begin as soon as possible.

“The more time you invest in it, the better quality your end state is going to be,” Wells said.

“I believe that I would have been able to prepare myself better in terms of my resume,” he continued. “I hadn’t seen or written a resume in eons.

“That would’ve given me an opportunity to search more options of employment for what I was actually qualified and available for,” he said about wishing he had more time to perfect his resume.

Wells had no problem finding a job. He was able to continue working immediately following his retirement and was hired in February as an ACAP counselor on Fort Bragg.

“I was one of the very fortunate ones,” he said. The timing of the job opening lined up with his retirement and he met the qualifications.

While it is not the long Family vacation he was originally looking forward to, Wells still finds satisfaction helping Soldiers through the process he just went through.

“I love what I do and staying connected to the Soldiers,” Wells said.

After going through separation and working with the center for a few months, Wells said he sees a need for more programs to be brought into the process, such as education and the office of the Judge Advocate General, to better assist Soldiers.

“We can’t know everything because every situation is different,” Wells said about needing more subject matter experts involved directly with ACAP.

He also said that while they host many hiring events, such as job fairs, he wishes they could do more.

To hear about the services Fort Bragg’s ACAP center provides or set up an appointment with a counselor, you can visit their office on the first floor of the Soldier Support Center or call 396-7188. The office is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday.