Program helps ease transition from military life

When Staff Sgt. James Bialota went through basic training in 2002, the U.S. Air Force spent six and a half weeks transforming him from a college-age civilian into a member of the U.S. military.

Four and a half years later, after a tour of duty in Iraq and a back injury, Bialota, 28, will leave the Air Force in October with a medical discharge and a three-day crash course on how to become a civilian again.

The Transition Assistance Program is a little like a mini-boot camp in reverse. It is designed to make the transition from military life to civilian employment as successful as possible. For the 25 to 30 servicemen and women who participate in TAP each month at Ellsworth Air Force Base, the workshops provide valuable information on surviving in the civilian culture and making the most of the military benefits they’ve earned by serving their country.

“I learned quite a bit,” said Bialota, who called the TAP program he attended in June “extremely” helpful.

A back injury he sustained doing military construction work in Iraq forced a medical discharge for Bialota, and at first, he worried about leaving the security of the military behind.

But after attending TAP, his attitude toward resuming life as a civilian improved.

“It changed my outlook completely,” he said. “I went from, ‘Oh my, what am I going to do?’ to ‘Oh, wow, look at what I can do.'”

During the three-day workshop, TAP participants get a variety of job-search assistance designed to improve their ability to compete in the civilian job market. They learn how to conduct job searches, explore current occupational and labor market conditions and prepare resumes and cover letters.

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