Soldier for Life puts a focus on transitioning service members with new publication

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As a new director takes over the Army’s Soldier for Life mission, the organization is broadening its focus from helping vets to informing those who are coming close to retiring from the military.

Part of that effort is the creation of a newsletter called Change of Mission. It is aimed at soldiers who are in the military and served 17 years or more. It will be delivered automatically by the Defense Finance and Accounting Service through email to the 172,000 soldiers who meet the criteria.  The first issue came out in early October.

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The publication “will help soldiers make decisions and figure out their retirement planning process,” Mark Overberg, director of Army Retirement Services, told Federal News Network. “The newsletter is full of all the different things they have to figure out and the decisions they have to make. For example, benefits change when you retire, so obviously retirement pay, how is that calculated? Medical benefits change, plus there are new benefits they will have as well. Things like concurrent retirement and disability pay.”

Soldier for Life Director Col. Prescott Farris said one of the goals of the organization is to keep soldiers and veterans connected to the Army and their communities and the newsletter helps with that objective.

“One of the things we know is that we are procrastinators in general and we want soldiers to start thinking about their transition to their civilian life earlier than they are today,” Farris said.

Change of Mission runs the gamut in the information it offers in “bite-sized bits” of the things soldiers need to think about when it comes to retirement and what they need to talk to their families about, Overberg said.

The publication’s name is supposed to change soldiers’ mindsets about their work with the Army.

“Your mission will change, but your duty will not,” Overberg said. “When you’re in uniform, the mission is to prepare, to train, to deploy and fight our nation’s wars. When you retire you’re not going to be deploying anymore, but the Army still needs you. You have a different mission, so your mission is going to change and the mission is to hire and inspire.”

New leadership for Soldier for Life

Farris changed the focus of Soldier for Life a bit when he took the reins from Col. Sam Whitehurst.

The Army created the organization at a time when veteran unemployment was high. That is no longer the case. The veteran unemployment rate —3.8 percent— is now similar to the national rate —3.7 percent.

“It’s no longer a charity-type action or an altruistic-type action when a company hires a veteran because they realize that what you get is a good business decision,” Farris said.

The director said that realization from business allows Soldier for Life to expand its focus toward the transition side of the Army, rather than a hard focus on veterans.

“We are working some initiatives with Army Training and Doctrine Command and Recruiting Command to find ways we can really instill a Soldier for Life ethic for the moment a soldier graduates from basic training and enters the title of soldier and really internalize what it means to be a soldier for life,” Farris said.

Farris said despite veteran unemployment being low, Soldier for Life still has many challenges in getting the word out about benefits and has a responsibility to mentor soldiers.