Between now and Sept. 18, 2012, I have 338 days, 48 1/2 weeks, 11 months, 1 Combat Fitness Test, 1 Physical Fitness Test, 1 more annual fitness report, and 1 last Marine Corps Birthday Ball remaining as an active-duty United States Marine. After 11 years, I’m about to become a “civilian”: the horror!
What to do between now and then? I kind of have an idea, but I’m not sure if it’s denial, hesitation, overconfidence, or just laziness that’s prevented me from mapping my route from Staff Sergeant Agostini to Mr. Agostini - something I have not been familiar with since I left my parents’ house more than 11 years ago.
There’s the military-to-civilian transitional assistance (TAP/TAMPS) classes I need to attend. There’s a final physical exam. I’ve been meaning to get my left foot checked out — it could be fractured, and if it is, I definitely would want that in my medical record. I need to enroll in the Post-9/11 GI Bill. I’d like to be debt free once I stop receiving that guaranteed monthly income of almost $5,000. Who do I talk to to get that done? What are my deadlines? How much time do I need? What documentation do I need? What benefits do I rate? How would I even know?
When I think of my future, I think of the desired end-state: a successful career as a public relations professional in Chicago, driving my black Cadillac CTS home to the suburbs, where my wife, kids and dog are waiting for daddy to come home to the $350,000 house we mortgaged. Maybe a condo in River East. On the kitchen counter, next to my kids doing their homework, is a copy of an industry mag profiling the city’s Top 40 under 40, with my face somewhere in there.
Before I can even have the audacity to dream of that, there’s lot of tiny, medium and big-boy-sized steps I need to take. I still have a job to do as a Staff Sergeant of Marines. I’m still responsible for the welfare and mission accomplishment of the Marines below and above me. I still have a responsibility as a husband and a father. I’ll owe it to both my wife and son to be fiscally responsible, for now, the near and long-term future.
My admission into DePaul University is nowhere near guaranteed. While I currently have more than the transferable college credits (24) and minimum GPA (2.0) to be qualified for admission, I still have alot to do. I need to get and send ALL of my college transcripts. I have to file for FAFSA (federal financial aid), along with the GI Bill. I’ve heard and read too many horror stories of the GI Bill going completely wrong, so I’ll definitely need to ensure I do everything right.
At about $30,000 a year, DePaul tuition exceeds the $17.5k that the GI Bill caps off at, so I’ll also need to apply for the Yellow Ribbon Program, in which DePaul and the Department of Veterans Affairs meet halfway in covering the tuition that exceeds the GI Bill max. I have to complete another full-time semester of college classes here in Oceanside for, which, if rumors are anywhere near true, I’ll have to pay out of pocket significantly, due to the projected cuts in military tuition assistance.
Where am I going to live? It looks like with my in-laws, in northwest Indiana (my wife, also an active-duty Marine, will still have two-plus years left on active-duty service). I probably won’t even drive my 2006 Saturn Ion into Chicago, but take public transportation instead. That’s going to be fun, especially with the notorious Chicago winters. The $1,550 monthly housing allowance provided by the GI Bill will have to be coupled with a part-time job, or if I am lucky enough, an entry-level job loosely related to my desired career field.
I’m excited. I’m confident. I’m prepared. But until I put together and execute a good military-to-civilian transition plan, my Cadillac dreams will have to wait. Over the next year, I’ll share my journey with you.