Leaving the military is a monumental decision that often comes with a roller coaster of emotions. One of the most paralyzing elements of the transition to civilian life is the fear of the unknown. The loss of structure, accountability, community, and purpose may seem like a welcome dose of freedom, but in reality, can bring up overwhelming fear. Air Force veteran Jessica Johnson knows from experience. “After being deployed for a year, away from my toddler son, I knew it was time for me to leave,” she said. “But I had no idea what I wanted to do.”

During Transition GPS at Fort Bragg, Johnson was introduced to the DoD SkillBridge program, a career on-ramp program that provides transitioning veterans the training and skills for a smooth transition to the civilian world. Johnson’s interest grew as she heard more about CVS Health, and how she could apply her Air Force experience to the retail management of CVS stores nationwide.

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Jessica JohnsonCourtesy Jessica Johnson

“I had no idea how I would utilize my experience in air transportation in the civilian industry,” Johnson said. “But CVS Health offered a 12-week internship program that showed me how to leverage and build upon my military skills. Customer service, integrity, and resilience set me up for a successful future.”

Through CVS’s participation in the SkillBridge program, transitioning service members receive career skills training that consists of classes and a 12-week internship at a nearby CVS Pharmacy location. Participants also have the opportunity to practice their interview skills through virtual job tryouts. Following the completion of military service, veterans are eligible to apply for a position at any CVS Pharmacy across the country. The program afforded Johnson the opportunity to complete the required training and move where she and her family knew they wanted to settle down. “The day after I received my DD214 was my first full day on the job as a CVS store manager,” she said.

Thanks to the SkillBridge program, Johnson was permitted to complete the required virtual and in-person training while still serving on active duty. Participants are required to have a minimum of 180 days left of active duty service to apply, and with command approval, they can complete the program while still serving on active duty.

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Jessica JohnsonCourtesy Jessica Johnson

“I can’t tell you how thankful I am for this program,” Johnson said. “It eased all of my fears of leaving the military and starting civilian life. I never thought that I’d work in the health industry, but through the training and mentorship I received through CVS Health, I felt prepared for life after the military.”

As the first Air Force participant in the CVS Health program, Johnson navigated the processes with support from the SkillBridge, CVS Health, and Air Force teams. “Since I was stationed at Fort Bragg, Pope Army Field, I was charting new waters,” she said. “But the application process was fairly simple, and everyone was supportive.” The SkillBridge program is available at over 20 military installations across the country from all branches, ranging from Naval Station Norfolk to Joint Base Lewis-McChord. Transitioning service members can learn more from their Transition GPS office about eligibility requirements and the application process.

“The CVS Health Talent Connect Center gave me a plan for life after the military, with an opportunity to grow professionally,” Johnson told CVS this summer. “I am able to apply my leadership techniques and my customer service skills, and I look forward to seeing where my career with CVS Health takes me.”

Her biggest piece of advice for transitioning service members is to not delay preparation for leaving the military. “Don’t let the paralyzing fear of leaving the military keep you from being prepared for your next step,” she said. “Companies are looking to hire veterans. We need jobs and they need employees. It’s a two-way street, so plan ahead.”