Military Retirement: A Military Spouse’s Bittersweet Farewell

Written by Valerie McCarley

When my husband volunteered for his first deployment, I remember thinking…
I’m not ready for this.

When orders came down for recruiting duty, I remember thinking…
I’m not ready for this.

When we moved yet again after I found a job I loved, I remember thinking…
I’m not ready for this.

And as I sat in the front row at my husband’s military retirement ceremony, with the sun shimmering on the ocean in the distance, I again thought…
I’m not ready for this.

And yet I am. 17 years as a military spouse has prepared me both for the unexpected and the anticipated. It has opened my eyes to new opportunities and allowed me to live in breathtaking locations. It has been filled with triumph and heartbreak and loneliness and beautiful friendships. And that time is coming to a close.

Months ago, the mere thought of military retirement would bring tears to my eyes. It often still does.

To be honest, it’s hard to process all the emotions I feel when I think of this transition. I’m so incredibly proud of my husband and also grieve the end of his military career. So much of our identities, both his and mine, have been wrapped up in being a military family. His job has impacted our lives in every single way. Decisions, big and small, have often been decided by others for us. Saying goodbye is bittersweet.

Now, the future is a blank slate. Whatever we want, whatever we choose. It’s equal parts terrifying and exciting.

And, although there is support along the military transition pathway, much of it is left to the individual service member and their family to sort out. The path will be different for each military family, but there are a few things you can do to help ease the transition.

Lessons Learned: Military Spouse Support Edition

  • Expect that the military transition to civilian life process may take longer than expected. Prepare early and be flexible as things change. Take an active approach by signing up for a Spouse Transition course.
  • Start saving now. Relocation expenses, coupled with the end of military pay, can make those first few months of life after the military even trickier.
  • Process your own emotions. Journal, blog, or consider therapy. Even a good friend can help you sort through the jumble of feelings around military retirement and all the changes ahead.
  • Reminisce. Reflect. Remember the good times and the times you’ve been challenged. The closer you get to transition, the more you’ll appreciate the positive memories and also see where you’ve grown over the years.
  • If your spouse is retiring, encourage him/her to hold a military retirement ceremony. It’s an important milestone that helps to bring closure to a 20-year (or more!) career.
    Celebrate. This is a huge achievement for you and your spouse!

We’re still actively navigating the military transition to civilian life. We don’t have it all figured out. But we’re taking one step at a time, one day at a time.

For my husband, the next step includes a DoD Skillbridge Program near my hometown. Designed to provide valuable job training during the last 180 days of service, this program will be a stepping stone to our next phase of life. Gaining experience in a new field while maintaining the safety net of a military paycheck through his official military retirement date will aid in the adjustment to civilian life. It also allows us time to shift, mentally and physically, from the hectic pace of the military.

For me, the next steps are a bit more uncertain. I’ll miss the military community, but will always be a strong supporter and advocate. The military community has uplifted and encouraged me through some of the hardest times, and now I can give back through the Armed Services YMCA (ASYMCA) Military Spouse Writing Program.

If you’re reading this, know that you are not alone in the turmoil of day-to-day military life or the uncertainty of military transition. There’s a community to support and encourage you, including the ASYMCA.

The ASYMCA is Here to Help

Offering programs and services at no- or low-cost to meet the needs of service families, with a focus on junior enlisted ranks, the ASYMCA ensures no military family is left behind. From day camps to after-school programs to food assistance, military spouse support, and so much more, the ASYMCA is here to help. Learn more about the ASYMCA today!