Retirement seems to sneak up on us all.
Nine years, nine months, and five days. That’s how long my husband logged in as an active-duty airman before his medical retirement. Nine years, nine months, and five days of all the uncertainty and fluctuations that military life brings before we looked out upon our future. And a fresh uncertainty took hold.
- We could move wherever we wanted to move, but we would have to do it ourselves or pay someone to do it.
- We could pick whatever job we wanted to go after, at least as soon as our DD Form 214 (Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty) was in hand. Military service and medical retirement gave my husband an advantage in the hiring process for federal jobs, but did we really want to stay tied to the Department of Defense?
- Health insurance. Survivor benefits. Life insurance. Commissary and exchange privileges. GI Bill benefits. We had so many new rules to learn.
- Job-search strategies. Resume writing. Interview protocols. Salary negotiation. My husband had so many new skills to gain.
- Retirement, whether it’s a medical retirement after just a few years like my husband’s or after a full twenty-plus-year career like Kathy’s husband, can feel overwhelming. It’s exciting in many ways, but the exhilaration of getting to be in charge of your own life can mask uneasiness.
Retirement introduces a new world
For years, your solider, sailor, airman, or marine has been told everything he needs to know. Even within those jobs where they are trained to adjust as necessary to the situation around them, our men are still told where and when to go, what to wear, and what to take with them.
And then suddenly, all those decisions are laid before them. The long list of orders and protocols that once helped them focus on what was important—supporting and defending the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic—is yanked from them as they leave the gate on their final day of duty.
Outwardly, these men begin to grow beards because they no longer have to shave every day. They might let their hair touch their ears or their collars because no one cares when their last haircut was.
Inwardly, they struggle with an eternal question that we all face at one time or another: What do I want to be when I grow up?
Some of our men were assigned their MOS (Military Occupational Specialty) when they graduated boot camp, so they had little chance to explore career options. Some made their best choice but were then locked in, so they really don’t know if something else would be better. And some don’t know how to transfer their unique skills and training outside of the military community.
You see, the military is really good at one thing: teaching our men to think tactically. From SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape) to the reality of budget cuts, soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines are challenged to work with what’s available to them. Sometimes that means thinking outside the box, but it always keeps them in the present moment, solving the problem before them with the limited supplies around them.
So as retirement approaches, many spouses, parents, and extended-family members get excited about the possibilities. But often the active-duty member gets apprehensive. It’s not that they don’t know how to answer the question of what they want to do the rest of their life; it’s that many times they’ve never taken the time to dream, and so they truly do not know.
Military retirement can mean going back to where you ended
This is why many of our military retirees end up right back where they were. My husband now works as a civil servant for the Army. Kathy’s husband is a contractor in the compound he retired out of.
Of course, most of these decisions are not made lightly. My husband and I prayed over his job options as he went through his MEB (Medical Evaluation Board). Pay and benefits were a consideration, as was location and the amount of travel the new employer would expect. And the job had to be conducive to my husband’s medical limitations and numerous doctor appointments.
But ultimately, we find a sense of purpose and peace working for the Department of Defense. We know that until Jesus takes control of this earth, bad guys will always be around, and we know our family was called to stand and fight this battle. For nine years, nine months, and five days, God called us to active duty with the US Air Force. Our medical retirement never removed that calling from us. It simply changed how the calling would be carried out.
You, the wife of a man who’s fought evil in so many ways, play a significant role in helping your spouse transition out of the military. Just like you stepped up and accepted each assignment the military threw at your family, you now need to boldly stand and prepare for the next phase. You can help your husband to think less tactically (what he can do with what he has) and more strategically (dreaming about his best job ever).
How do you do that?
Let Kathy and I help you through our newest book in the Beyond Warrior’s Bride series. Now available on Kindle for just $0.99, and coming soon to all other eReaders. Click here (or on the book picture) for convenient links.
If you want more help on military retirement, be sure to check out Military.com’s article The Military Retirement System (the basics of military retirement pay) and Military OneSource’s article 4 Things to Consider When Retiring from the Military.