Before my husband retired from the Air Force, a co-worker asked if I was ready for his retirement. She, an ex MilSpouse, insisted that the transition to the civilian world was going to be hard.
I told myself I had never fully immersed myself into the military way of life. After every PCS, I found a job in the civilian world and made friends outside the military gates. I did not feel the change was going to be that drastic or difficult.
Two years after my husband’s retirement I now know how right she was. These are the things I wish I knew then.
1. Consider where you plan to live after retirement. When planning for retirement, I recommend that your family consider living near a military installation. You really don’t realize how important all the perks of living near a base are until you leave the military.
We all have heard of the safety net -- this invisible shield that protects all military families from stressors, financial hardships, and provides support during deployments and emergencies. I never fully took advantage of this safety net, but I came to appreciate it when my husband retired.
We retired an hour from the nearest base and suddenly I missed the camaraderie that comes with living near one. I missed running to the commissary and knowing it wouldn’t break the bank. I missed the safety of living on a military base. I knew my family was surrounded by some of the bravest in the world.
Also, it is harder to participate in transition services and career counseling. I no longer live in a community that encourages military spouses during transition, especially in the job hunt. I had thought I would not miss all of these safety net services, because I had sometimes opted out of them. I know now retiring close to a base would have made things so much easier.
2. Take time out for vacations and alone time. The stress involved in the transition from the military to civilian world actually surprised me. Not only is the camaraderie gone, but also the adventure that comes with being a military spouse.
Whenever things were too stressful, there was always some new place to travel too and explore. There was always the anticipation of the next assignment. MilSpouses, for the most part, are independent. Being in charge of everything while the military person is deployed cultivates independence. We don’t need help, right?
But do not hesitate to ask for assistance or even a few minutes of alone time. A week after the moving truck dropped 200 boxes off at my house, my sister had heart surgery and came to live with us. l should of asked for help then, from family or neighbors to open boxes or just watch the kids when I took a few minutes for myself.
Throw your independence to the side. If you need help with anything, during the transition, ask for it. You will be able to better deal with the difficulties that always come with the move. Take a break, or take a vacation. I have discovered that you and your spouse need to find out who you are without the military. The kinks in your relationship that were put aside due to deployments or a PCS, will now have to be dealt with.
Take time and breathe.
3. It is important to get involved in your community. The military community made it easy. During deployments, moving, and emergencies, someone was always there to assist. Sometimes it was just the person next door who was going through the same thing. Sometimes it was the squadron commander or base chaplain. Information on support groups, activities and financial assistance was always readily available. As a spouse it wasn’t hard to stay informed about events and activities.
It is important that you form these same kinds of bonds in your civilian community. It will be harder. No one will have your name on a list and ask your to the next squadron picnic.
I suggest you become involved in military charities or organizations. Find a church that all members of your family are comfortable with. Volunteer. Use social media to connect to the local community.
While you may be tired and stressed, make even the smallest of efforts to engage in your new community. It will make things so much easier during the adjustment. Create your own safety net.
Amy is the spouse of a recently retired service member who spent 23 years in the Air Force. She currently works as a full-time mom, freelance writer and part-time baker. During the active duty years she worked as a preschool teacher, librarian, bookseller and SEO specialist. She currently lives in North Carolina and enjoys traveling and volunteering in her new community.