The tables were decorated with gold and black helium balloon bouquets, matching streamers and shiny confetti. In a stroke of joint service luck, the Army colors perfectly matched the ornate draperies in the community club’s historic ballroom.
The venue was crowded with fellow service members of all ranks, co-workers, friends and family members who wanted to help mark the occasion of the Soldier’s retirement from active duty.
The sequence of events was a familiar one for many in the room and probably for you, too. First, everyone stood while the official party arrived and they remained standing for the playing of the National Anthem.
Remarks were made by one senior officer and then by another as the man of the hour received a number of awards and ultimately, his official retirement certificate. His wife also received a special certificate and the many sacrifices she and their children had made throughout the years were duly noted.
The guest of honor then spoke to everyone about what his years in service meant to him. Words came easily as he reminisced about why he joined the Army and how his career evolved. He gave credit to his mentors and made everyone laugh with tales of unclassified misadventure from his special ops world.
Before long, however, unscripted moments of awkward silence took center stage. Tears had to be stopped. Composure regained.
Anyone who has ever been to a retirement ceremony, either as the guest of honor, the spouse of one or just as a guest, knows that this is the precise moment when the air leaves the room and time stands still.
It’s the point of no return and it can be scary place if you’re not truly prepared for it.
Transition Tips to Help You Prep for Civilian Life
Whether you and your uniformed other are retiring after twenty plus years of service or simply coming to the end of your tour, be ready for that breathless moment and for the sure to be somewhat stressful times that follow.
Take advantage of the transition assistance services available to you well in advance of your actual transition.
You may think you know everything about leaving the military behind and finding a new job but you probably don’t. Even if you are up to speed, stress and uncertainty have a way of making you forget critical points. Service members and spouses should plan to visit the transition assistance program and absorb every nugget of intel available whether it helps in the present moment or at some future point in time.
Also plan to visit the MOAA Career Center for a ton of career transition information, services and resources. While you’re at it, find out where and when you can connect with employers at the next MOAA Career Fair.
Work together as a team. Throughout your spouse’s career, you’ve been there to support him or her though it all and visa versa. It hasn’t always been easy or fun for either of you, but you stuck it out together anyhow. This isn’t the time to fix what isn’t broken. Continue to work together as a team.
Communicate openly about what it is you want to do and what you can realistically do post uniform life. Brainstorm options and don’t be afraid to consider new paths. Change is going to happen anyway, right?
Be financially fit for your transition. You hope that you and your spouse land great post military life jobs that enable you to ride off into the civilian sunset and live happily ever after. That doesn’t always happen, however. Before your family transitions, know how you’re going to pay the bills. The average job search can take six months to a year. Are you financially prepared to make ends meet?
MOAA’s Financial Planning Tools and Resources can help you up your knowledge base on the topic and provide you with access to useful financial calculators and pertinent links to other financial sites.
Expect civilian life to be different and adjust to it. Even if you will be living and working within a military community as civilians, things will feel a shade or two different. Get used to it. Breathe deeply and accept your new normal. Over a period of time, it will start to feel like home.
Know that transition never really ends. If you continue to move forward in life, personal and professional changes don’t just stop happening when you and your family transition out the military. They keep happening and that’s a good thing. Don’t worry. Practice makes perfect.
Transitioning from the military? Share you tips below.