Some folks will join the military as a way to pay for college or get some experience. There are some who join as a lifelong dream to someday retire from the service in a high ranking place of honor.
Others will decide to take it enlistment by enlistment, promotion board by promotion board or duty station by duty station. For those who decide to stay long term and find themselves sitting at year 17, retirement can sometimes be a double-edged sword. Retirement looks so sweet to be done and finally relax, and it can be so scary to see what is on the other side of it.
For many in the current class of 16-20 years active duty, they came up in the generation of back to back deployments during the beginning of the war in Afghanistan and the surge in Iraq. It was home for 12 months, deploy for 12-15 months and repeat. The spouses held their breath, packed the best care packages, and learned what community really was. When the op-tempo shifted to 9 month rotations, and technology advances allowed us to connect more frequently than the previous call centers, we finally learned how to relax. Seeing the possibility of retirement in the next few years has a sweet, sweet smell.
But for those inching closer and closer to retirement, the fear of the unknown on the other side of the military life can be scary. There is the anxiety of “what comes next?” After so long of having the military as a part of our lives and being used to the frequent moving, deployments, field time, and countless TDY, what happens when you are no longer having to move every few years? Of course, there are classes and briefs galore you can go to to assist with the transition. There are organizations to help with job finding.
But what happens when that “one enlistment and done” becomes a lifetime of service?
What happens when you no longer find yourself standing on the flight line waiting for the first kiss after a rotation? What happens when you no longer have your Tuesday PWOC gatherings, or the monthly SFRG meetings? What happens when you find yourself moving into a neighborhood where everyone has lived for the last 20 years and there is no sense of community?
It can be hard to think of the “what’s next” when this life has been the only thing you have known for the last 20 years. The ability to choose where you live or how long you stay there. The chance to settle down and let your roots dig in. The opportunity to find that last home.
While it can be a bittersweet taste and filled with anxiety to reach retirement, remember that this is a milestone that many do not get to reach. You made it. You made it to the place where many hope to be one day. The ability to wash the uniform one last time and say well done. No matter what may be waiting for you and your family on the other side of that retirement award, know that you can do this too. You have already done many hard things, and this will be one of the easiest for you to conquer.