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Retirement: The Unexpected

 Posted by on May 8, 2015 at 14:45
May 082015

We did everything right. We took the classes. We talked to people who had already retired. We talked to each other. We (and by we, I mean me) discussed every emotional nuance I could think of in great detail prior to my husband’s retirement from active-duty service.



Retirement day came and it went. Just like any other 24 hour block on a calendar. I waited, counted to ten, looked at my husband and he looked at me waiting for whatever emotional reaction was going to come. The anxiety filled panic attack I thought might strike didn’t. I looked up and said “Nope, I’m good,” and we moved on. Literally, moved – on. New job, new state, new house, new schools, new allergies, new everything.

We had this retirement thing down. I’m not even kidding how good we were. Or so I thought. Then little things started happening. Things I was surprised by. In the beginning I brushed it off. Then I realized — no one prepared me for this. No one talked about being understanding and kind to people who made rude or snarky comments. No one told me I had to remember something. Something so vital to connecting with our new community that how could it have been neglected? If it was discussed, it was in passing and I obviously didn’t pay attention.

It first happened when my husband took me on a date — to a gym. I thought I was getting a cupcake. I did not. I was not prepared as much as I thought to live where I was not the norm. My life, my experiences, my frame of reference, none of it was really identifiable with so many in my new community. Oh yes, there are lots of former military, retired or otherwise, but still. There are social nuances I didn’t expect and, more unexpected, were my reactions to them.

A spouse complains her husband can’t attend something. He is sitting next to her while she tells me this. She wants the event changed to accommodate their schedule. I just stare. What I say is “Well, I think we see things differently,” while what I wanted to say was “Really? I don’t care. You are talking to the wrong lady.” Every missed event seemed to run across my mind in a millisecond.

Someone else makes a snide remark to my husband using his years of service as a dig. “This isn’t the military; we can’t just spend whatever we want.” I guess they never heard that saying “Marines — do more with less.” I wasn’t present for this one. Thank goodness. I would have liked them to sit in on an installation budget meeting.

Someone discovers what my husband’s disability rating is and then gasps and says “What’s wrong with him? He looks fine, shouldn’t he be missing all his limbs?” What I say, after a somewhat awkward pause, is “Um. A lot.” What I want to say is “Really? How is that even an appropriate question?” I guess the whole unseen injuries thing hasn’t hit mainstream America.

What I wish someone had told me was:

Kelli, you have to remember you have lived a whole life’s worth of experiences that many people have no way of understanding. You can’t expect them to see things from your perspective. You will be offended. They will make comments about things you would never imagine. It’s okay. That is their frame of reference and it’s unfair for you to expect them to understand a deployment, a move, an injury.

I also wish someone else had said:

Kelli, these comments will come from unexpected places — friends, former military and yes, even your family. They don’t mean to be offensive or unkind. And there will be those who have had experiences with military, some good and some bad, but it may be all they have to reference and they will make wide spread assumptions based on their perspective alone. Let it go.

We have lived in a unique subculture of the United States. We have our own language, for goodness sake. What I want to share are the following tips that are common sense, but somehow if you say them out loud they carry more weight.

  • Don’t respond right away, if at all.
  • If you have an immediate emotional response, it’s best to not say anything at all. Afterward, talk to your spouse or military friends and figure out why it bothered you so much. I was able to put the comments in perspective and not risk hurting a developing relationship. The last thing you want is for people to know you as that angry person.
  • Manage your expectations.
  • To expect someone who has lived in the same place all their life to understand or relate to you is unrealistic. Just like you cannot even imagine what it is like to live in the same place for forty years. You can bridge that gap with kindness, understanding and some allowance for different life experiences.
  • Invest in your new life.
  • Embrace the change, the people and the opportunities. Keep with you the skills and tools from life on active duty, but stay open to new ways of doing old tasks. This was highlighted in a professional environment. Processes and standards will be different. Don’t judge them too quickly.

So why did I react like I did? Because I know the life my husband has led and the sacrifices he has made. I know firsthand the experiences of my children and myself because of my husband’s service. All of that came welling up inside. The person offending me had no idea, nor could they, and truly they meant no offense. They will probably never have a frame of reference to completely understand what we as a family and as individuals experienced. It’s unfair to expect them to.

Face retired life with happiness, joy and kindness. The adventure continues.

A Retired Moment

 Posted by on November 6, 2014 at 11:14
Nov 062014


So I had a moment yesterday. My first since retirement. It wasn’t one of weepy regret or sadness. It was pure anger that sparked suddenly,making me want to punch a little man in the face, but it left me just as quickly as it appeared. I recovered, but not before I got an eyebrow from under Charles’s USMC ball cap brim. To Charles’s credit, not only did he not say anything to me for my snap, but he very calmly and kindly backed me up. I LOVE HIM even if he looks like a dirty old man right now.

We were at the gym. The gym I didn’t know we were going to. I thought we were going on a secret ice cream, donut or cupcake date away from all the kids. Nope. Just like he did 10 years ago in More Head City, he kidnapped me and lured me out of the house with the promise of something yummy and then walked my fat butt into the gym again last night in Cedar Park.

We were met by a very happy fellow named Aaron. Aaron gave me some paperwork to fill out and then tried to get to know us by playing 20 questions while I tried to remember how to spell my name. He was a little distracting. So then a short fellow named Luke took us to “the sales area.” Alright shorty, I mean Luke, hit me with it. Up to this point, I have been pleasant and even though I was disappointed I was not getting a delicious cupcake, I was tickled that Charles was excited to help me with my headaches and fibro issues. AND he’s fat too. So there you go. Luke starts going through his spiel, telling us about the military/veteran’s discount, when I asked if it applied to family members too.

“No, only those who served can get that discount.”

I stiffened up, leaned forward toward Luke, spread my hands across the table and said, “Um, Luke, I think there is a better way to say that.”

I caught myself as I was preparing to leap upon the poor boy. I relaxed and sat back. My internal voice was like, “Whoa there sister, he has no idea what he just said, and WHY are you so mad?”

My other internal voice said, “Shut the ­­___ up,” as I felt every moment alone raising six kids come rushing back at me in a millisecond.

My real live external voice said, and I lied, “I’m not offended, but some folks might be.”

He actually looked worried, probably because he thought he just lost a juicy sale with two fatties, but then with sincerity, he said, “Oh wow, how should I have said that?”

Luke would live.

I relaxed and realized I was a dork. I explained that military life is such that spouses and children serve right alongside their service member, so it would be better to say that the discount is only available to the service member or veteran, unfortunately not the family members. He said, “Well, I guess I served too, my dad and granddad were in the Air Force.”

I said, “You sure did short stuff.” No, not really, but I wanted to. Instead I just said, “Why, yes you did!”

Charles jumped in and said, “The climate Kelli works in makes her more sensitive to things like that.” He was so sweet, backing me up, but letting me know, tone it down cowgirl — poor boy is going to wet himself!

The two takeaways from this moment? Those living outside a heavily concentrated military population really do not understand a lot about our lives, and it’s not their fault. We are surrounded by it and it’s our norm, not theirs. And even military kids don’t always realize their contribution.

So we signed up, I’m going to jump around like an oompa loompa once again. Maybe shift some body parts around…

Transition to Retirement

 Posted by on August 29, 2014 at 09:04
Aug 292014


It happened. It really happened. The day that was always so far off in the murky unknown future came rushing up full force and smacked me right in the face. Retirement. There it was, standing before me daring me to blink. I didn’t blink; in fact, I welcomed it with a traditional North Carolina pig pickin’ and career slideshow that was self-indulgent and way longer than necessary. You only retire once from military service and I am button-busting proud of my sweetheart. However, retirement didn’t enter our lives without turning the volume up on my anxiety either.

That was a few months ago for us. How am I now? Surprisingly the same person I was the day before my husband retired. I expected to fall apart and have a nervous breakdown. I don’t think that’s happened (unless I am in denial), and I have to tell you, if you’re nearing retirement — come on in, the water is GREAT! You just have to be able to roll with the waves that come from directions you didn’t expect.

How retirement changes you

A long time ago, when we were nearing 20 years, my husband said he knew it would be time to retire when it was no longer fun. It took almost eight more years for us to know it was time to make the transition. So what is life like now? It’s different, but it’s not.

We may have left active-duty service, but quite frankly, active service has not left us. We just perform it differently. Years of moving, deployments and various other separations and challenges provided us with personal and family skills we fully engage in our “new life.”

The day after

The day after his retirement ceremony, my husband carefully packed away all his uniforms.

“What are you doing?” I asked with a little bit of panic in my voice.

He said calmly, “I am packing.”

I became more agitated. “Are you sure you want to do that right now? What are you going to wear? Are you really done?”

I think he had a lot of responses he wanted to give, but he only said, “Yep” and kept packing.

I think that was his actual moment of transition. Watching him pack away the only clothes he had really worn for more than 27 years was powerful!

The new look

I will tell you that shopping with an old Marine for the first time for something more than BBQ clothes was not pleasant. I was left on several occasions standing alone in the men’s department watching my husband move toward the exit. I learned very quickly to catch up or I would be left altogether. My takeaways:

  • Go in separate cars.
  • Be patient.
  • Let your service member find his or her own new style. Most likely he or she went to a transition class that had a whole module on dressing for the civilian job. They will temporarily think they know more than you…just let it go.

The new job

It’s important to give your recently retired spouse support and encouragement as he or she embarks on a new career adventure. Here’s what I did.

Every day when he came home I would ask, “So, did you make any friends?”

He’d look at me and say no.

After two or three days, I changed my question. “So, did you meet anyone you liked or didn’t like today?”

“I like them and dislike them all equally.”

So I changed tactics again. “How was your day?”


Once I quit being more excited than he was for his new job, he started sharing again. I recommend you leave the communication channel open for when your service member can process his or her new world and then share it with you.

The new life

It is weird being “retired.” I feel the same as I did when we first married, but then I look in the mirror, or at him, and realize we are truly better versions of that young couple, and our years as a military family are a big part of who we are now. In our new home, in a new state with a new job, we still fly the American flag with the eagle, globe and anchor emblem embedded in the flag holder. Our vernacular stays the same too. We don’t own guns; we have weapons. We drive vehicles, not cars. We back brief or debrief each other at the end of each day. I’ve even mentioned perhaps we need an operational risk management workup or ORM.

The strange new life

The strange things I’ve noticed: We see woodland hunting camouflage everywhere, but not the digital pattern of the last almost two decades. We can pick out another Marine NO MATTER WHAT THEY ARE WEARING. At a convenience store the other day, I looked at the guy in front of me and thought, “He’s a Marine.” His hair was regulation, but not enough to be a definite marker. As I left, I glanced to the vehicle he was getting into. Sure enough: a set of Charlies (the tan shirt with the dress blues trousers) was hanging in the backseat and on the bumper was Semper Fi. I wanted to shout “OOH RAH,” but as it was twilight in Texas in the middle of nowhere, I thought better of it.

You will never be alone

Finally, the best thing of all, the brother/sisterhood and instant family that existed during our many years has not left us and from what I’ve seen, never will. I saw this firsthand as my mother, the widow of a retired Air Force service member, traveled from one Morale, Welfare and Recreation RV park to another and had instant friends the moment she pulled in and hooked up.

So as retirement approaches, face it with all the gusto, gumption and gungie-ness you have each step of your active-duty life. It’s just another transition, and after all, military families are the royalty of transition!

It’s All About Transition

 Posted by on December 23, 2013 at 18:03
Dec 232013


Change, transition, turmoil, upheaval…INSANITY! If you are married to a military person, these terms should be readily available in your vocabulary. I would also add excitement, adventure, new housing, new places to explore and new friends to make. I have loved my life as a military daughter and, now for the last 25 years, as a wife.

I always knew this day would come, but just like saving money for retirement, it always seemed liked it was a far off possibility that wasn’t going to happen anytime soon. PEOPLE IT’S HAPPENING!

Shortly, for the first time in my life, I will no longer be an active-duty dependent. What does that even look like? Odds are no one from the outside looking in will see the change. But those who have gone before know we stand on a ledge peering tenuously over. They all stand down there waiving up at us, yelling “JUMP IN, IT’S AWESOME!” and they really do look like they are having fun.

The dark-haired, adorable (thinner) young Marine I married is now thicker, considerably older (as am I), with more silver hair. Thank goodness for my magical hair stylist — my hair doesn’t have the silver issues his hair does…

One of the grandest transitions of all is before us. It’s right up there with getting married, having a baby, and then another, and then another and so forth. Dare I say this is bigger than those babies growing up and leaving home? Yes, I do dare say it!

Where do we go? What do we do? How do we act? WHAT DOES HE WEAR TO WORK? Who is going to be my friend? How do I pick a neighborhood? Now, I do exaggerate some. We’ve lived in civilian communities before, we’ve had some choices and we have great networks, so some of those questions aren’t totally unanswered. The great common theme in all of these decisions previously has been the military of course.

I have suspected I might have a big adjustment to life away from an installation, but I didn’t realize how much my older children might be worried about adjusting until the other day. My 18-year-old daughter, a senior in high school, looked at me and said, “Mom, I don’t think I can be a civilian.” My first thought was, “Did she join the military when I wasn’t looking?”  Then after I appropriately made fun of her, we talked about what it would be like living away from the military environment. This is how it’s been. We are a military family and we’ve shouldered the burdens and the adventures together, as a family. I am not sure why I didn’t realize we would retire as a family too.

So how do we proceed? Like we always have — together, with a lot of laughter, some tears and with a look forward to the future that builds on the past without dwelling on it. It’s been a good life, and I don’t foresee THAT changing — just the where and how we are living it.

As you and your family approach transitions, regardless of what they are — retirement, moving or deployment, let’s change the conversation. Do your homework, make your preparations and don’t ask, “Are we ready for retirement?” but ask instead, “Is retirement ready for us?”

Balancing School and Service for Military Students

 Posted by on September 30, 2013 at 21:00
Sep 302013


I know that I am not reporting breaking news by telling you that going back to school as a non-traditional student is more than difficult. However, I think going back to school as an active-duty member has its own special set of challenges. I am watching my husband take advantage of his tuition assistance to go back to school while still serving active duty, so I have seen firsthand some of the challenges military members face when going back to school.  Here are some top tips to help military learners succeed:

Start off slowly. There is no need to dive into a full-time 12 plus credit hour course load your first semester. My husband originally wanted to take two classes a semester, but since he works a swing shift, he realistically does not have the time. Not saying that it can’t be done, but most active-duty students honestly just don’t have the time to devote to full-time school and work.

Don’t tackle that Physics 410 class right out of the gate.  More than likely, it has been a few years since you have been in an academic learning environment. Ease yourself back in; no need to “knock the hard classes out of the way first.” Build your academic skills back up and your learning ego by taking some of the lower level classes that you would really enjoy first.

Grab your work calendar and your school calendar and mesh them together. Sit down and look at your work schedule and be sure to account for duty days, training missions, temporary duty assignments and deployments. If you work shift hours, make sure the course workload balances with your odd days off. Seriously consider scheduling homework and test-taking times. Do not wait until the due date to knock out everything for the week. You will only end up stressing yourself out. Plus, if you delay, you never know if a training mission may pop up and prevent you from completing your work on time.

Rely on support from your family and friends. Let them know what classes you are taking and ask them to support you, especially if you aren’t as available as you have been in the past. If you are taking classes in a traditional setting, consider letting your superiors know and see if something can be arranged for your schedule to ensure that you will always be in class.

Keep your professors in the loop. Let them know ahead of time that you are a military student and that while you plan to be present and have your work turned in on time, situations may arise where you may have to be absent for a week. They may be able to help work out your course work so that you do not fall too far behind. Don’t just go MIA and come back and expect them to understand.

While there are special challenges with being an active-duty military learner, it is completely possible to find a work, school and home balance, and achieve your goal of a college degree. It just takes motivation, drive and sometimes a little creative scheduling. In the end, it will pay off when you hold that college diploma in your hands.

Guest Blog: Recipe for a Retirement Ceremony

 Posted by on March 26, 2013 at 16:00
Mar 262013

Blogger Biography: Cheryle is a 10-year military spouse who has lived away from her husband longer than they’ve been under the same roof. Now that they are transitioning into the retirement stage, a whole new adventure has begun. There will soon be more time to spend at the lake, with their three children and their first grandchild. Retirement doesn’t mean you leave the military family behind because once you are a part of the military family, you are always family. Her husband’s military civilian job will keep them close to the family long after retirement.

In learning to cook, the first thing I grasped was the concept of following a recipe. If I mixed the right ingredients I could produce a tasty creation I was proud to share. However, this did not happen on my first attempt. It is the same concept for retirement. Each ingredient (step) of a career culminates to a final moment you are proud to share – the retirement ceremony.

For us, there was nothing conventional about our journey to retirement. Amidst all the twists and turns we experienced, you can still see the principal ingredients (steps) that helped create our journey’s end.

First came the decision of when to retire. While we were struggling with this decision and waiting for the promotion board results, my husband was asked to join a retirement ceremony in Texas, where he spent most of his career.

Typical of our luck, the promotion results were delayed and we had to decide about participating in the Texas ceremony. So, after nearly three decades of serving his country, my husband decided it was time to pass the torch to a new generation.

Next on our agenda was to coordinate flights and hotel rooms and head to Texas! The weekend celebration included visiting tourist attractions, attending a memorable ceremony and hosting a lovely reception. We couldn’t have asked for a better way to end his military career.

Now fade to black…open curtains to a new scene. We are back in Michigan with the retirement glow still on our cheeks and my husband is in his office when the phone rings. Shine the spotlight on him (audience goes silent).

His end of the phone conversation goes something like this…“No, I haven’t seen it…wait, let me open it” (he opens an email). “You have got to be kidding me …”

Ok, maybe I can’t print his exact words. The email contained the promotion board results, and my husband was asked if he would accept the promotion in lieu of retiring. Only a select group of people end their careers in this position. It was an easy decision.

For a brief moment I thought of the money spent on the retirement dinner, plane tickets and hotel rooms for what is now called “the retirement that didn’t stick.” None of that mattered; I was proud of him and glad to be back!!! I love being an integral part of the military life just as much as my husband. Did I mention they now call him the Favre of retirements?

After two more years of mentoring those who will follow his lead, my husband dropped his retirement papers…again…inspiring more jokes about whether it would actually happen.

Now that we were planning a second retirement ceremony, we wanted to find a way to keep the cost down and still create a totally different experience. The following tips helped us cut expenses and create a memorable experience:

  • Share your ceremony and reception with other service members.  This means you can divide the cost for huge savings.
  • Find a location that caters to the military and offers a discount. (The hall rental was discounted from the catering cost.)
  • Find a friend or service member to take photographs to alleviate hiring a professional.
  • Get creative.  My husband and his father made the shadow boxes. This saved money and they enjoyed being in the woodshop together.
  • Look for discount coupons to make a hard cover book of the retirement ceremony. I included many pictures and significant military poems. It was a great way to commemorate the occasion.
  • Gather pictures depicting a sample of each member’s military career and make a presentation to play during the reception.
  • Start traditions.  We had each military son pass the flag to his father. Getting a picture of son saluting father was priceless.

These are just a few suggestions to get you started, but a wealth of knowledge can be attained by speaking with current retirees or researching the Internet. Your ceremony can be customized to fit your budget.

I’m still in awe over every moment of this final ceremony. The elegant hall, the touching speeches and friends that gathered made THIS ceremony the perfect beginning of his retirement.

Now, if you think our final journey went without a hitch, think again. Later, we were informed that an incorrect date would delay his retirement an extra month. The jokes began again, saying Favre would never retire. Eventually, the date arrived and now our transition into the life of retirement has begun.

Planning for Retirement

 Posted by on February 6, 2013 at 07:00
Feb 062013
Staff Blogger Melissa


Seems like everywhere you turn these days everyone is talking about saving for retirement. There are commercials, blogs, magazine articles, radio shows, podcasts…you name it! While these messages are probably more targeted at the baby boomer generation, adults of all ages should take note!

Most people in their 20s typically let these messages go in one ear and right out the other. After all, this is when you are just starting out as an adult. You are probably starting your family and building your career…retirement seems like a LIFETIME away! Many people think “Oh, I can worry about retirement later…I am still young.”  Typically in your 30s retirement starts to seem achievable and you  realize you won’t be chained to a desk forever so you start thinking that maybe you should be putting a little away every now and again. You may even really look at maxing out your IRA or 401k. People in their 40s and 50s really start to number crunch, especially in military families. The career span of an active duty service member wraps up usually at some point in their 40s, long before the average retirement age of our civilian counterparts.

In order to avert stockpiling mass amounts of money at the end of your career it is important to plan ahead.  I learned this lesson at the ripe old age of 18.  My parents had me later in life, so that meant that my dad retired while I was still in high school.  I was able to learn about all their retirement planning and its importance at a young age.  I decided right then that I wanted to retire as soon as possible. Ironic because I was just starting out in college and hadn’t even begun my career yet. I was fortunate that my dad took my then-boyfriend/now-husband  and me down to his financial advisor to learn all about budgeting and retirement planning.  Those few hours we spent in that office were enlightening and invaluable.

We immediately decided to set up our own Roth IRA. It was a good fit for us because we liked that we could draw out money penalty free to buy a house or pay for college.  We left the office that day agreeing to put in $25 a month, and increase as we moved up in our careers. While it may not seem like a lot, it sure felt like a lot to a poor college student working part-time.

I didn’t realize at the time how important having my independent Roth IRA would be as a military spouse. As we have moved all across the country, and now around the world, I have been able to continue to save for my own retirement regardless of where I was working or if I was even working. I upped my own Roth IRA contribution to mirror what I would contribute to a 401k (as long as I stayed within the annual contribution limits for my Roth IRA).

If you need help getting started on planning for retirement, visit your installations Personal Financial Management office. They are there to help, and they WANT to help! They can help answer all your questions about the types of investments to make and even help you set up a basic budget.  If you aren’t living near an installation, you can also access financial counseling services by call Military OneSource at 1-800-342-9647. Just remember, regardless of whether you are working, you need to plan for your own retirement. Even contributing small amounts now, and increasing when you can, will help set you up for a smoother retirement!

Apr 192012

Road to Retirement: One Step Closer or Two Steps Back?


My husband came home the other day and pulled a red certificate folder from his backpack. He opened it and read a certificate of appreciation for me from the unit he is currently attached to. Surprised, I looked up and asked, “What did I do?”

He said “Nothing. I did. I reenlisted today.” I sat there thoughtful for a moment and then asked for how long, he told me three years. I said oh and then just sat there.

I had two thoughts. First, I thought we were retiring, and second, once upon a time re-enlisting was an event for us.  I realized we are still retiring just not as soon as I had thought.  He had explained it about two months ago. I remember some vague explanation about why he was re-enlisting as opposed to extending but I think I stopped listening.

However, had I known his re-enlistment was that day,  I would have gotten all dolled up, shown up at the appointed time, watched him swear the enlisted oath, (had a silent tear of pride), asked if there was a bonus ( I would have been told no), and then gone home. At the very least I wish I had known he was going to re-enlist on THAT day because I might have made dinner. Okay, ordered something special to eat. Continue reading »

Road to Retirement: Planning for the Coming Year

 Posted by on January 30, 2012 at 18:01
Jan 302012

Road to Retirement: Planning for the Coming Year


Where do I begin? Literally I’m asking that question as I stand looking at the chaos that is the result of the holidays, children out of school, and a husband on a holiday work schedule. It can all be too much and exhausting. Did I mention I really need a nap?

I’ve been thinking about my plan for the upcoming year. I will first need to make a list. I love lists. I use lists a lot, but I typically lose them. However, they help me to initially organize my thoughts.

I think these are the areas I am going to focus on:

  • Reduction
    • Debt
    • Weight (mine)
    • Household clutter
  • Increase
    • Savings
    • Retirement savings (or at least start it (deep sigh…)
    • Muscle
  • Planning
    • Retirement (what does that even look like?)
    • Christmas

There is more I could put down, but why go crazy? The whole retirement thing on my list gives me angina. However, the other things are good. The fact I am trying to lose weight and build muscle means I have to stop feeding myself and my family at all the drive-through windows in town and actually grocery shop and prepare meals. This directly benefits reducing debt and increasing savings because it is not cost effective to eat at windows. I figure if I can multi-task on some of my goals, I’ll be successful somewhere. Okay… this is looking possible.

The good news is because we are still active duty and live near an installation there are some great programs and resources to help with most of my categories. The bad news is I have a feeling retirement will creep up on us like the last twenty-six years in the military have. Fast, furious, and making me wonder exactly where all the time went. I have this foreboding feeling.

I just read over my categories and I’ve revised them:

  • Reduce something
  • Increase something else
  • Plan Christmas

Seriously. Why do I want to set myself up for failure? Just reading that list made me realize I am not super woman and is making that nap look way more appealing. How many New Year’s resolutions get dropped by the wayside on January 31st? I need some success.

Maybe I really do need to focus on retirement.  Getting things ready and preparing for the life-changing transition. I’m not sure exactly what that implies. Everyone says you need to start preparing two years out. That’s difficult because you are still in the heart active duty life and all that brings to your family, yet you have to start figuring out how to disengage from that and prepare to live differently.

Not an easy task, mentally anyway. I don’t even know what differently means. I think I’m starting to sweat. So I asked my very smart friend who has already gone through retirement. She answered me with a series of questions I need to be asking.

  • Where are we going to live?
  • What kind of work do we want to do?
  • What do we want the next relationship with our service to look like?
  • What do want the next phase of our life to look like?

Her parting comment shot straight to my gut and turned my foreboding feelings into just plain panic: “Until you answer those questions you are not doing the work to get ready.”

OH MY GOSH, I really need a nap now. I can’t answer those by myself. I have to talk to… the husband. I don’t want to talk to him. He and I don’t necessarily see eye to eye. I want to live on a ranchette in Texas. He just wants to find a job. Why can’t a ranchette be a job?

So I’ve revised my list again:

  •  Talk to the husband

At least that is a New Year’s resolution I can keep. The rest of it… Well, I have a whole year and I will get started right away, but first… the nap.

Road to Retirement: Losing My Identity

 Posted by on January 21, 2012 at 11:00
Jan 212012

Road to Retirement: Losing My Identity


When I was younger, say around twelve or thirteen years old, I very clearly remember thinking I always wanted to make sure I never lost myself when I became a wife and mother. I am not sure what event or situation made me think that way, but I remember thinking it was important. As I grew up, that personal requirement never left me.

When I married, I married a young service member and I knew the minute I said “I do” I was saying yes to more than a new last name. I was willing to allow my life to be centered on the military, the Uniform Code of Military Justice, and all that meant. My husband was property of the Department of Defense and while I would have very strongly stated then and now that I am NOT the property of anything or anyone, I was voluntarily relinquishing some choice about where and how I lived. My handsome husband was that important to me and has proven to be worth every sacrifice!

When we welcomed our first child into our lives, a daughter, I gained a new name, Mommy. Then I made room for a son, then another daughter, then three more sons. My name was mom, mommy, mother, and sometimes a horrible screeching variation of any of the three proclaimed loudly across the house, playground, or, gasp, even the church building. By bringing children into our family I was saying yes to altering our life and putting my needs, and sometimes desires, at the bottom of a very long list.

I am honored to be a wife, mother, and now a grandmother. In some way, everything I do goes to support my family and their lives. They are my top priority. That doesn’t mean I haven’t worked towards preserving and growing the actual “who” that I am. I am defined not by who I am to other people, but by who I am as Kelli, the individual person.

So how I have kept from disappearing into the world of wifedom and/or becoming assimilated into the mother ship, never to be known by my name again? I had to consciously make a decision to make room, as life allowed, for my personal development and growth. I also had to find it where I could sometimes.

Continuing education was one way I proclaimed my independence! I continued to go to school when I could. Between PCS moves and babies, it was a patchwork of classes and schools. Each time I started back to school it was uncomfortable. I was older, had children, and felt very much out of place. I discovered the initial discomfort was short lived. I was just another student in class. No one cared I was a mom. In fact, I was able to dispense valuable advice and counsel to some of my fellow students! I had a perspective on life many of them didn’t and I was honored they wanted to hear what I had to say.

Volunteering with family support programs is another path I have taken to develop “Kelli.”  It gave me an opportunity to really look at time management skills, conflict resolution, working within the military culture, and support services and resources. All these programs not only benefit military families, but the training and development of certain skill sets are all part of personal development too. Those experiences are mine and have helped make me who I am. I own my experiences, separate and apart from my husband and children.

I haven’t always had a job, but I have always had a career. Sometimes it took the form of freelance writing, volunteer work for various organizations or agencies, or developing a talent or new skill.  Sometimes it was simply my management of life in the military with a gaggle of kids. Whatever phase I have been in, I have always tried to make sure I continued to grow and develop on a personal level. I  had to put many of my needs last, but not at the sacrifice of my identity and personal growth.

Exercise, healthy living, and attention to my spiritual life have also helped me to be my best “Kelli” and have  made me a better wife, mother, and friend. After all, I started as just Kelli and in the end I will be just Kelli. It only makes sense to take care of the foundation that supports my roles as wife and mother.

I always think about the spiel at the beginning of each airplane flight. You know the part when it gets to the loss of cabin pressure? My first flight with an infant, way back in 1991, was filled with anxiety. What if I really did pass out before I got the mask on my child? Now, many years later, the loss of cabin pressure speech means more than just applying the oxygen masks. For me, it has become a euphemism for setting priorities.

When I am out of balance, sick, or ill prepared, my family suffers a loss of cabin pressure. It is imperative I place the oxygen mask on first before I help them. If I want them to learn this same principal, I have to model it. Education, physical and spiritual well being, and growth have to be more than a discussion. I have to start walking because they don’t always here my talking…

Many of us military spouses automatically get thrown into personal development the first time our service member deploys and we suddenly have it all on our shoulders. Recognize your achievements and build on them! We are an elite group and we do amazing things.

Daughter, wife, mother, grandmother, friend, coworker, employee, and volunteer; just a few of the roles I love.  All these roles require, and deserve, me to be the best Kelli I can become. I want to leave this world knowing I strived to fulfill the full measure of my potential and thereby did the best I could by all those who depend on me.

All materials copyright Military OneSource, 2012. Blog content held jointly by writer and Military OneSource, with shared rights to republish with appropriate attribution.