Transitioning Out of The Military: What I Wish I Would've Known

Transitioning Out of The Military: What I Wish I Would've Known

Military Life Runs Deep.

Not unlike most military couples, my husband and I got married young. But unlike most couples, I’ve known my Wes most of my life. If you've been around for any amount of time you probably already know that. We’ve gone to the same schools from kindergarten through high school graduation. We even carpooled in middle school at one point and I’ll forever remember that bowl cut of his! Wes knew from a very young age that he wanted to serve. He was just 17 years old when he walked into that recruiter's office. He had to have his parents sign a waiver for him to join the Marine Corps because he wasn’t a legal adult yet. That always blows my mind. He was literally a child when he signed his contract.

It was just a couple years later, when I was 19 that we started dating. He was home on pre-deployment leave, and I was home on winter break from college. Because we went to school together, we had the same friend group. One day we all ended up hanging out at the beach and the rest, as they say, is history.

So why is this important? Well, I want you to understand just how deep this military life runs. My husband and I were both teenagers when we started this life together. I often say that we grew up in the Marine Corps. Not just him, but me as well. Our entire lives were built on and around the military. So when my husband’s End of Active Service (EAS) was quickly approaching after almost 9 years of active duty, we didn’t even think about the transition. We were just so excited for that “freedom” of civilian life. 

We Weren’t Prepared.

I vividly remember being a year out from his EAS and thinking to myself “WOW I’m so excited! I can’t wait to start this new journey and get to actually pick where we live!” Which for military families is such a foreign concept! The closer that date approached, the more I started to feel anxious. I started to second guess our decision to get out. I kept most of those feelings to myself because I felt like it wasn’t my place to tell my husband to stay in if he wanted to get out. This was his job, and he had to do what he wanted to. I didn’t want him to resent me, so I stayed quiet. I also fully believe that I convinced myself that this was what we wanted and what was best. I almost felt like I had to be excited for him to get out. That I had to match his level of enthusiasm. 

In preparation for him getting out, we moved out of base housing and into a travel trailer near base. We thought it would be much easier to move that way. We also worked on saving as much as we could. But, we also had a mortgage in Texas that we were paying at the same time, so saving really didn’t happen the way we had hoped.

By the time he was on terminal leave, we had hardly anything in our savings. COVID had just hit, and his civilian job lead came to a halt. We could've never predicted COVID, and it made the transition that much harder. We decided to move into my grandma’s house in Texas while we figured things out. What was supposed to be temporary ended up being years.

Looking back now, I know that I shouldn’t have stayed so quiet about my feelings. I regret not speaking up and voicing my fears and concerns. What I came to realize over the years (and after talking to my husband about this multiple times) is that we're a team and need to talk through ALL of the things. Yes it’s true, he’s the bread winner and should enjoy his job. But, we also have a family and responsibilities. We need to make decisions together as a team and do what’s best for everyone. I’ve talked to so many military spouses who felt the same way I did. That we have no say in what our husbands choose to do when it comes to staying in or getting out. But, I’m here to tell you that this is definitely one of those decisions you have to make as a team. Because what ended up happening was I stayed quiet and tackled my fears silently, and he stayed quiet, trying to stay strong for me. We were each trying to put on a brave face for the other one, when really we should have been open and honest with each other. Who knows, maybe we would have chosen a different option had we done that.

Lack of Resources.

Before military members transition out they’re required to go through what's called TRP, or Transition Readiness Program, that gives them resources and information about getting out. What we weren’t told at the time is that this also extends to spouses. I remember my husband being so frustrated after the fact, knowing that it could've been so helpful had I joined him.

When a service member transitions out of the military it’s not just them that’s transitioning. We focus so much on how to help them (as we should), but we tend to forget about the families and how they transition too. I felt so blindsided by my feelings after he got out. I was so worried about how my husband was doing and how I could support him, that I didn’t even think about myself. 

One day I was sitting in the closet, and I just felt this overwhelming sadness. I started to bawl and at first didn’t even realize why I felt the way I did. It was as if I was grieving, that’s how deep the sadness felt. I didn’t expect to miss the Marine Corps, I practically threw a party the day we rolled out of Yuma. I quickly realized how much I took for granted while he was active duty. The Tricare, the steady pay, the community, the way of life…all of it.

The Loneliness.

When you’re a part of the military community, it’s almost like being in this exclusive club. Our civilian counterparts can’t really understand it, even though we try to explain it, because they never had to live it. So we naturally flock to each other. We live the same lifestyle, we experience the same struggles, and we lean on each other constantly. There’s no other community like it. Your military family becomes just that, your family. 

So when you decide to leave that life, it’s almost like you’re kicked out of that club. Your friends are still your friends, but now you’re not “in it” with them anymore. You find yourself in this middle place between military and civilian, not quite fitting into either of those camps. I realized that my identity felt like it had been stripped from me. I was always a Marine Corps wife first. So now that that title didn’t really apply to me, I didn’t know who I was. I felt lost, lonely, and sad. I think this is a very common issue with military wives. I didn't consciously try to attach my identity to the Marine Corps, but after so many years it almost just crept up on me.

I missed my community, my way of life. I missed knowing that I had a village to lean on no matter what. I tried for years to replicate that in the civilian world, but could never fill that hole. I remember talking to my husband about it, and he told me “You need to stop trying to find and recreate what you had. It’s not going to be the same. The Marine Corps community isn’t something you can find out here.” And I just broke down right then and there. I went through years of depression and loneliness, and it was so hard. Hard for me, my husband, and my kids.

I finally hit my breaking point and reached out for help. It took me years of trying to figure it out on my own before I realized you can’t do this alone and you shouldn’t do it alone.

My Tips for Transitioning:

  • Really think about it. I know that sounds like “duh” of course we will think about it. But I mean, REALLY think about what it all entails when you decide to transition out of the military. Think about what you want your life to look like. 
  • Make a plan. Once you decide that yes, you really want to get out and it’s the right decision for your family, you need to make a plan. Write it out, don’t just think about it. Decide where you'll live. Will you buy or rent? Will you live with your family temporarily? (This can be very difficult and I don’t recommend it unless you have no other options.) Decide what jobs you and your spouse will have. Have a job offer lined up before your spouse's contract is over. If there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s that you should never just “wing it” when it comes to income and transitioning out of the military. Having as little “what ifs” as possible is the goal! 
  • Plug into veteran support groups and organizations. Don’t wait!
  • Seek out therapy with someone who understands military life. Talking through what you’re feeling is so vital to having a healthy transition. Don’t wait until you’re at your breaking point.
  • Find a mentor. Find someone (whether it be a friend or someone else) who has gone through the transition and is farther along in their journey than you. It can be really helpful to have someone who truly understands what you are going through and has come through the other side.

Transitioning out of the military is hard. Doesn’t matter if you loved it or were so excited to get out, it still hits hard. When your service member (and you) have dedicated so much of your life to your branch of service, it feels as though you're grieving the loss of a life. And in many ways you are. That lifestyle you once lived, is now your past. But don’t lose hope, as dark as it may get, there is always someone who has been there and you are never alone! You can always reach out to me too! Living this civilian life the last three years has taught me so much and I've learned a lot.

*There are a ton of resources for transitioning families. I also created a military life planner that includes a transition section that you can get here!

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