March 2019 is a big month for our family. Just this past weekend, our family celebrated our 20 years of service in the military; and, although a time for celebration, it’s sad to say that by the end of this month, we will also be officially on retired military status. I will miss our military life no doubt about it. Also this month, we are celebrating our 19th wedding anniversary, giving the year 20•19 a new meaning for us. Both are definitely milestones in our family’s journey and I know there will be more to come, more first, and more memories to collect together.
It’s hard to separate our marriage from the military because the military has been the center of our family for 20 years. My husband and I have been together for a total of 21 years. Duty to country came first and foremost. In those 20 years of service, we’ve relocated several times, without children at first, and later with our children. It was not an easy life but it was a beautiful life full of adventures. Our family grew and became more resilient with each gained experience. Except for the 7 months he left for Iraq a month after I gave birth to our second child and the 2 years he was stationed unaccompanied in Japan while we stayed in Virginia due to my medical issues, we have managed to keep our family together for the majority of those 20 years of service. I’ve known several family members, who were also in the military, who never relocated with their husbands, managing to stay in one location for the duration of their military service.
It is possible to stay in one place during the entire military service. We just chose not to.
For the most part, the military has been great to us. We have been immersed in so many beautiful places. Although, I was a little freaked out when we first lived off-base in Japan where they believe in ghost roaming the island. Yeah, the cat in heat meow-ing at night in this giant tree by our apartment did not help relax me. I was pregnant at the time and sometimes at night, my husband would be on-duty overnight at work while I’m home alone. I come from a culture that believes in ghost and tales of mythological creatures that roam the night. Like the “Manananggal” who feeds on fetuses! And it didn’t help that when my mom was pregnant with my younger sister, she kept a scissor under her pillow just as a precaution for a “Manananggal” attack. Oh, how the mind wonders sometimes.
We came close to relocating to Spain once and for a few days I was absolutely ecstatic about being able to roam Europe by train; but, the destination became unavailable all of a sudden before we can finalize the paperwork, and we settled for another destination. It happens. But I have to say, my favorite destination was Japan. The people were so friendly and the customer service is like no other I‘ve seen. When the language became a barrier at times, they went in search of a translator who could help get our message across. I loved it there! We tried for back to back tour there but was denied. We wanted to raise our kids there. The first is always the most memorable.
Here are a few lessons we’ve learned throughout our 20 years of service:
- Prepare your life ahead.
- The military offers free education. Use it when possible. Envision how you want your life to be once you get out of the military and weigh your current choices. My husband pursued two occupational specialties during his 20 years. He knew he will be out of the Navy one day and he wanted to make sure he was armed with a marketable skill. All paid for by the military. He already has a job waiting for him once he completely detached from his military active duty status.
- Attend company functions.
- This is a great opportunity to meet other people that will eventually become your support system. My husband is my opposite. He is much more of a talker than I am and this enabled me to meet friends along the way through him that became my support system. New in town, pregnant with our first child, our new friends gave us a baby shower and helped us financially with the baby essentials. It was quite a blessing. These are people who understand how it feels to be away from family too. You’ll be surprised how open they are to making new friends.
- Space-A Traveling.
- This is the cheaper way to travel on vacation; but, I will warn you that if you are not on priority status, you will be waiting for a bit, for some, it’s for quite a long time. Sleeping in the airport is not allowed either. We’ve traveled on Space Availability at least a couple of times. Be prepared for the plane to be loud. Be prepared for the plane to be broken too. Have a backup plan. ie. Credit card for booking a hotel. We got stuck in Travis Air Force Base before flying back to Japan and had to book a hotel overnight. The hotel on base was full but an associate took pity on us traveling with 2 young kids and immediately told us of an available room once one freed up. P.S. Please be kind to the hotel desk clerks.
- Relocations affected the kids the most (for us at least)
- We relocated approximately every 3 years; but, as the years progressed and the kids got older, moving became less inviting. Yes, the kids are resilient and adapt faster but it did take a toll on them eventually. It was hard to watch them restart their lives each time. It’s never easy to be the new kid in school. We were fortunate that our relocations happened prior to the start of the school year. So we didn’t have to relocate in the middle of an active school year. I will add that the numerous relocation and cultural immersions we experienced helped the kids get accepted to academy schools here in Virginia – which should prepare them a little bit more for college.
- Prepare your retirement.
- Make sure your medical records are squared away months in advance from retiring. The process is long and sometimes, paperwork gets lost between personnel. Sometimes personnel does not know the process and you have to do the leg work yourself. That’s the reality of life. Make a monthly plan of what you need to get processed and then ask for updates. By the last month before retirement day, you should be taking it easy, as you should – which is what my husband is doing right now. No more stress from work. Well, at least from one.
- Start networking or looking/applying for a job (if needed)
- Retiring from the military will cut our income quite a bit. So a year before retirement date, my husband took a second job to get his foot in the door. He is very proactive, which I love about him. He also has a job waiting for him after he retires that pays better than his current second job.
We’ve learned so many life lessons along the way. Met so many wonderful people, some not so great. There are memories that make us laugh to this day, some that still touch our hearts, and some memories that left scars that we are still bitter about. That’s life! 19 years of marriage later though, I’m looking forward to what our civilian life will bring for us. One thing is for sure, retiring from the military does not mean retiring early for us. I will tell you more about how military retirement affects income next time.