When And If: Are You Leaving The Military?


All this talk of sequestration and transition secretly means one thing to many military spouses:  are you leaving the military?  Will you be forced out?  Will you retire?  Will you want me to get a full-time job so you can stay home and do the juice box thing?

We kind of need to know.  If we are leaving the military, we kind of need to make a plan. Instead, we spouses get a lot of “when and if” from our servicemembers.  This isn’t new.

When then-Colonel George Patton was thinking of leaving the Army right before WWII, he had a 63’5″ schooner built for himself and his wife.  He promised they would sail the schooner, “When the war is over, and if I survive.”

He named the ship the When and If.  His wife must have loved that.  But at least they had a plan.  Not a good plan, perhaps.  Not a plan that would have paid the bills.  Not a plan they ever got to use (Patton died in a car accident right after the war).

But the When and If is about as much of a post-military plan as we are allowed to have, I think.  It is almost as if some of our servicemembers secretly think that making a plan for if their MOS is eliminated or if they get passed over or if their injury doesn’t heal quite well enough for their particular job that they are jinxing themselves.

Which is making a lot of spouses nervous in the service.  Maybe the best thing to do is to take the Patton plan.  Maybe you build an imaginary ship of dreams for When and If.

When you leave the military I want to go back to school and be a dentist.  If you leave the military, I think we should get a house where we can’t even see our neighbor’s dog.  When you don’t deploy any more, I want us to stay in bed every Sunday afternoon.  If you leave the service, I think you should get a job where you work with a lot of young people—you are really good at that.

Those things don’t seem like the kind of plans that will bring in a paycheck by December.  But a lot of those plans put together are the beginning of a life after the military—whenever that day may come.

About the Author

Jacey Eckhart
Jacey Eckhart is the former Director of Spouse and Family Programs for Military.com. Since 1996, Eckhart’s take on military families has been featured in her syndicated column, her book The Homefront Club, and her award winning CDs These Boots and I Married a Spartan?? Most recently she has been featured as a military family subject matter expert on NBC Dateline, CBS morning news, CNN, NPR and the New York Times. Eckhart is an Air Force brat, a Navy wife and an Army mom. Find her at JaceyEckhart.net.
  • Lea

    Unfortunately, with the way our current administration seems to feel in regard to military (cutting our force, depleting our healthcare and retirement) when and if and become much more of a reality. When our contract is up in two years we’ll likely be taking the half a million or so the government has invested into my hubby’s special ops training to the civilian world.

  • Heather

    We are a military family that is all for the reduction in force. It is weeding out the less then stellar members (many that were taken in during the Bush debacle of an administration). My husband hasn’t sat back the past 20+ years (throughout the Clinton years and the disgraceful Bush years) expecting the Army to work for him. He has spent his career working for it and for us as a family. He has received a FREE education (AS and BS degrees), plus he has a GI Bill he can pass to our children. Lets not forget his multiple military schools over the years. Many of which can be used in the civilian world (if he chooses to work after retirement) He was recently promoted to CW4, which is really quite an accomplishment and already has his eye on his CW5 in 5 or 6 years. While military health care/coverage and retirement are very important to us, we still have an extraordinary deal compared to any civilian job/corporation can offer. Anyway, we have our plan, and as always it has to be flexible. But what I can say is, if he had to retire tomorrow and had a hard time finding a job for a while, we would be Okay for a while on his retirement alone.

  • Transitions are common in my counseling office. There should always be a flexible plan for change in any relationship, military or not. But the military has too many around the corners not to have a plan set out with your servicemember. It’s not just about the government’s agenda and military cuts, but injury during service (no one wants to believe it would happen, but we know it does), or change of heart (going back to college, better civilian job opportunity with no deployments!). The when and ifs can establish a lofty platform to start putting some concrete building blocks: saving a few months salary “just in case”, spouse developing/honing job skills, limiting debt/excessive spending. Communicating throughout the relationship aids in creating such a platform. Change and transition are hard on everyone. There are a few ways to make it a little easier.