How Can We Leave The Military Without Regret?

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My friend Bob walked into one of those Transition Assistance Program (TAP) workshops to learn how to leave the military. After 20+ years in the service, he walked out with one thought on his mind: “Now is not the time to leave.”

Bob took new orders. Snap.

Why is it so hard to leave the military? Seems to me that one of the features of military life is that the moment we join, we start making plans to leave. Some people are counting down the days to when they leave the service.

So why is leaving the military less like the orderly transition to a new life the rest of the world thinks we should have, and more like leaping naked from a speeding truck off a bridge?

It isn’t from a lack of help. In this time of sequestration, there are lots of programs designed to help us make the transition to our “next career.” When I have been talking to people making the transition out of the service for Military.com’s Spouse Summit segment Career Endgame I notice how there are some missing pieces.

Whether folks are leaving after five years or 30 years, the endgame is so much more complicated than it looks.The military career endgame is made up of a thousand questions that all hinge upon each other. And no one starts with any of the answers.

— Are you going to leave the military.  Are you trying to tell me something about that last board?
—  What job do you want to do after leaving the military? What am I suited for?
— Where will you live?  Where will the job be?
— Will you sell your house? Will anyone buy it or will we be stuck here forever?
— Will the goals of your family be met at your new location?  I think so—that is if they agree to move again.  The wife is making more money than I am.
— Do you have the right skills for this market? Let me call my Detailer….

The worry factor for all these questions is huge. Maybe all these folks are a lot like me. Maybe they are worried that whatever they do, it will be the wrong thing and that they will live to regret it.

Which isn’t surprising. In the research about regret, the top two regrets of Americans always center around education (I should have stayed in school, studied harder, got my degree) and career (should have picked a different field, should have taken that job in Kentucky, should have jumped ship sooner).

The researchers note that we tend to collect our regrets in life at the decision points where we think we once had the most opportunity. We don’t regret natural disasters. We don’t regret buying a car. We regret the moments when we had the biggest array of choices that would make the biggest difference … and chose the wrong thing.

So of course our regrets and our fears make a big play right at the moment when we look to leave the military.This is a time of huge opportunity. This is a time to get the life we were all longing for during those deployments and separations and moves. Make a mistake here and you will regret it.  SO DON’T MAKE ANY MISTAKES!!!

That’s just dumb. We will all have regrets about the process of transition. There are too many decisions to be made to get them all right at the same time.

That’s why we are taking a new approach to the Military Career Endgame at the Spouse Summit this year. Instead of the usual questions, we have another layer of the process to add that you may have never considered before. (So definitely plan to attend the Summit!!) We have another way to approach the Endgame that doesn’t require you to know every benefit or be able to recite you exact income needs for the next five years.

Leaving the military with a sense of meaning and purpose–and few regrets–is what we want for all of you.  So if you have made the transition, what kind of advice would you give to couples who are considering whether this is a time to leave the service?

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.
  • Heather

    My husband hasn’t retired simply because of the economy. He is not in a position to have to worry about being forced out of the Army so we are very secure in knowing he has a pay check. Sure, there are many, many jobs out there he could do with his degree and his 20+ years of service, but we are not comfortable with the possibility of him being laid off etc. Some of those jobs pay almost twice what he makes now too. So, he stays. He figures he enjoys his job, and until he doesn’t he will stay put. Luckily there are no deployments in sight for him either in his current position and we have agreed with three under his belt if it looks like there will be he will retire and put into place our place C. He, and I are very comfortable with this.

    • Old Chief

      For all the time that you are staying over 20,you are working for half pay. Get out,get a job with that degree and enjoy your retainer pay at 100%. You have nothing to fear.

  • We’re sticking with our plan of 25 yrs + a moment, and hopefully we’ve got a few years for the economy to improve before we get to that point.

  • sabrinacking

    I wasn’t going to respond to this article in this way, I had just let it be. But watching not just the sentiment under the Sequestration article, or the comments around the web on David Woods article…how can we NOT have regrets if the American public is so ungrateful they are painting us as an entitlement class.
    The professional military is a social contract with the US people, less than 1 percent ever serves and for that they get pay and incentives. For that the other 99 percent of the US and their children never serve. If the American people aren’t happy with that arrangement, they should disband the professional military and reinstitute the draft.
    We will be leaving the military with many regrets if this is the attitude of the American people. I will regret every funeral I attended. Every orphan I tucked in on casualty assistance, every day I watch my own husband take 8 pills just to function after 5 combat deployments. We are entitled to respect. They can take away every benefit they want, but when the tone in the country starts turning to “the military is an entitlement class” how can ANY of us not leave without regrets?

  • Artiewhitefox

    Know you are not in an institution that sanctifies murder. The people in charge of the military have it in their power to make the transitions of the one in the army out of it to be a smooth one. If they do not do that God will be equal with them. Gods light Tabatha no man has seen will be like fire to them. The military at this time is built on guilt. Satan gives guilt. The military mentally tortures their own people. See how deveious the military is? Again, military can show mercy. That will be God in them when they show mercy.

  • Artiewhitefox

    deveious the military is? Again, military can show mercy. That will be God in them when they show mercy.
    Know you are not in an institution that sanctifies murder. The people in charge of the military have it in their power to make the transitions of the one in the army out of it to be a smooth one. If they do not do that God will be equal with them. Gods light that no man has seen will be like fire to them. The military at this time is built on guilt. Satan gives guilt. The military mentally tortures their own people. See how deveious the military is? Again, military can show mercy. That will be God in them when they show mercy.

  • Artiewhitefox

    Enter text right hKnow you are not in an institution that sanctifies murder. The people in charge of the military have it in their power to make the transitions of the one in the army out of it to be a smooth one. If they do not do that God will be equal with them. Gods light that no man has seen will be like fire to them. The military at this time is built on guilt. Satan gives guilt. The military mentally tortures their own people. See how deveious the military is? Again, military can show mercy. That will be God in them when they show mercy.

  • Artiewhitefox

    Know you are not in an institution that sanctifies murder. The people in charge of the military have it in their power to make the transitions of the one in the army out of it to be a smooth one. If they do not do that God will be equal with them. Gods light that no man has seen will be like fire to them. The military at this time is built on guilt. Satan gives guilt. The military mentally tortures their own people. See how deveious the military is? Again, military can show mercy. That will be God in them when they show mercy.