To Stay In or Get Out

Marine retirement

These days, there’s no shortage of issues circulating around the military family water cooler. We hear words like “sequestration” and “fiscal cliff,” and many of us are left with a nagging question: Should our spouses stay in the military or get out?

“First and foremost, my husband loves being a Marine,” says Allie Lovette, a military spouse who has experienced this debate in her own household. But despite her husband’s love for the military and the six years of active-duty service under his belt, he seriously contemplated getting out.

“He began to feel guilty about us moving around and him deploying and missing things,” Lovette says. “Even though we don’t have children yet, he was very concerned about missing big moments in their lives. This was the big nudge that made him pause and second guess his future career.”

However, after looking into civilian employment opportunities, Lovette’s husband realized how limited his job prospects were. “With all the jobs being cut everywhere, he was competing for entry-level positions with guys who not only had former military experience, but had Ph.D.s and 20 years already in the field!”

Related article: In or Out: That Is the Question

Although troops may be wary of getting a post-military job, the unemployment rate for veterans is lower than the overall unemployment rate for all Americans.  

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, (Veteran unemployment data), the unemployment rate in November 2012 for all veterans was 6.6 percent -- well below the national average of 7.7 percent.  Post-9/11 veterans have an unemployment rate of about 10 percent. This higher rate of unemployment may reflect the lack of transferable work experience among the youngest members of the post-9/11 vets.

“In the end, he decided to re-enlist,” Lovette says. “My husband wants to be career military. Even though he has a few more years before his next re-enlistment, we are already nervous about it. With the military getting slimmer every day, we realize it may not be an option, but we keep working toward that goal regardless.”

Lovette and her husband are among the many military couples weighing their options. Navy wife Laura Paxton and her husband discuss the possibility of leaving the military every few years. Her husband has served for 13 years, and their most recent debate stems from his desire to pursue another career path.

“This time, he talked about getting out to be able to concentrate on school, and then coming back in as a chaplain,” Paxton explains. “He stays in to pay the bills. His heart is no longer in this job.”

But, like Lovette, Paxton is also concerned about her husband’s ability to find a job after the leaving the military.

“I am scared out of my mind every time because, even with two master's degree and a third one in the works, there is no guarantee of him finding work,” Paxton says. “I like the security of knowing when his next paycheck will be and how much it is.”

Army wife Sarah and her husband struggled with the decision of staying in or getting out for a year before ultimately choosing to stick with the military. Like most couples in this situation, Sarah and her husband listed the pros and cons of military life versus civilian life. “We looked at everything,” Sarah says.

For them, it made more sense to stay in. The advantages of staying in the military, including the GI Bill, the steady paycheck, and the healthcare that helps cover her ongoing medical issues and fertility treatments, outweighed their strongest push to get out: deployments.

Sarah’s husband has been deployed for two of his seven years of service in the Army. Staying in means sacrificing time spent at home with his family. “But for us, it would be a much greater sacrifice to get out than to do four more years. In three years, we will revisit it and see if it’s still worth it.”

Not all couples come out on the other side of this debate in favor of the military. Marine spouse Breanna Sykes and her husband recently decided it was best if he left the military.

Sykes’ husband, who will complete four years of service in the Marine Corps by the time he gets out in March, was seeking stability in the form of a better work schedule and more time with his family. “He is ready to plant roots and be a civilian again,” says Sykes.

Fortunately, her husband already has civilian employment lined up. It’s Sykes herself who is having a harder time coping with their upcoming change in plans.

“Unfortunately, I am still working on finding my new career, which is why I am stressing out about this transition more than he is,” she says. “It is a very difficult decision to face, but sometimes the easy choice isn’t always the right one. Staying in and retiring as a Marine would definitely have been the easier choice, but both my husband and I have other aspirations that we cannot accomplish in the military.”

Every couple is different. Every couple has to assess their own lives and how the military will fit into their future as a family. And not all couples will come to the same conclusion.

“For some people, the military is their whole life,” Sykes says. “For our family, the military was just the beginning of ours.”

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