Leaving the military may feel like someone has just pushed you out of an airplane without issuing you a parachute.
Whether your service member decides to leave the military due to the drawdown, early retirement, or simply because it is time to move on -- leaving the service may come so suddenly it overwhelms you as a spouse.
Perhaps you just got used to weathering deployments and all the other challenges of being married to the military. Now you have to whip into a U-turn you never saw coming.
Soon, you and your spouse will have to decide where to live, whether to return to school, and then find work that will continue to support your family.
At some point it happens to all of us, but daily military life is so full, we don't always pause to think and talk about what will come next. In these uncertain times, it's wise to plan ahead to be prepared for that "someday."
As a retired spouse, here are some questions I know you should ask yourself now, before the big change ever happens.
Top 10 questions to answer before your military transition:
1. Where will you move? Will you move back to where you are from, wherever a job is available, or stay right where your last assignment has taken you?
The government will pay for one last move, so it's wise to consider this ahead of time. If a previous assignment turned out to be a place you and your spouse both loved and you've maintained a network of friends and connections there, that could be a good choice.
2. Have you started your transition savings? Along with planning ahead, putting aside a nest egg to help during this transition period, difficult as that may be, can be a lifesaver.
3. Have you found resume help? Seek help in translating your military or volunteer competencies into terms a civilian employer will understand in a resume or interview. The Military Spouse Career Toolkit from Blue Star Families can be found here.
4. Do you have a realistic timeline? Don't be discouraged by the fact that it may take time to find a new job for each of you. It takes a while for your network to spread the word that you're out there looking.
5. Have you practiced your own Now To Next speech? As part of your contingency plan, write down your goals and the steps you'll need to take to reach them. Plan and practice a brief, to-the-point statement of what kind of work you're seeking and how you're qualified for it.
6. Will you treat your job hunt like a job? Make sure you maintain a daily routine while you're newly "out" and looking for employment. Get up and go to bed at regular times. Exercise and eat healthily just as if you were still "in."
7. Have you done your research? Learn as much as possible about any company you're interested in working for so that you can make clear how your abilities might help their business.
8. Have you underestimated the value of giving to others? Don't underestimate the value of doing volunteer work while you are looking for a job. Not only does that showcase and/or expand your capabilities, it also opens up more network contacts to help in the search.
9. Have you researched helper organizations? There are organizations throughout the country dedicated to helping veterans make the transition into civilian life. The sole mission of RallyPoint/6 in Washington State is to provide a one-stop "shopping" place for both veterans and military families to get assistance. Although all of the centers throughout the nation may not offer as comprehensive an outreach, contacts for some of those who provide help include: www.rochesterveteransoutreachcenter.org, www.rallypoint6.org, www.stillservingveterans.org, and www.augustawarriorsproject.org.
10. Have you allowed time to be kind to each other? Above all, realize your entire family is going through a period of adjustment. Civilians will probably not return phone calls or emails as promptly as those in the military community. If you expect that, it will be less frustrating.
Above all, be patient with one another during the process. Getting out of the military IS a process you can handle--just like you have handled everything else.
Joan Brown is a longtime military retiree wife and author of the charming book MOVE-- and other four letter words: Memoir of a Mobile Marriage.