Why Didn’t You Tell Me Military Retirement Was Like This?


It’s been a year since my husband retired from the Army. It has been a year of huge change, so why don’t I look forward and leave the former life behind?

The ceremony was a turning point, but I didn’t think we were going to change that much. His long career was highlighted. Stories were told. He thanked everyone. I got flowers and a gift.

Whydidn'tYoutellMe?The first jolt was the new ID card. Mine looked the same as it always did. His didn’t. That didn’t seem to bother him. He started to grow his hair. He pierced his ear. He decided to open his own non-military related business. We moved again, this time into an area that has no military post, no uniforms on the street or in the stores.

Since I am still active with military related online groups, it didn’t strike me as hard. I was busy with two moves in nine months, a new career path, a granddaughter’s summer stay. I didn’t have a lot of time to think or miss the friends I saw so often at military spouse events/conferences. I was making a new life—or so I thought.

I was missing something.

The day it really hit me was when I walked into the Washington DC Convention Center for AUSA and saw the uniforms. My thought was I’m home. I saw the milspouse friends I had been chatting with on Facebook and realized what I missed. My community.

I’ve been a military spouse for a very long time. He was Active Duty when we married in the mid 1970s and left the Big Army after seven years – he went Reserve/Guard.Back then I was a I’m-me and-the-Army-is-just-his-job military spouse. I resented the Guard, those weekends and summer vacations.

And then after 9/11 when he started doing AGR, life changed. At one point, both he and our son were deployed, and the military world intruded into our regular lives, in spades!

My identity became professionally intertwined with being a milspouse.

In 2005, I began to blog in the military space – and dug into the military spouse and parent world. I will freely admit that my identity became solidly intertwined with being a milspouse. I was, and I still am, proud to be a milspouse – albeit one that sometimes kicked at the established milspouse groups.

I still follow all the milspouse pages on mental health, employment, schooling and programs – even though they now no longer apply to me, I don’t qualify anymore!

My heart tells me that I'm still in this community.

My head tells me – you aren’t IN that community anymore. My heart says I am. I work as a coordinator/facilitator on an online support group for military family members and veteran caregivers/families. I volunteer with veteran and military family groups, and have tentatively put my toe into our local veteran community volunteering – and I tell myself it is because this is MY community. But I do have to ask myself, am I clinging to the past? Stopping any forward progress to a new life?

I asked a friend, also a former milspouse, how she felt. We are members of a small group of military spouses that has a private page – and we link there; we have many Facebook friends in common. Interestingly, she told me that she finds there is “less drama” and it is “more stable on the outside.” Her spouse has been retired for a year longer than we have, she has a career that is completely separate from the military and they have moved to a part of the United States that has less military in the area than even in our new home. She doesn’t miss the community – stays in touch with the friends online.

Is that because she firmly put that behind her? Or is it because she had been a milspouse for a few years, and not as heavily involved in the community? Or is it because she has a career that is completely independent of the community?

I don’t know. I periodically envy her that ability, to move on with a life separate of the military community; but I know I can’t do that. I need to find a happy medium , as have so many veteran spouses.

Karen Santiano  has been a retiree spouse for a year, after decades of being a milspouse. She is now pursuing a Masters degree and helping her husband with his new business. She's a State Department Brat, Army Spouse and Mother, and doesn't really call anywhere home.

U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Evelyn Chavez


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