When Separating From the Military Unexpectedly Becomes Your Reality

When a service member separates from, or even considers a life outside of the military, it affects the entire family. Regardless if it is by choice, or because of the “up or out” policies of the military, it still can take a major toll on everyone involved.

Just a few months ago our family was anxiously awaiting the results of the most recent promotion boards. My husband has always planned on making the Air Force his first career, and I was anxiously awaiting my first opportunity to “pin on” his next rank (the last time he promoted was during a deployment). Then the day finally came when the promotion list was released.

My husband’s name was not on the list. The military had thrown us another curve ball and I found myself flooded with a range of emotions.

I felt angry, frustrated, and confused. My husband and I both knew there was a chance he wouldn’t make the next rank due to an incident that happened nearly eight years prior. But I had convinced myself that him being worried about not making it was just his normal way of underestimating himself. I never once thought he wouldn’t be on the promotion list.

It didn’t take long for those first emotions to take a back burner to fear. I found myself worried about everything. When people would ask how my husband was holding up after the news, I always said, “You know him, just getting his ducks in a row and giving work 110 percent like always.”


I tried to play it off like this setback was no big deal. Then a close friend asked how I was feeling about all of it. I tried to act like it didn’t really effect me–since it was happening to my husband, not me. But my friend saw right through it. She pointed out that if he did separate, it would impact all of us.

When I left my job to put my husband’s career first, I put faith in the notion that my husband’s career could support our growing family. But now with his career in question, I was suddenly overwhelmed with feelings of what comes next? And you know the worst part? I didn’t want to share my fears with my husband, because I didn’t want to make him feel any worse than he already did.

I know if he does separate in the near future he will find a job he loves, he will find a new way to serve the military and our family will keep moving forward. We’ll adjust, like we always do, but that doesn’t make it any less scary.

In fact, it’s actually had the opposite effect. How are we supposed to know what to do next with our lives? We always figured we wouldn’t have much say in our path until my husband reached that magical number of 20 years, so when we talked about having a “normal” life, it always seem so far away.

Even as I say it, the idea of a normal non-active duty military lifestyle sounds terrifying. You would think I would love the idea of no more TDYs, or last minute PCSs. I would embrace the fact that our last deployment could very well be our last deployment.

But instead of being excited about these prospects, I find myself a little lost and confused. Don’t get me wrong, I would love to have my husband around and out of war zones, but I know how much he loves to serve. And I would never wish for that to no longer be an option.

In the last couple of months, my husband and I have began working together to tackle all the emotions and concerns that come along with the idea of possibly separating from the military. We’ve made list after list of places we could live, ways he could still serve (i.e. Guard or Reserves), civilian jobs he might be interested in. We’ve researched and discussed each option in depth about what it would mean for both his career and our family. And even though we might not know what will come next, we are a lot more prepared than we’ve ever been in the past.

For all you spouses that find yourself in a similar situation, I have just a few words of advice. Don’t pretend it isn’t affecting you, don’t say you’re okay if you aren’t. Talk openly with your spouse. The first couple of conversations may be tough, but opening the lines of communication will save you many sleepless nights.

Has your service member ever separated unexpectedly from the military? How did your family handle the change?

Posted by Tara O’Meara, NMFA Volunteer and military spouse


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  1. 1

    There are so many resources for so many things! I didn’t realize how spoiled we are w/all of the information available to us for so many different things. How many freebies we get on top of it. Until this unexpected transition…… Literally, one day running a recruiting center, & the next being denied a permanent profile & forced to medically retire. The transition process for my hubby has been, as expected from the Army, hurry up and wait, to hurry up and go. There has been quite a bit of info given however, on top of all of the effort on his part to have all of his ducks in a row, has made it somewhat manageable. He was thankful for the … (forgive me I don’t remember the name of the class…. its an abbreviation of some sort, a bunch of letters. I cant keep them all straight lol) class given for the retirees. He got so much info, help w/his resume….. however…. he wants to start his own business. There was nothing provided for that in that class. NADA. Look online….. TONS AND TONS of info available from the Army, MilOneSource, the VA, for starting a new career, but NOTHING for becoming an entrepreneur. Its taken some time and work from BOTH of us to find a few things offered to service-disabled vets who wish to start a business. His 14yr Army career & MOS definitely gave him the leadership skills to take the risk of starting a business and the perseverance to see that it be a successful one. I’d mentioned how spoiled we are….. because we ARE. Im basically whining like a big baby in this post lol Having so many opportunities afforded all across the country to out-processing vets to start a new JOB is amazing….and expected these days. But a few crumbs that are hidden in a back corner and you’d be lucky to find them, for entrepreneurship, really makes you feel a little slighted. I sure wish that this area of out-processing was more explored, and talked about during the transition w/vets. It IS an option, & a more likely one, as veterans make up 9% of all businesses nationwide. I sure hope this reaches someone who can do something about it. With that all said, his peblo has been amazing. It is scary to go through the process not knowing when exactly he’ll be getting out… ya know…. estimates are what are given. They gave an estimate of 6mos, then 3 weeks ago they said he’ll be out in 30days. So hurry up and wait, to hurry up and go =) I expected it, after all these years though. It’s been quite the ride, and I am quite sad to see it end. It’s a weird feeling!

  2. 2
    Sara Rice

    This is my goal, to focus on military families and especially transition. My dream, better transition programs within the military that also has a behavioral health family portion. I have been through a lot with my husband, a former Army Sgt. This post strikes passion in me. A military family is a military family for life (anyway you choose to define that).

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