Life After Military Retirement


Life after military retirement

In a word - it's great. I retired when I was 39, and never looked back.

You may miss a few things about military life, I know I did. I obviously missed getting up at Oh Dark Thirty, because I still do it. I get much more accomplished before 9 a.m. than most people do all day - and I actually still enjoy watching Begin Morning Nautical Twilight - BMNT - remember how that works? - it's past time for stand-to - ha!

I guess the trick for military retirement is the amount of "baggage" that you take with you when you leave active duty. Your civilian co-workers may not enjoy you marching them around while calling cadence. What's that called? Oh, yeah: Herding cats.

(While I was still on active duty in the late 90s, I did manage to convince a group of European civilian contractors to fall into formation to facilitate a much faster headcount for safety purposes. It's actually not too hard to stand directly behind someone in formation - everyone lined up in rows. We were in the middle of a fairly unsafe military training area, so they understood the reason for the safety headcount - but I still consider this a huge management feather in my cap - har.)

Back to it's great. Once you are "retired" (which is obviously a misnomer), you are much too young to stop working - regardless of what age you start "saluting the mailbox." You can, for example, go back to work for your old employer. Not in the sense of the federal law that allows reservists to return to work at the same civilian company that employed them before being called up on active duty. Rather, you can go back to work for the Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps, Army, Coast Guard, or Department of Defense as ... a civilian! (woo hoo)

Many people have tired of hanging out around military bases, and prefer a pure civilian existence at a job in their hometown, in corporate America, or self-employed as a freelancer, consultant, or small business owner. However, if hard pressed for a day job, your old military service or a sister service will gladly take you back because you have a huge amount of operational experience and institutional knowledge that makes working as a civilian around the military a breeze.

It's just something to think about.

Life expectancy after military retirement. Life in general is pretty much a random event. I know a health and fitness nut who didn't smoke or drink - died at 67 from a weird disease. Similarly, I'm sure there are many people who smoke and drink too much, don't watch their diet, and spend way too much time on the couch - who live to be 114.

The minute you step out of uniform is the rest of your life. Any bad habits you may have developed while stressing on active duty should be reconsidered once you're breathing easy again as a civilian. Stop smoking. Stop drinking. Diets are easy. Stick with some sort of fitness program - even if it's just a lot of stretching, walking, and something slightly strenuous like mini-mountain climbing (mountains actually start at around 600 meters or 2,000 feet - go climb one - I dare ya).

Get a handle on the unhealthy things in your life - and you might live forever. Or you might live long enough to clone yourself or whatever.

Life changes after military retirement. The changes that occur after you retire span the globe (sometimes, literally). Everything really depends on where you end up living after you retire:

  • I've run into Americans who prefer to live in Europe or Asia after retirement. They’re not necessarily expatriates, and most plan to return to the United States someday. They seem to have become accustomed to being overseas - they like particular regions on the planet - or they like to travel (if you work in Japan, you have the whole of Asia to explore, and it doesn't take an extended plane flight to start your trip).
  • Your paycheck may take a dive. Although many people believe that military retirees are overpaid (the people who state this usually did not do twenty-plus years in uniform), the reality may be that you are suddenly making a lot less money than you were making when you were in uniform - even though your house payment is still the same amount (pension plus whatever day job you luck into may not equal your old active duty paycheck). I twice took a 75% cut in overall pay just to survive in the day jobs I had before I became a full-time freelance writer.
  • You may have been a senior noncom when you were on active duty, but once you retire, your local military dental clinic may only provide care to active duty soldiers. Often true, and often hard to get used to being treated as if you are a second class citizen. If you shy away from military bases after you get out, that may be a good thing, because your local civilian dentist is the leveler of all playing fields, as it pretty much costs the same for everyone to have a dentist drill right next to that nerve.
  • Big changes may occur around your castle. If you were gone all the time, and suddenly reappear - the people who were in charge of your household when you were not there may not allow you take charge again (or at least not any time soon). Children may wonder who the heck you are (kidding, although I have a bud whose little German/American daughter was a bit scared of him when he finally came home, because he was not at the house often enough when she was younger to allow her to connect his face to the "Dad" concept). It took me ten years to regain my teenage and adult children’s trust, because I had been gone so much. The longest time I spent in a field environment was eleven months, which is nothing compared to the down-range stints service members do these days. They may have recently dropped from fifteen- to twelve-month deployments (more recently even shorter tours), but the reality of those fifteen-month deployments was more like eighteen months - because there are always gunnery, maneuver, and individual replacement training requirements, before the deployments.
  • You get weekends off now (ha). That depends on what your next day job is. After I retired, I did a stint working in an emergency operations center that required 8- and 12-hour shift work - with the same shifts worked periodically on weekends. At a different job, I built up 200 hours of overtime in a two-week period that required spending nights in a maneuver training area - so I guess, the recommendation is to be careful during your selection of your next day job - because you can often be sought out for your military skills - and then you're right back where you started.

Planning life after military retirement.

I've known people who were in field environments or deployed up until a few weeks before they retired from active duty - with the point being that they were unable to spend time planning for life after active duty.

I did my best to plan out my next day job after the military by trying to finish a bachelors before I retired, while also volunteering as a military correspondent for as many assignments as I could garner to build a collection of published clips specifically to get hired as a command information writer (based on a conversation with an Army human resources employee who told me: You'll get hired faster in a job field in which you demonstrate competence and/or excellence, than with higher education).

He proved to be correct, but I also ended up working as a warehouse worker, bookstore cashier, night watchman, security professional, mailman, a bunch of other jobs.

And I never thought I would end up living where I do now.

Books on life after military retirement

If your biggest worry is: "What will my next day job be?" - What Color is Your Parachute is your answer - but you have to thoroughly read the latest edition of the book. I started reading annual editions of this book five years out from retirement and it has the best explanation of how to correctly conduct a job search (no lie, and ironically, very few people know about the book).

There are many other job search books available, as well as a ton of info on the Internet.

Good luck - because you will need it. God speed - because you deserve it.

Comments 5 comments

sean kinn profile image

sean kinn 4 years ago from Key West and Budapest Author

Diamond1mo, I wish I could convince more people to retire early from military life. Serving is cool, but civilian life is better - especially so after having served (hard to get the point across, I guess because so few people are able to serve in uniform these days :-). Sean (also wish I could mail a copy of Parachute to everyone 3 years out from retirement)

diamond1mo profile image

diamond1mo 4 years ago from Arizona

Good read and a great tip on "What Color is Your Parachute". Everyone comtemplating leaving the military should put it on their list.

Thanks for your service.

KE Morgan

sean kinn profile image

sean kinn 4 years ago from Key West and Budapest Author

SGT Brown, Thanks for your comments. I'm not sure why I retained certain habits and lost others. I managed to maintain my good cardio with a lot of walking and hiking (quit jogging at 47). I still do a little trail-running at times because it feels good, trails are softer than asphalt I guess. Ten years later, privates still call me "sergeant" on the telephone when I call an office on a base (har), not sure why. :-) Sean

SGT Brown Ty 4 years ago

Thank you for your inciteful article. I too retired at age 39, two years ago. What helped me with employment was referals. If my wife could ever live below her means, my retirement check could have covered the mortgage and maybe a bill. Some habits that I have lost after my transition: waking up early (well sort of), PT (I run half a block now and get winded), eating 3 meals a day ( I'd be luck if I can fit cereal in my day). preparing to brief ( i was a recruiter, so the stress was up to HERE). So now I get to spend and make up time with the family.

Jt Walters 5 years ago

Nice Article Sean.

I do know retired military oficers bank some pretty nice cash in retirement but they made have made their money before retirement. I try not to ask peope questions about money.

I bet retired military miss military life. Having grown up with a Father that believed everyday is boot camp I have even become militant in the ways I do things with the exception of getting up early.

But there are many career opportunities for military retirees. Many retires frinsih their degrees on the GI Bill if that still exists.

Great article and see after all of this time I am still following you and I hope you are still following me.


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