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What Does a Spouse Deserve at Military Retirement?

I know military spouses don’t have an actual retirement from military life. However, there is this place during a military retirement ceremony where the contribution of the spouse is supposed to be mentioned.  What does she deserve then?

Personally, I think a nice gesture would be to roll in a rumbling cherry red Shelby Super Snake GT500 convertible equipped with the 850 horsepower engine. Then the servicemember could whip off the bow to reveal SUPER SPOUSE embroidered in gold thread on mink upholstered seats. Nice, eh?

Instead, we spouses tend to get flowers. A certificate. And maybe a poem.

My friend Michelle’s husband is retiring in February and she does not want the poem. No bitterness intended, but Michelle does not really want the sweet essay about the tear God puts in the military spouse’s eye for “joy, sadness, pain, loneliness and pride.”

She does not want to hear that poem where military spouses come in three sizes:  petite, plump and pregnant.

She especially does not want her husband to quote that bit about how you define the role of the military spouse as “Waiting, it is what you do. 
Intrepid, it is what you are.
 Faithful, which you remain. 
Eternal, is your love.”

Even though her husband loves her and admires her and appreciates her completely, Michelle is afraid that beer might spontaneously explode from his nose if he has to say those things in public.

I am, too. Yet I do think when a family has built a successful life within the military something needs to be said. Something pulls us to mark that double accomplishment of the long military career AND the long marriage. Those two things do not come together by accident.

But what, exactly, do you say that isn’t too much? Isn’t too maudlin? Isn’t so hopelessly mawkish that it would make Nicholas Sparks throw up?

So far, I haven’t been able to find the right words to publicly mark the contribution of a true partner in military life. What would you want to be done or said?

“I would love mine to talk about actual things,” Michelle told me recently. “Like the time the washing machine overflowed the same day the dog barfed while he was deployed.”

“Or the time I got my new dress on, hair done, nails done, signs ready, the kids all freshly scrubbed and in matching sailor outfits to pick him up from deployment only to have the flight cancelled,” she said. “And then, when he actually showed up at zero dark thirty, we tumbled out of bed and picked him up in PJs (bed head and chipped nails) and didn’t even get out of the car since he’d been waiting on the curb for an hour since we lived in Suffolk and didn’t know he was coming.”

Or the times I sold the house, supervised the movers, bought the next house, supervised the movers, unpacked, made it homey again — only for him to finally show up and ask in which cupboard we keep the glasses.”

Those things aren’t beautiful, I know. Those things are so far from romantic that they wouldn’t make it onto an episode of The Bachelorette. But those are the things that military life is made of. Those are the things that require humor and character and by-god resolve to get through together. Those are the things that will — if we let them — bind us together in a way deployment cannot pull apart.

But how do we mark that? We could use your help here, SpouseBuzz Readers. If you are retired from the military, how did you mark your spouse’s contribution? How do you wish you had done it? What poem or quote or reading or gift is the right thing? Do you have any ideas you could share with military couples as they retire from the service? Are there any such things as right words at a time like this?

Let us know what you think.

About Jacey Eckhart

Jacey Eckhart is the Director of Spouse and Family Programs for Military.com. Since 1996, Eckhart’s take on military families has been featured in her syndicated column, her book The Homefront Club, and her award winning CDs These Boots and I Married a Spartan?? Most recently she has been featured as a military family subject matter expert on NBC Dateline, CBS morning news, CNN, NPR and the New York Times. Eckhart is an Air Force brat, a Navy wife and an Army mom.

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