What Does a Spouse Deserve at Military Retirement?

CMSgt. Ryan 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 the Author

Jacey Eckhart
Jacey Eckhart is the former 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. Find her at JaceyEckhart.net.

72 Comments on "What Does a Spouse Deserve at Military Retirement?"

  1. I love the idea of life stories. What a wonderful way for her to be celebrated and to show others how strong a military wife needs to be (like the time I was pregnant, husband deployed, dogsitting for a friend and her dog and mine decided to poop all over my house – and not nice formed poop either). Those are the things that lets the wife know her husband heard her and appreciated her.

  2. In 2015 my husband will retire. It will then be 26 years that I have been a milspouse. I personally don't want anything special. Just a thank you, since he'll be thanking a bunch of people anyways, for staying by his side throughout his military career. I married him and I accepted the military life because I wanted to be with him. It's just the way life is and I don't consider it some great sacrifice because I got to spend the past 24 years of my life with the person I love.

  3. I was just thinking about this topic but from a different angle. I'm the Key Spouse of my honey's squadron. He has a co-worker that is retiring soon. I would like to present his wife with something, but I don't know what? Any ideas?

    • Ma'am,
      This is a tough one, I would think based on the person as you know them as well as the Key Spouse (I assume is a similar roll as Ombudsman) is something where you are also representing a group. Perhaps a dedicated plaque with wording that expresses what, where and how she sacrificed for Nation and Husband (not just the particular service) and made during the ceremony – at which time would be appropriate for her to have a go at the Microphone!
      Regards, Scotty

    • An old unit we were apart of used to give a quilt to the spouse. The spouses of former retired soldiers who were in the area formed a group and sewed each of them. However, they were presented at a wive's gathering not the soldiers ceremony. It was a beautiful gift each of the women were sure to cherish.
      I think an engraved serving platter would be nice too. It would be something she could pull at the holidays and reflect on their many years in the service.

    • Whatever you decide to give the spouse make it personal, no plaques! As we all know those same plaques that our spouses get go straight into a box and forgotten about. My hubby retired in 2010 after 30 years of service and nothing is more gratifying than to know you meant more than just a piece of paper or a generated poem, that someone actually put some thought into the gift. If she doesn't have the signs already of all the places they lived that would be special with the last one saying something like happy retirement or their home address, just a thought! Best wishes!

  4. I would like to give my own presentation. I would show pictures of each of the ports that my husband has raised a glass in salute (and there are many in26 years in the Navy) and tell the audience about what was going on at home (with poetic license and humor of course) while that picture was being snapped.

    • Ma'am, If you cannot get the command to go for it, as some times the ceremony is time critical (all those people standing in formation). The reception after the ceremony maybe the best venue to entertain all with a humorous and narrated power point presentation on a big screen TV or projector in the park, back yard or bar… (one everyone will feel free to add anecdotes to witnessing events and recalling stories of ports/deployments and just embarrassing good times between slides)! Great Idea!
      Regards, Scotty

    • Oops! This was meant for the comment above Beth's and now I can't delete it!

    • Um… you do realize that his retirement has nothing to do with you, right? Obviously as spouses we sacrifice a lot, but clearly some of us need to remember that this was HIS career, it's HIS retirement. We don't need or deserve anything, and we certainly shouldn't be giving presentations where you talk about how it was for YOU.

      • jacey_eckhart | January 12, 2013 at 4:39 pm |

        As I said in the first line, spouses do not retire from the military. No one is taking credit for the servicemember's career. Instead, I think spouses deserve a little credit for the fact that the servicemember has a LIFE. Without someone at home who loves you enough to give birth to your child when you are 6000 miles away, feed your dog, water your lawn, pay your bills (often with the money they have earned themselves), check on your parents when you can't, remind your kids continually that daddy or mommy loves them and cares about their algebra grade–then you have nothing to come home to but an empty condo and a dusty 4 x 4. It isn't too much to ask to pay tribute to a big selfless love like that. That's why I think both male and female servicemembers WANT to acknowledge their spouses during their ceremonies. They know better than anyone that no one accomplishes anything alone in life. They need us. We need them. And a long military marriage comes from two people who sacrifice for each other and put each other first and honor each other constantly.

  5. Retired from the Navy in 2009 (SCPO) on the lovely island of Guam, got a nice humorous roasting by my XO… including anecdotes about why or how my wife suffered through both me and the Navy for 26+ years (don't know where he got all that dirt). My wife in attendance (laughing). We performed The traditional Flag passing to end the retirement ceremony, and then read the certificate of flag presentation to my wife as I handed it to her. It was flown over the American Memorial commemorating the WWII battle of Saipan, where we had visited several times while stationed on Guam. Her homeland deployments were every bit if not more stressful and trying, mirroring any I completed!

  6. Tracy Adkins | January 11, 2013 at 4:52 pm |

    I would like the Spouse to have an opportunity to speak as well.

    • Ma'am, You are absolutely correct, my wife is/was to scared to address the attendees, however one must keep in mind the retirement is for the retiree and his/her family, all just needs to be put in place as part of the agenda for the ceremony. My XO was upset that I wanted the attendees to be in "island attire" but I informed him it was my opportunity to get dressed for them to honor their commitment as mine was ending. I fell if you are up to it get the spot and time on the microphone! It's your day also!
      -respectfully, Scotty

  7. If you cannot tell I feel very passionate about this subject, based on all my silly posts/comments. Here is a small piece of information, about a month before the retirement the command publishes a Notice, Bulletin or Order (a short term written directive – Navy, Marine Corps then Army/Air Force) that specifically assigns personnel tasks and a timeline (read agenda) for the Retirement Ceremony of each individual retiree, to get on the directive and be a participant make your desires known to your spouse (or command – in secret as necessary) to be placed on the schedule.

  8. Here I go again – somebody stop me! Came home from several month deployment – in the O-Dark-Thirty, unscheduled return (surprise). Decided to have the command duty driver take me home rather than wake my wife and kids, opened the door with my key, made my way quietly to the bedroom to wake my spouse and was greeted by my wife's new dog (an abused by males rescue animal- in growling attack mode!) sleeping on my spot of the bed! Needless to say I backed out of the room, so as not to disturb the entire house, shut the door made a bed on the couch. Waiting for morning, I was awoken to a butt chewing by my wife for not waking her! Was so good to be home!

    • LOL You're lucky you aren't married to me. You would have been met with my 38special. We've been stationed remotely for almost 20years and some of the places have been less than safe. Last place we lived, we were broken into twice in 4 years. The last time the back door was actually broken off the hinges. Hubby calls me the one shot wonder-I hit the target dead on, first time, every time. He never surprises me.

  9. My husband has not retired yet but at his last big promotion he honored me by giving me a piece of art that I had wanted instead of flowers. I liked that and it will continue to be our tradition. I also like Tracy's idea of letting the spouse have an opportunity to speak.

    • Amy_Bushatz | January 12, 2013 at 7:58 am |

      I LOVE this idea. Because you're right — this is a promotion issue, as well. The thing that annoys me most about the flowers is that they are presented to you as if it was a gift from the command (my husband doesnt hand them to me), but you know he bought them. … and I dont really want them. Can't I be presented with something I actually want? Chocolates? Wine? A trip to Fiji? (kidding. sort of).

    • I think this is idea is great because it marks a moment in time of great sugnificance in his career and in your life as well. even is you receive the flowers from the ceremony you two have already marked this event in your own style with the art and his moment to salute you as his partner and support which make the gift he gave very meaningful.

  10. I like the jewelry idea! It's like a medal or ribbon…except one that we will actually wear all the time! Nothing like a diamond around my neck to commemorate my faithfulness to military life!

    • Wait, seriously, a reward for fidelity? As opposed to dropping one's marriage? Have we fallen so far and is fidelity so difficult now that we deserve rewards for keeping promises?

      • I'm going to support his commitment to the army regardless…but if someone wants to recognize 20+ years of spouse service as well, I'm just liking the jewelry concept. I'm not saying spouses need incentives to be faithful…although a few less deployments might help.

  11. My husband will be retiring this year. after 28 years of being a Marine. I have been proud of his service and proud to be his wife. It is, however, his retirement ceremony. Not mine. I'll appreciate the flowers and the certificate and whatever kind words he wants to say. I am puzzled by the idea that I am entitled to more than that during HIS ceremony.

  12. The member served not the spouse, you get the medical/monetary benefits of the member that you helped with, do you deserve more, I think not. The retirement is to focus on the member.

  13. True that the day belongs to the service member, but no one who truly earned his/her stripes/brass would deny that their significant other didn’t have anything to do with their overall success. They have also made tremendous sacrifices over the years to include the children and should be recognized. Their is a “Spouse Medal” & “Child Medal” which the Commanding Officer & Senior Enlisted Leader can present to them during a designated time of the ceremony. The citation reads: The spouse does not wear a uniform yet they serve their country. They do not acquire nor wear ribbons showing where they have been yet they go. They did not ask for the duty they perform yet they unwaveringly serve to the best of their ability. They serve-yet are not honored with trinkets or pieces of cloth, showing their service. The burning candle signifies the lonely nights you have spent and that you have kept the home fires burning. A symbol with no beginning and no end, the ring around the candle flame symbolizes the undying flame of love for your spouse. The image of the rose is for the unwavering devotion you have shown for your spouse and their sacrifice for their country. This medal is gratefully given to those that do not ask, those that stay on the home front so that their spouse can serve for they also proudly serve their country. Always Remembered-Never Forgotten.
    This is a small token & takes only a few minutes to recognize your family for all the years of support before you depart the ranks. This will be your last opportunity, they will appreciate it & it’s the right thing to do. You can buy the medals on line best wishes & future success. Semper FI no regrets!

    • I am organizing my Command Master Chief's retirement ceremony and he mentioned he would like to give his wife, who has stood by his side for 29 of his 30 years of service and supported him through the good and the bad, the rose that you mentioned above. Can you point me in the right direction on where to obtain the certificate and the actual rose in the crystal box? Thank you so much.

  14. I personally want nothing. If I could I would skip the whole retirement ceremony all together. But, in support of my husband when that day comes I will be there for him. I married my husband, not the military. While it has been his job for the past 21 years (and a few more to go) it does not define our existence.

  15. Soldier2013 | January 14, 2013 at 9:46 am |

    Not really the same as when a soldier retires. The spouse could be new and just joined the military team in the last two or three years. Not something that needs a lot of integration with the divorce rate being what it is. Just needs to remain about the one serving, the soldier.

  16. George Maroney | January 14, 2013 at 11:09 am |

    When I retired from the Coast Guard with 23 years of service my wife was givern a framed Certificate of Appreciation. This is to certify NAME Has earned the grateful appreciation for her unselfish, faithful and devoted service during her husband's Coast Guard career. Her support and understanding helped to make it possible her husband's lasting contribution to our country and humanity.
    V.F.Rea III, Vice Admiral, United States Coast Guard.

  17. When we arrived in Honduras in 1970, the US ambassador’s wife was happy to greet my wife – too few military wives are knowledgeable in the “protocols”, she also speaks English, Spanish, French, and Latin,of course. (MSG USAF Retired)

  18. They do not deserve anything. How is it different from civilian life? If the person retiring wants to include them fine – but they do not DESERVE anything?

    • jacey_eckhart | January 14, 2013 at 1:53 pm |

      The research says military is different from civilian life because of a unique "constellation" of demands on the family that includes: periodic separation, frequent PCS moves, behavioral constraints, foreign residence. and the risk of injury, illness, or death of the servicemember. Civilian jobs can experience some of these things, but the frequency of these demands do significantly mark military families over time. Besides, if I had someone who loved me enough to move with me 16 times or go through 8 deployments with me, I would be jolly happy to say thanks to them–and every other spouse just like them.

      • Some civilian go have almost the same experience without the job security. The question is DESERVE – and I say nothing.

        • A military spouse DESERVES oh so much more than "recognition." The sacrifices and hardships (good) military spouses endure over the years for the SOLE PURPOSE of making his or her husband's/wife's missions go as smoothly as possible deserves ALL THE RECOGNITION THAT SPOUSE WOULD LIKE.

  19. My husband served 26 yrs, we have been married for 22 yrs, he said a few words about the things I handled and someone brought in a wrapped box with 6 baby chicks. We had be talking for years about retirement and a small farm, it was a nice thank you and welcome to the next phase of our life. Chicken aren't everyone's idea of a gift but it was very personal, intimate ceremony and fit perfectly with our personalities.

  20. I am a 50 year old male spouse, civilian. Being recognized by the military for my contributions, at every presentation, promotion, ball, etc. is always an unbelievable, almost overwhelming, feeling of pride. It is so good to know someone gets our sacrifice after everyone from post guards to docs and commissary ID checkers point our we are “Dependents”, accurately but it is a pride sucker! If we want to be recognized any differently or want more glory, the option to volunteer is and was always there. Suck it up, celebrate their achievement and keep your mouth shut like all the years before!!!

  21. While a retirement ceremony is definitely for the service member, it doesn't hurt to recognize the contribution of the spouse. I've found that plaques and medals find their way into a drawer and I'm not a fan of cut flowers, which look lovely for a day or two then die. Instead, my husband "pilfered" several photos taken during events at each of our duty stations. I was presented with a collage of photos, which still takes center stage on our living room wall. As he's not the least bit crafty, he admitted that the commander's wife was actually the person who put it all together.

  22. what retirement ceremony?-22 yrs my ass, try retireing from 1st Cav Div

  23. I recently retired after 32+ years and recognizing my wife and kids was critical in my retirement ceremony. I presented the Spouses Medal and Children Medal to my wife and kids. Further I had a stained glass made for my wife as well as silver dog tags for my children with the their name and Army Seal on the front and a note of appreciation for both engraved on the back. I also gave a dog tag to my wife at Christmas as well. Bottom line is that we made them just as important as my self as it should be because without your spouse and kids our careers are nothing.

  24. All I want is a gift from my husband – a map with a note that says "your turn to pick where we live!"

  25. Johnnie Abbott | January 15, 2013 at 4:58 pm |

    Waht?? Military retirement ceremony or recognition for the spouse. Did not happen here!!! No nothing not a thing!!! Wonder about know other spouse got thiers!! Hmmm MAKES ME WONDER here!! I put up with this crap too Sure could have used a pat on back or something but no nothing!! Maybe this should tale me something.

  26. I just retired from the Navy last year. My husband has been a stay-at-home dad while I served. He told me in no uncertain terms that he did not want flowers at the retirement ceremony. He likes wood bowls from a local artist so I had a special bowl made for him. I had gifts for my children too including a certificate for a one-on-one day with Mom which my children redeemed quickly. Also, usually there is a guest speaker that talks about the person's career. I made my remarks more about the family and highlighting some of the fun and not fun stories as we moved around. Finally, the final part is being piped ashore and we did it twice. I was piped ashore by myself then came back got the family and "Navy Family Retired" was piped ashore. As the retiree, you have a pretty considerable amount of latitude in how you want your ceremony and there are ways to make sure the family is honored.

  27. I can speak from our retirement….we chose NOT to have the hoopla that goes with retirement…we choose instead to have only ourselves, and some close friends. My wife put up with all the craziness of the military life until I got hurt and was medically retired. Strange as it sounds I never got into the whole ceremony of the medals, etc. I always asked my commanders to NOT make a big deal of what ever I did. Maybe this will be seen as not wanting to be recognized, or I just considered the whole ceremony thing to be….well blah! That is the way my wife and I saw the whole retirement thing. I took a different tack…I asked my wife what SHE wanted & where she wanted to be living…well her being Norweigan she choose to come back to Norway!! So here we are in Norway!! For her ( and me) it was the best decision SHE made for us…..which brings me to this…Guys….SHE put up with oru insane careers all these years….ask her what she wants…..!! WE love our beloved ones…and quite frankly…I believe it is THEIR time!!

  28. I am a former AF nurse and spent several years on active duty but did not retire. My husband did retire after 24 years though. I am not interest in cars or jewelry, etc. I do like the life stories and I do think official military recognition with a medal and commendation would be nice… for the warrior families left behind… that;'s what we are… Echo9M … thank you!

  29. When my wife retires in a few years, I will attend the ceremony because its “expected” of me. It will be the first time in years that I’ll be around any of her command or fellow sailors. During the ceremony, I’ll sit in the very back next to the exit, and if they even acknowledge my existence, I WILL use that exit. If I were the military member, I wouldn’t even have the ceremony. I’d finish my last day of work, and just not come in the next day. If other spouses feel the need to be mentioned or incorporated in the gala, that’s between them and the military member. I understand the sacrifices military spouses make for the sake of the service, but leave me out of any and all ceremonies, please and thank you.

  30. Although it may not seem like a retirement for the spouse for our point of view, I definitely must from 'her' point of view. Finally, she gets to spend considerably more time with the one she loves and she no longer has to feel like she is constantly waiting…

  31. At my overseas retirement ceremony in 2004, my husband was up and about, video recording everything. I thanked my shipmates, coworkers, friends and guests and then called my husband's name. He looked up with such complete surprise….I told everyone that the Navy didn't realize what a great supporter they had in him. I said that as a Navy retiree himself, he reminded me to appreciate every minute, that our careers are over before we even realize. Then I faced the camera to thank my Mom who couldn't be there for always keeping the "lights on for us." She cried when she saw the video. For a gift? – a really great watch. He already had the Harley!

  32. My husband made a donation to a charity very near and dear to my heart. Flowers are a sweet gesture but he KNOWS me and announced this donation to this charity at his ceremony.

  33. I'm the active duty member and my husband and I will be married for 12 years when I retire. I can't find anything that says what I should get HIM! It is all designed towards what you get your female spouse. Please help.

    • My wonderful husband has been supporting me for 23 years of my 25 year career- bless him!
      I am getting him a honorary flag and retirement package from the GreenBay Packers. They fly the flag over Lambo field in honor. He is the biggest fan and I cant think of a better way to let him know that I am his biggest fan for supporting me!

  34. I'm retired from the military and we didn't want anything when I departed my last duty assignment in California. Retirement is not a big deal. Starting over in the civilian sector is a big deal, and it's not always easy.

  35. Stories sound nice. My husband opted not to have a retirement ceremony and I was actually grateful. We just had our own private celebration. I think the services actually overdo ceremony. It seems that everything, every promotion, every school graduation, is marked with so much ceremony that by he time you get to retirement you just want to be done and get on with your life.

  36. When I retired from the AF all, all I received; was what amounted to was a don’t let the door hit you as you leave. A Airman who worked in the orderly room handed me my certificate of retirement; this Airman also said goodbye. That was my entire retirement ceremony for 22 1/2 years AF service. No flag; no hand shake from the 1st sergeant, or Squadron commander. I will remember that too my dying day.

  37. I think a personalized watch with the retiring rank on it would be great as a gift for this occassion would be fitting for this occassion. after all standing beside him until the day of retirement should be reconized during these events. It is the wife that carries the household during the moment that the service member is deployed and climbing the ladder of success. As a military spouse we know this can be a very high stress, enjoyable eventful time that only a strong supportive spouse can endure.

  38. While I can tell this bothers you, this is really how my husband would prefer to retire himself. He is not big on 'ceremony' and neither am I.

  39. sabrinacking | April 23, 2013 at 2:02 pm |

    Does he normally speak well to groups? Maybe it was a nervous oversight. I find it hard to believe that 25 years of good marriage would mean he would purposefully leave you out. Did you mention this after? What was his response?

  40. Angry Spouse | April 23, 2013 at 2:21 pm |

    He taught at West Point and his career has always been speaking (teaching) in front of adult military leaders. Nervousness wasn't an issue. Seriously, we'd always been a pretty neat couple. I think that's why this just floored me. If we'd always been spiteful and angry, I could see this happening. I just didn't understand then and still find it hard to forgive. I can't imagine why he would want to hurt me this way. It has certainly colored our marriage since. I want to move past it but I just wonder what caused this.

    Oh, I mentioned it alright. He thought I was making a big deal out of nothing; said I should know he loved me and that it was a big oversight, but nothing to get worked up about. I told him I was totally crushed and threw the stupid flowers off the back deck.

  41. sabrinacking | April 23, 2013 at 2:32 pm |

    After only 18 years of my own Army marriage I can understand your hurt. But, as women we both know, men usually say exactly what they mean. So in his mind it probably was only a big oversight.
    That by no stretch of the imagination means you don't have every right to be angry. But what is that anger doing? Who does it really hurt? Just you. I just don't choose to believe you are so unintelligent as to spend 25 years with a man and not know the content of his character. This is why you always thought you were neat. And why you still are neat. Nothing about one stupid speech on one day in 21 years of service negates that. Whoever was the bird in your ear that told you it was, was a busy Betty.
    I don't think looking for some deep dark cause gets you anywhere. Men are never that complex. And you are just tearing yourself up for no reason.

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