For my entire 10 years as an Army Spouse, I have always thought that the only people that get kicked out of the military are the losers. The drug users. The thieves. The slackers.
And then it happened to us.
One blip on my husband’s otherwise stellar record of service. Years of documented high performance. Awards. And then one mediocre Officer Evaluation three years ago — that has since been successfully appealed — ended it all.
If you are in the military community and haven’t been living under a rock, then you know that the Army is downsizing. The officer ranks are being cut through Officer Separation Boards (OSBs), Early Retirement Separation Boards (ERSBs), and slashed promotion rates.
Army regulations call for officers who are passed over for promotion twice to be automatically separated from service.
So on a Wednesday morning in late March, my husband was called into his commander’s office and informed that he was not selected for promotion for the second time, and that we had seven months and one day left in the Army.
When you spend your entire adult life in the military and then find out it’s over, the feelings of uncertainty are overwhelming. Where will we live? Will my husband be able to find a job? What about all our benefits?
On top of that, there is the stigma. As the military downsizes, people are becoming more open minded to the fact that not everyone that gets separated deserves it. But the feeling of failure still lingers.
And when most of your friends are military families, it stings to watch them progress and get promoted, while you dealing with your journey coming to an end.
But three months later there is light on the other side. My husband accepted a great job offer last week. As I type, the packers are packing our stuff for our final move. We are headed home to the East Coast. My husband will be able to continue to serve in the National Guard. We are so grateful to be landing in a good place.
Our story has a seemingly happy ending, but it hasn’t been without bumps. The stress of the uncertainty has tested us. Navigating the clearing process has been full of challenges.
While these kinds of separations are going to become more prevalent, we seem to be among the first. My husband falls into a middle ground. He’s not volunteering to leave but he is being discharged under honorable circumstances. The regulations around these kinds of separations are often ambiguous and even the professionals trained to help us with our paperwork aren’t really sure of the rules.
And the emotional transition is hard. For the last 10 years I have identified deeply as a military spouse. Now I must struggle to redefine that identity. Yesterday, we had to surrender our military IDs. This morning, in order to take my kids to daycare, I had to enter post via the visitor’s gate. It’s like all of the sudden we are no longer a part of the community we relied on for the last 10 years.
To be honest, it’s really scary.
This week, at least a thousand other families are being notified that their journey is ending. My heart breaks for them because I know first hand how devastating it is. If you are being affected by these cuts, you are probably feeling alone and scared. I am still undergoing this transition but here is my best advice:
— Cry. It’s okay to grieve.
— Educate yourself on your entitlements. You may be entitled to separation pay, transitional healthcare coverage and other benefits. However, the people working with you may not know what you are entitled to and you may have to advocate for yourself. So it’s important to know what those entitlements are.
— Start making a plan. It’s hard to envision your next steps, especially initially. Setting goals for where we wanted to do and where we wanted to live helped us to focus and get excited about the transition.
— Remember you are not alone. You might be the only one of your friends to get cut and that can be extremely isolating. But remember there are at least 2,500 families going through the same transition.
Are you or your friends being affected by the cuts? What’s your best advice for making the transition?