Why Don’t You Have a Plan B, Soldier?


“Always, always have a Plan B,” a SpouseBuzz reader advised an Army wife whose husband was recently passed over. “We serve at the pleasure of the President, and, as has been said by other posters, no one’s full career is guaranteed.”

That is some good advice. In this era of budget cuts and post-war drawdown (although service members are still being killed in Afghanistan), we military types should all have a keen eye toward the outside world and develop a really solid civilian Plan B.  Agreed?

So why don’t we have a Plan B?

My husband thinks we have a Plan B. All through his career when promotion boards came up, he would draw up these little timelines for our entire family. Here is what we would all do if he got passed over. Here is how we would live if he went to med school. Here is what life would look like if I got my MBA and was the sole support of the family while he rehabbed houses and raised English cocker spaniels.

To the outside world, surely these plans would hold up in court as physical evidence that we had a Plan B…and a Plan C and D and Q and R and Z. We would make stellar civilians overnight because we had a Plan B!

But the truth is that we never really had a Plan B.

“Well, that’s why it is Plan B,” our managing editor Amy Bushatz said when I told her. “Because you don’t really want to do that one.”

If my husband had to actually pursue his Plan Bs he would be appalled. He doesn’t really want to do any of those things. He just wants to stay in the Navy for, like, ever.

This doesn’t apply to everyone. Some military folks get their Plan B together while they are at boot camp.  Other people develop a Plan B when they get promoted to a point where they are bored out of their minds. Or they go through their third knee surgery. Or their husband finishes law school and needs to stay in one place to make partner.

We keep pursuing Plan A.

But for the rest of the people in the military, Plan A is to get promoted and keep moving up. That is the plan. Act on it. Keep trying through board after board until the very last minute where they hand you your marching papers.

Because they will. Everyone is eventually invited to leave the military.

Until Plan B is absolutely necessary.

The way I look at it, this is where workable Plan Bs begin—just like it does in civilian life where they get fired or laid off or their industry collapses. We all have vague Plan B’s until that plan is actually necessary.

It is a mistake to blame service members and families for not having a Plan B because you really don’t have a start date for that Plan B until the military actually gives you a firm NO.

Military careers don’t really lend themselves to Plan B. The military depends on being your Plan A …until they decide they just don’t need you anymore. Then let the Plan Bs commence.

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.
  • Guest 3

    Sometimes it’s having a second anchor if my husband was to be a civilian tomorrow while we might be upset I can say “I got us” I’m OUR plan B until he can work out kinks and find something different. That’s a true partnership! So while we don’t like the idea of having one or discussing the the things that make us cringe it’s absolutely necessary to have this discussion before marriage, before kids, before it happens.

  • Lisa D

    Nothing in this world is guaranteed, and it is childish to believe that the military would be an exception to that. Government or military have never promised the service to be a retirement job that allows people to stay in as long as they want.
    Similarly, a civilian may want to work in company X forever, until the retirement but during their career a million things can go wrong: financial challenges in the business, getting injured or hurt so that (s)he can’t be in that specific field anymore, ….. that’s why it is important to keep the options open, network and have additional plans. Are we pursuing them actively? No, because we have the plan A that is currently working but they are options if the most ideal plan fails for whatever reason.

    While reading this and the other article about the service member who got canned (https://spousebuzz.com/blog/2014/08/dear-army-you-made-a-mistake.html), I can actually only wonder why it is the spouse who is so worked up over the issue. It is not fun by any means to lose a job but then on the other hand, if the family’s income is relying on one person only – how about thinking a plan B where both spouses work? I am sure I will get lots of comments along the lines “it’s hard for military spouses to work”, and yes, it is hard to work in some duty stations where the biggest employers are minimum wage services. However, if both spouses were building their careers, there would be a safety net in case one loses his/her job for whatever reason. This may mean geobach’ing, it may mean uncomfortable living situations – but at the end the questions is about the priorities and what kind of risks we are willing to take.

    I am a military spouse myself but have my own professional career, am the breadwinner of the household and earn significantly more than my husband does. It doesn’t come free but has meant lots of separations over the years, however, at the same time we know that if one of us loses his/her job, we will be fine and can maintain the quality of life we are used to while looking for a new position.

    • guest

      That’s us, we could pay all of our bills off of one salary. We’ve done numerous seperations to enhance and promote my career as well as his. I get the same BS you get about how it’s too hard to work, but I”ve been doing it for over a decade now. Our plan C is enough in cash savings to pay all of our bills for a year in the event both of us loose jobs at the same time. I just don’t understand not having a backup.

      • chibi_sarah

        Do you both also have children? I bet it is a lot easier if you don’t. (And this is why I am sometimes trying to talk my airman out of kids before we have them…)

        • guest

          We didn’t at first, we do now. We agreed to having a certain amount in accessible investments prior to starting a family to avoid crisis situations such as job loss.

        • Lisa D

          We don’t have children. We both would love to have them but because of his career is so unstable (location and deployment wise) and I am not willing to risk mine, I have made a decision to wait for now. It breaks my heart but then at the same time I am trying to be sensible and look at the practicalities.

          • chibi_sarah

            my case stands.

          • Lisa D

            Yes, it does. It is easier without the kids. But the life sets certain restrictions sometimes, and in some circumstances we just can’t have it all.

          • guest

            Yup, my husband wanted the same thing when we got married. I told him there is no way I spent 6 figures putting myself through school to have kids, then not be able to work because you move/are never around. After some deliberation he understood. We came to the agreement that we would have a child when our investments kicked off enough income every year to cover our monthly bills. We hit that and had a child, I still work, we still save, and our new goal is full retirement by our 40’s (we are early 30’s now)

          • Lisa D

            Very smart, excellent and realistic planning there!

  • hcconng

    We have a plan B, C and D lol.

  • jojo613

    Nothing in this world is guaranteed, except death and taxes. It’s foolish to assume that the military will take care of you, or that you will have a job, just because you are an officer, your husband is doing well, etc. It just takes one thing nowadays. Of course there are people with clean records being removed. Everyone needs a plan b.

  • retusnnavywife

    Whenever I asked anyone who asked me if I had a Plan B, what their Plan B was, they never had an adequate response. I think they were waiting for advice from me!
    Like Jacey says, Plan B is not what you want do, it is a grisly alternative. Plan A is how you want to live your life.
    We are all forced to go to Plan B in one way or another, but I find it changes day to day, month to month and is never what you could have predicted when you were living Plan A.
    I feel so sorry for all the families who must depart after their many years of service. I would suggest they take a little of their severance pay for a week’s vacation. Plan B’s look much better on the beach.
    Other advice: if you are moving for a job, don’t buy a house right away. Before you take a contracting job, ask how long the contract will last. And know what your chances are of being rebadged if another company wins the recompete.

    • jacey_eckhart

      “grisly alternative” I wish I had phrased it exactly that way! And I think your advice about not buying a house is spot on.

    • annonc

      I disagree, it’s not a “grisly alternative” for everyone. My husband’s MOS gives him so many marketable skills in the civilian world that most people leave after serving their 5 years to go to a high paying job in a related feild. My husband likes the army, so he wants to stay in even though he is making far less money than he would be in the civilian world. He is also working on his degree at the same time so that he will be able to have an even better job once he gets out (even if he does 20 years, he wants to get out and work a civilian job afterwards).

      He would be doing exactly what he is doing now but for better pay and benefits, he likes the military though and would of course prefer not to leave. Still, it’s hardly “grisly.”

      For plan C, if for some reason plan B doesn’t work out, he could always go back to what he was doing before the military, it was hard and dirty and dangerous but the pay was good.

  • chibi_sarah

    This, all of this just yes! You have a vague idea but until you have to act on it, can’t really have things set up or set in stone. Like you should have some idea of what you will do if, and I think most do, but yes acting on it is a whole other beast

  • zedvector

    Regardless of separation being fair, unfair, good, bad, right or wrong, I feel we are more equipped than others to cope. While its great to have a years worth of living expenses saved and dual incomes, etc, our plan B is never a solid, with concrete selections of actions, just fuzzy visions of maybes. Our plan B is to do what military life teaches us far to often, adjust, adapt and overcome. We adjust, adapt and overcome to more changes and obstacles in a few years than most families do in a lifetime. We can do it with grace, our dignity and integrity intact, knowing we did our best to help our service member be part of our free nations greatest military force. Remember when separated, you are now living the civilian life you have been fighting and sacrificing to preserve. You have earned every bit of your citizenship and no one knows better how to adjust, adapt and overcome. Great article Jacey!

  • 5Kidsmom

    You quoted me!
    My father died in an automobile accident, leaving my mother with 5 young children under the age of 7. It was still the age of the “happy homemaker”, and, while she did have some training in the business world, she went back to school and got a job with the Federal Government, where she served for 30+ years. It was really, really hard for us until she got her job (and even after), but she taught me the valuable lesson – Always, always have a Plan B.

    • jacey_eckhart

      It was a great quote so thanks for writing! We read all of the comments our readers make and they really help shape the way we think. We appreciate your contribution!

  • Mike, USA Ret’d

    You’re right. I didn’t have a Plan B when my wife & I chose not to accept the Army’s follow-on assignment (solo to Korea or the Pentagon) as a LTC with over 20 years service. We had no home of our own and I had no job prospects lined up; she actually found a job before I did. But we survived, made due, reversed roles for a short time, made a lot of sacrifices (personal & financial), and eventually got back to where we wanted to be. It took a good support network of family & close friendships we had developed throughout my military career. That’s what is important: maintain those relationships and they’ll help you in the long term.

  • Heather

    Funny thing is, we are doing our “Plan B” lol The military was never meant to be a career for my husband. He planned to get out, go to school and live a happy civilian life. But, as kids came along, and school for him was not always easy to accomplish during the early enlisted years (leaders are much more accommodating to lower enlist than they were 20 years ago) , his job/army was a nice steady income. Lean at times, but as the years passed, promotion came (from enlisted to sr warrant officer). It has provided a career (22+ years and counting) and a comfortable life for us and our three kids, two dogs and several fish and hamsters along the way. He has one more potential promotion coming in 2015. If he makes it, he will probably stay 30. If not, he will retire at around 25 years. So, after the military isn’t plan B for us, it’s really the beginning.

  • ken

    Plan B is just another route to your goals.

  • Kari

    We always had a plan B but then life happens and a surprise baby right before retirement changed a few things. Then about 60 days to retirement we were involved is a car wreck leaving my husband active duty for 23 years injured and still pending another surgery. Are we going out like thus or are we put on med hold? We don’t know yet but are preparing for retirement at the end of this month.

  • Cassandra

    We have a plan B, my career. Over the last decade it has suffered. But I keep plugging along at it. If he was ever to be thrown out he would look for something as he is lucky enough that his job is in the civilian world, and I would find a good job that could support is if need be. But that didn’t become the plan until all this draw down tall started, and the girls were out of diapers.