Why Does Getting Out Feel Like Quitting?


I think I’m a strong person. I’m an Army wife, after all, with a backbone forged in the fire of deployment, separations, solo birth and dramatic emotional burdens. That makes me strong, right? I don’t give up. I don’t give in. I push through when it’s hard.

I am not a quitter.

Why does thinking about getting out of the military make me feel like a quitter?

My husband meant the military to be a career sort of thing. You get in, you do the hard work, you make the sacrifices and you stay in, stay giving until they simply won’t let you anymore.



That’s what the brave people do, I convinced myself. Even if it’s stupid hard. Even if it rips your heart to shreds, destroys both you and your service member’s mental and emotional health and tears apart your family, you don’t get out. Getting out is for quitters. You do not quit.

Instead you defend the lifestyle until you have nothing left with which to defend it. You say that you love it (and you do … maybe). You convince yourself that you adore all the moves, love making new friends, live for the thrill of homecoming.

But I have started asking myself a new question: what if choosing to get out is brave in a way, too? What if, for us, continuing to serve is the coward’s choice because we are making it out of fear? What if there is another option?

All of my married life has been spent in the military. All of my husband’s adult life has been spent working for Uncle Sam. And although the trade-off is gut wrenching stress, the consistency of the military is comforting in a way. Perhaps I’ve developed military life Stockholm syndrome — I defend my captor because the other option is mental misery. “Bloom where you are planted” and all that.

I want to be a person who lives life bravely, who does things because the fact that they are a little hard makes them awesome. I want to look at my family and ask “is the military the right thing for us?” without feeling like the answer has to be “yes” because “no” isn’t an option.

And more than anything I want to know that choosing a path other than military life doesn’t mean I’m throwing in the towel halfway through the game.

Can getting out of the military be a choice for the brave and not a decision made by quitters? Can we pick a different life without wondering whether or not we are choosing a lesser one?


Photo courtesy Flickr user Jeff Djevdt via the Creative Commons license.

About the Author

Amy Bushatz
Amy is the editor in chief of Military.com’s spouse and family blog SpouseBuzz.com. A journalist by trade, Amy also covers spouse and family news for Military.com where she is the managing editor of spouse and family content. An Army wife and mother of two, Amy has been featured as a subject matter expert on CNN.com, NPR, Fox News, NBC, CBS, ABC and BBC as well as in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Washington Post. Follow her on twitter @amybushatz.
  • Guest

    Getting out of the military can not only be a choice for the brave, but a choice for those who honorably care for the wellbeing of their family. “Service” means not only service in uniform, but service to family as well. A military full of used-up people and families does not make our country stronger. If the stress of being “in” is too much, the sacrifices too great, then caring for the wellbeing of oneself and family becomes the next mission in service to your country.

  • retiredusnnavywife

    Historically, it was not always the practice to stay in the service as a profession. Our country was founded on the concept of the citizen soldier. Think George Washington returning home to Mount Vernon after the Revolutionary War.
    Your spouse is a veteran, one of a tiny percentage of folks who raised their hand to defend the U.S. Most think they are responsible citizens if they just pay their taxes and vote.
    Look back with pride and embrace your future.

  • guest

    It’s not quitting. It’s doing what’s best for you and your family. My spouse, even though he chose to leave, struggled a bit with the transition, but he’s doing great now. We’re doing great. So come on in, the water’s fine, just make sure your spouse documents every little thing wrong with them and has it all looked at before s/he leaves. The VA process is serious business.

  • That person

    First, you’ll be in very good company. The vast majority of service members never make it to twenty years. The last statistic I saw was something like 17% make an entire career. That is 83% of the force that for whatever reason chooses not to continue their service. No one could argue that those people are somehow “less than”. It takes something entirely different to go the full 20 and longer. And I really don’t believe that x factor is any more “bravery” than it is “oh they just didn’t get out because they were afraid to get out”. It is a very complex psychology that keeps people serving 20 years and beyond. Most certainly it is not “quitting” to get out any more than it is cowardice in the face of the unknown to not get out. The military has always and will always need both types of service. Careerists who bring longevity and consistency to the institution and those who rotate through service in defense of their country. Besides, the country needs every day citizens with the experience of having served. It makes the most informed public and there are literally thousands of ways you as a family can continue to serve your country once you get out. Best wishes.

  • guest

    We’re getting out and I’ll tell you it takes a lot more courage and bravery than staying in.

  • KenLand

    Why is he getting out?

    • oldernavyretiree

      It doesn’t matter, does it? Sometimes after being in for awhile it’s draining. My son was a LT in the USN for a grand total of 6 years, decided to resign his commission, still has to do 2 years in the USNR to fulfill his contract. Since he got out last January he has decided that the Navy was a good place at the time, but has gotten himself a good job and now thinks he made the right decision. He, of course, was not so sure that he wanted to resign, he was a little scared of his future in the civilian sector. In the end he’s proud of his service and will be doing his “weekend warrior” think for the next two years plus working his new job.
      The military isn’t always what people think it is when they join up, and for whatever reason leave it.

      • Guest

        It actually does matter. Someone getting out after 30 years will generally have a different mindset than someone who is getting medboarded at 15; that person will have a different mindset than someone who just got unexpectedly pink-slipped at 10; and THAT person will have a different mindset than someone who finished their 4-year enlistment and decided they were done.

        If it’s a voluntary decision, then feelings of guilt/like your’re quitting would take a significant back seat to thoughts of ‘what will I do for a job?’ When you had retirement in your headlights and something happened to negatively impact that plan, you don’t feel like a quitter- you feel cheated.

        So yes, asking why is a perfectly reasonable question.

        • life

          Even just fulfilling their first term, after being shot…they can feel like they are deserting their friends. Yes there can be many reasons they may be getting out… At this point, it really does not matter why they are getting out. All ways of getting out are hard. Life is going to be dramatically different than the way it was before…the way they have been living for many years. It hurts leaving behind friends, who may go back over seas and die. You make it feel like they are horrible if they leave short term or are being forced out. This article is a blank, they are getting out. It would evoke lots of mixed emotions no matter which way someone leaves. This is not trying to work on the anger issues.

          • Guest

            Not all ways are hard.

            I had recruiters blowing up my phone six months before I got out at twice the pay and half the hours.

            If the military worked my career field the same as it worked most I would have stayed, but that opt tempo, no thanks.

            When they offer 120k to stay for two years and getting out is a no-brainer there might be an issue.

  • Jerry

    I had no doubt I was well on my way to CSM at around 23 in. I was over 20, had pretty much met my career path goals, had served in Europe, the Middle East, Korea. I was Combat Arms and in a leadership position. I had done all the school, service school time, instructor time and was well within reach of my goals. I was not retiring. Then, after 18 years of marriage, we were headed for divorce. Had nothing to do with cheating or drinking or anything along those lines. Looking back it was purely the strain that military life puts on families. At that time I was stationed in what the Army calls a “Remote area” because there was no installation and no support elements like there were back at Fort Hood. We had to use civilian facilities, Tricare Remote was a real pain dealing with civilian hospitals. my duty kept me gone 3-5 days a week year round for three years. When I was home, my mind was not with the family, my mind was prepping for the next roll out or flight out. Well we settled on an agreement that this divorce would not be brought in front of our 13 year old daughter, that we would keep her life as normal as possible, there would be no visit restrictions at all, and on that it was the best thing we could have done as she is a successful adult and says she barely remembers us going through a divorce, we were military, so I was gone all the time anyway. But on the day we finally decided to seal the divorce I came down on levy for a 1SG slot in Korea. I thought about it for some time, I was not going to leave my daughter again for an entire year right after/during a divorce. So I called branch and requested a 12 month delay, hold in place. Branch went to the Branch Chief, and the Branch Chief sent word back that sorry, that is were we need you, you are going to have to go or retire. It took me all of 3 seconds to make up my mind. Retire. Some things are more important than staying in. In this case, the welfare of my daughter. in the long term, even though I knew that I would absolutely make my career goals, this was the right and best decision. But there is something that most people who are “IN” dont know. The Military is like La Cosa Nostra. When you are in, your in for life. Doesnt matter how many years you do on active duty. If you choose to get out then “Quit” as it is put in the article, then that is on you. You can get out and “not quit”. here are so many different ways to serve in the military it aint funny. The easiest way is if you move to a State with a State Guard. You usually go in one rank higher than you came out of f active duty. You are back in Uniform, it is voluntary but you get an ID and can use the State National Guard PX’s, you serve during disasters and are activated and paid at your rank same as the Army. Another way to serve is as a member of the IRR. People think the IRR is something to get out and forget about and wonder if you will get called up. You can actively participate as a member of the IRR. (Your still in the Army you know). You can continue your career in the IRR. Again, it is voluntary, but you can make a certain number of days per year and can still be promoted, you can request CONUS or OCONUS training assignments and go with the troops in the field, I know someone who retired as a SSG in the regular Army and finished in the IRR as a CSM at age 65. you have the opportunity to go to the same schools on your career path and all the rest. When you do four for example, then get out, you still have a 5 year commitment in the IRR, why not make the best of it? Get promoted, go to school, make those voluntary two hour meetings. You can retire from the IRR. You can even request Combat assignments. Yea you got out, but you are still in. You did not quit. Another way is to join a Veterans organization and be active. Dont join and forget about it. Husband and wife can participate. The need for Van drivers to get Vets to the VA is everywhere, the need for Volunteer VSO’s is enormous. For spouses who liked those spousal support groups while they were in, you can find the same thing in a Veterans organization. “But my “husband or wife” didnt serve in Combat.” is not an excuse. Every soldier who served in the last 14 years is eligible to be an AL member. Every Veteran, regardless, can be a member of AMVETS. Dont have a local post? Start one. It is not hard. For AMVET’s it takes 12 members to get started, you can find 12 vets in any city or town. In fact you can do all of that. You can be a member of the State Guard, meetings usually every two months, active in the IRR and a member of Veterans organizations. How exactly is that quitting? If you get out and quit, they, that is because you chose to quit. And if you use the VA, you will find yourself around Vets all the time. Believe me, when it comes to former Veterans and their families, nothing changes. Among each other, among spouses and among Brat’s, your still going to be talking the same talk and doing the same walk. And there are far more ways to serve than just the things I mentioned.

    • Kay

      Thank you so much for sharing your story and these various ways to still be on duty after retirement or “getting out.” Your message is powerful and will hopefully help others who may be contemplating the same, divorce, with similar circumstances. And thank you so very much for your service to the US. You clearly paid a high price for your sacrifice. God bless you.

    • Rebekah Sanderlin

      Great points here. I gotta ask … you said you were “headed for divorce”. Does that mean that you ended up staying married? I’m really hoping you say yes. :-)

  • Rebekah Sanderlin

    Think of it this way … when you meet a veteran who tells you that he or she served for, say, 10 years — do you think “quitter”? No, of course you don’t. Going AWOL is quitting — getting out isn’t.

  • Jodi

    I’m a female veteran, honorably discharged, and non-combat related disabled. It is hard, especially when you never got to deploy, and I see female personnel having children and still making it work. I sometimes wonder if I had tried harder, or made different decisions, if I could have made it longer in the service. My husband is a lifer, and now that we are going on 19 years in service, I am surrounded by more friends who stayed in, and retired or approached retirement. You do feel like a quitter.

  • Evelyn

    I’m the wife my husband (who is now retired USAF) wasn’t issued. And we have 4 children who weren’t issued to him either. Yes being in the military is hard. We and I say we, because once married to it you’re in it. We went through A LOT while in the military and each time it was time re-up we asked ourselves what was the best thing for us a the “time”. If it would have been get out we would have. And would never feel as though we had quit. No way!! With all we had gone through by each 4 years, there’s NO WAY WE WOULD HAVE FELT LIKE QUITTERS!! We didn’t plan to be a lifer and stay in the military for 20 years. It was just the best option when it was time to re-up. Your not quitting, believe me. You’ve served your country and learned a lot about life in a hard way. So no you’re not quitting. You’re just moving on again. In truth I miss being in the service with my husband. We’re a different kind of breed. We take things as they come, and make the best of it. Like be evacuated from your home in Turkey at 3am on a C-130 because you were 300 miles from Baghdad and the Gulf War am had started. With 4 kids ranging in age from 7mos to 8yrs. It was hard, it should have been done earlier, it was going to the unknown completely. But, we only has a couple of years left before retirement. So we knew it wasn’t going to happen again. Our life was good and bad attitude time while being in, but if we had gotten aout earlier and not retired. We would not have felt or think we were quitters. Not in th least. To all who serve and have served we are a small family. And when you meet someone who served and you’ve never met before that moment, you’re instant friends, you share a common bond, you’re a Veteran. So don’t think of it as quitting. Think of it as your next assignment.

  • ron

    It takes maturity and dedication to want to stay in the military and pride too. for some there is no problem with getting out. But most do feel a kin ship especially after a hard are dangerous assignment are tour of duty . Comradeship is a true friendship. just like brothers . other then blood , military service is an organization that forms and forges a bond between two individuals that last a life time. and when one dies the friend feels the loss just a relative feels. I still feel remorse over the friends and acquaintances that were killed in Vietnam. and the last time I was there on my second tour was 1971. And it still hurts to think about their deaths.

  • Leon Suchorski

    Is it quitting when you have done the best that you could, and it was better than others, yet they got promotions and better duty stations than you? Is it Quitting when you are the go to person every time, yet you do not get advanced when others do? Is it quitting when you do every job assigned to you, and not only do it, but excel at it, but still get no recognition for it? Always remember that there are places on the outside working to support the vets.

    • Leon Suchorski

      If you are disabled, and want to open a pizzeria, go to Little Caesars. Mike gives ANY vet 10% off, and disabled vets , 60% off. And he trains you. And the rest of the money, you can get from the SBA. So what you need, is the desire and drive to succeed.