It seems a dream that this year, this number, is here, already. Air Force retirement hides quietly behind Door No. 3. We have a hazy idea what it may look like, where we’ll find it. Oddly, this feeling of ‘not knowing’ is strangely familiar. Part of the mystique of the military life is the sense of being open to ‘the adventure’. Our old friend named ‘Not Knowing the Next Chapter’ has returned, perhaps for the last time. It is this part, this ‘readiness’, if you will, that may be the hardest part to kiss goodbye.
I’m taken back to the beginning of these years in a long ‘catch-up’ conversation last night with an old friend. When I say old, I mean one that spans all the way back to our college years at Texas A&M. Our husbands were Texas Aggie Band ‘fish’ together and by our senior year we were ‘band wives’ (translated girlfriends) on the back row of the ‘bass’ section. Later they were commissioned together. We married within a few months of each other and then met up in California, only to part ways for our first respective assignments on that side of the country. They began a life with the Army, we with the Air Force. That was 1990.
In August we got to be with them again in Florida, with all the offspring in tow whom we’d never met, though I feel I know them as we know their ‘stories’. We seem to be starting out again, this time in another new life called military retirement. They have already jumped into the ‘real’ world of civilian life, our time is coming within the year. My friend spoke of the day they received their “retiree ID cards”. It was less than monumental, though it seemed it should have been ceremonial. To those in the civilian world, the ID card is the golden ticket to all. It holds the key to the base, all base privileges and proof, for a dependent, of mere existence. Children are lectured over and over when they get their own, how their lives depend on that card.
This transition, this ‘trading in’ of an identification card identity is one long process. Mentally preparing for life outside the fishbowl, I think, requires learning a new language, and breathing a new air. We’ve heard friends report that the fresh retiree must learn to slow his idea of change when interacting with new civilian counterparts. For change, quick and often, remains the mantra of the active duty airman, or soldier or seaman. We shall see.
Until then, we prepare the family for the next few months, driving forward, yet unsure of the destination. We prepare a house, ridding ourselves of clutter. We prepare our bank accounts, though our own government seems driven to steal back promises made 24 years ago to young airmen who took an oath and quite literally signed away their lives. We prepare our hearts to let go while treasuring, and hoarding, memories. We prepare our new blank canvas of the future, watching to see what new colors the Creator splashes in our new life of adventure.
As the military spouse who has been blessed with a front row seat for the last two and a half decades, I can’t imagine any other life for my family as we’ve grown up ourselves while growing four children under the big blue Air Force umbrella. Although a little scary to step out from under it, the forecast looks amazing.