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Military Retirement: Saying Goodbye After 31 Years in the Air Force

The Last Parade

Let the bugle blow
Let the march be played
With the forming of the troops
For my last parade.

The years of war and the years of waiting
Obedience to orders, unhesitating
Years in the states, and the years overseas
All woven in a web of memories.

A lifetime of service passes in review
As many good friends and exotic places too
In the waning sunlight begin to fade
With the martial music of my last parade.

My last salute to the service and base
Now someone else will take my place

To the sharp young airmen marching away
I gladly pass the orders of the day.

Though uncertain of what my future may hold
Still, if needed-before I grow too old
I’ll keep my saber sharp, my powder dr
Lest I be recalled to duty by and by.

So let the bugle blow
Fire the evening gun
Slowly lower the colors
My retirement has begun.

-Author Unknown


Over the years, I’ve made a point of keeping my husband’s military career separate from what I typically write about.

However, after 31 years in the United States Air Force, I think he deserves a blog post.

When you’ve served that length of time, you know the end is coming–it’s inevitable. Still, after all those years, military life has become part of the fabric of your being, not just for the servicemember, but for the family, too.

Steve receiving his flag at his military retirement ceremony.
Steve receiving his flag at his military retirement ceremony.

We’ve been through a lot together: getting married when he was a baby Airman and I a young nursing student, having babies far from extended family, living overseas, literally years and years apart due to deployments and temporary duty, moving when the kids were little and moving when they were big, 18 different houses, that one time we went through two super typhoons in one week, travel to amazing places like Australia and Europe, and so much more. He’s traveled to 6 out of the 7 continents, including  Antarctica. (By the way, I think it’s high time we hit South America, dear!) How can you even begin to put the tapestry of experiences and memories into words? It’s hard to do it justice.

And as we face this latest transition in the long line of what have been years of living in transition, there’s some familiarity, but also some new, unexpected moments. I’ve been saying this week that military retirement is hard to describe (and I know we still have lots more to navigate), but there are three other events I can compare it to: graduation, marriage, and a memorial service. 

Presented with his shadow box by fellow wingmen.
Presented with a beautiful shadow box by fellow wingmen.

It’s like graduation in that…

Everyone keeps telling us, You made it! 

We know we’re moving on to the coveted next step (the greener grass of life after the military). 

There’s a lot behind us, and hopefully we’re a bit smarter than when we first started this journey. 

You get presents!

It’s like a wedding in that…

Logistics, logistic, logistics. Picking out venues and menus for the retirement dinner, going through years of photos for the ceremony slideshow (not sure if other services do this, too, but the one piece of advice I’d give you is go through your photos well ahead of time if you’re putting together a slideshow of memories. This took me so much longer than I’d expected!) Where guests will stay, what they’ll eat, transportation, all the little details. 

The formalities of it all: walking in with an escort, dressing up, seating, protocol rules, and the receiving line. 

The special moments that come with reconnecting with extended family and friends who make the trip for this, your special day.

(You get presents!)

Pinning his retirement pin. I love how he’s looking at me. I’m pretty sure I just said, “I can’t see what I’m doing–I don’t have my glasses on!”
Pinning his retirement pin. I love how he’s looking at me. I’m pretty sure I just said, “I can’t see what I’m doing–I don’t have my glasses on!”

It’s like a memorial service in that…

Ok, it may seem silly to say it seems like a memorial service, considering we were actually there. But it is surreal in so many ways, as you watch the sunset of an amazing military career. 

When the somber words “publish the order” and “you are relieved from active duty” are spoken, it hits you right in the gut. It’s over.

He’s finished. Someone else will be taking care of his airmen and his Air Force. It’s time to pass the responsibility on and let go.

In the days leading up and during the ceremony itself, you can’t help but take stock of how you’ve spent your life over the past decades. 

Closure. There’s that. I think one reason ceremonies are so appealing is that they give us the final retrospective, the chance to mull over all that’s come before, decisions made, people who changed us… to mark a moment in time where you say farewell while you look forward and feel satisfaction in a job well done. 

Receiving my military spouse certificate of appreciation.
Receiving my military spouse certificate of appreciation. So special!

These are the final words my husband spoke from 2 Timothy 4:7-8 at the end of his retirement ceremony: 

I have fought the good fight.
I have finished the race.
I have kept the faith. 

Well done, babe. 

Main image DoD Live. Other images Air Combat Command.  


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Hi, I'm Jen!

As a military spouse of three decades and now the mom of an active duty son, my hope is to support you in your own military life. You’ll find help for your military marriage, deployments, PCS moves, and more!