From the Homefront: A spouse’s perspective on retirement

Adjusting to a new life is the norm for Coast Guard spouses. But one of the greatest changes we face may be the transformation from military to civilian spouse.

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Twice a month, Coast Guard All Hands will feature “From the Homefront,” a column for Coast Guard spouses by Coast Guard spouse Shelley Kimball. Shelley has been married to Capt. Joe Kimball, commanding officer of Air Station Miami, for 13 years and currently serves as chapter director for Blue Star Families in Miami, Fla.

Matt Botnen with his mother Connie, his wife Heather, daughter Emily and son Adam just before his last flight and retirement from the Coast Guard. Photo courtesy of Heather Botnen.
Matt Botnen with his mother Connie, his wife Heather, daughter Emily and son Adam just before his last flight and retirement from the Coast Guard. Photo courtesy of Heather Botnen.

Written by Shelley Kimball.

Photo by Bill Keefrey.
Photo by Bill Keefrey.

Adjusting to a new life is the norm for Coast Guard spouses. But one of the greatest changes we face may be the transformation from military to civilian spouse.

Heather Botnen made the transition to retired spouse life when her husband left the Coast Guard in January after almost 25 years of military service. She said she was apprehensive to make the leap from military to civilian life.

“The process is scary and exciting,” Botnen said. “Leaving a lifestyle that you have learned to navigate over the last 25 years is surreal and a little terrifying.”

Botnen’s husband took a job with an airline, which meant that his work schedule was not much more predictable than it was in Coast Guard life. However, some of the other aspects to which she looked forward have been as positive as she hoped – no more OERs, promotion boards, or having to move and look for another job for herself. Despite the positives, she said it has been difficult to leave the adventures and close family connections Coast Guard life brings.

“I had some sadness in leaving because our family has had great adventures and been able to live in amazing places. There is some sadness in knowing that your lives will not cross paths with friends again,” Botnen said. “One thing about saying goodbye in the Coast Guard, especially since it is such a small service, is knowing that there is always a chance your paths will meet again and it is strange to know that likely will not happen now.”

One unexpected aspect of the retirement process has been the emotional reaction for Botnen.

“It is important to know that it is a bittersweet process and it is likely that there will be a roller coaster of emotions,” Botnen said. “I think it is normal, but I don’t think people are prepared for it. I think we take care of the logistics and make our checklists and get prepared, but we don’t anticipate the feelings.”

For Melanie Allen, finances and employment were the looming concerns when it came time for retirement. Allen’s husband, John, retired from the Coast Guard in November after 22 years of service. He finished out his career as a Health, Safety and Work-Life regional manager in Seattle. She said they were looking forward to leaving military life to move to Texas to be nearer to both sets of their parents and their college-aged daughters.

Lt. Cmdr. John Allen retired from the Coast Guard after 22 years of service. Photo courtesy of Melanie Allen.
Lt. Cmdr. John Allen retired from the Coast Guard after 22 years of service. Photo courtesy of Melanie Allen.

“We didn’t worry too much about retiring because the timing felt right, but probably our biggest concern was John finding a job after retirement,” Allen said.

It took longer for him to find a job than they anticipated but their preparation and his excitement about trying something new pushed them forward.

“For us, retirement was exciting,” Allen said. “We loved the Coast Guard, but after 22 years, we grew tired of moving, and wanted to buy a house and get settled somewhere. We wanted to plant some roots.”

Paramount in their preparation was researching ways to maintain financial stability, Allen said. They relied on a USAA checklist for retirement prep.

“Advice I would give for retirement preparation: Be as debt free as possible,” Allen said. “It helped ease a lot of stress during our transition.”

Botnen agreed the primary advice she would give other spouses facing their active duty members’ retirement would be financial research. She said it is unlikely the average Coastie family can live off of retirement pay, especially if they have college-aged kids.

“We prepared for years putting money into an account for emergencies and unknowns for retirement and to be able to feel like we had some backup,” Botnen said. “It is a nice feeling to retire and it is a good thing, but go into it with your eyes wide open.”

Do you have any tips for Coast Guard spouses or families planning to retire? Leave them in the comment section below.

Resources:

Coast Guard Transition Assistance Program: Assists service members in leaving military life by ensuring they are educated in the benefits available, financial planning, as well as ensuring they are prepared to enter the civilian workforce. Spouses are welcomed to participate in some components of the program.

USCG Retiree Services: This site has links to the retiree services program, FAQs, and community resources.

Coast Guard Support: The retirement section of the site includes information on financial planning as well as relationship issues that arise during retirement.

USAA Military Retirement Planning: A printable guide is available here, and it includes a retirement planning checklist.

The views expressed herein are those of the author and are not to be construed as official or reflecting the views of the Commandant or of the U.S. Coast Guard.

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