The time is getting closer (okay, a year and a half away, but still). We need to plan it. Maybe I need to plan it. I am good at planning; heck, I plan a birthday party for my kid every single year. I should be able to plan a retirement ceremony, right? However, it won’t be mine – it’ll be my husband’s retirement ceremony following twenty years in the Navy.
For some reason, he doesn’t think that the one hour ceremony will be a big deal. I wholeheartedly disagree. Doesn’t he realize how much he is going to miss seeing Navy uniforms once we move to a landlocked state back east? Doesn’t he know how much it is going to sting when the day comes that he won’t see grey superstructures on the horizon? Doesn’t he know how much he’ll mourn the fuel-oil that permeates the existence of everything that resides on a ship? Doesn’t he know that this career of his – this period of twenty years will never repeat itself – that it will live in his memory forever?
How do I know this? Well, I know this because I started out as a sailor myself. The impressions cast upon me during recruit training were ingrained into my psyche forever. To this day – 20 years after, I still wake up thinking that I am in Boot Camp. That is how powerful this particular branch of service is. The Navy has a special name for everything, and a special way of doing everything. When you go out to sea, the civilian world is left far behind and all that is left is are your shipmates, long watches, great port visits, Yakisoba, peanut butter sandwiches, sea sickness, drills, and the grey bulkheads and decks that envelop you. And the uniforms! Oh, the uniforms!! I know that all of the services have their own special uniforms, but there is just something about a sailor in his/her Cracker Jacks that makes my heart skip a beat.
But time passes. People come and go, and they change, too. The same goes for dreams and priorities. That was what made me take my last walk down a long pier in August of 2001. I was a mom and a wife, and that was all I wanted to be anymore. But my separation was a regular one, and not a retirement. There was no fanfare; just me going home and taking my uniform off for the last time. It was so bittersweet. Now, all I have left are some old shipmates, a couple of cruise books, and wonderful memories of when I was Operations Specialist Second Class Petty Officer Rios, and not Mommy (which is still my favorite title), Baby (we are big on pet names, here), or Mrs. Myers.
I am trying hard to let my husband know how important it is to have a specific ending to his military career – a final moment when he is still an active duty sailor (and not a retiree) where he can stand before his peers and say, “Thank you. It’s been the best twenty years of my life.” I wish that I would have had that moment.
Thankfully, my husband is going to have a small ceremony (although I worry that I will have to push him on the planning). During that, we will hear words that we’ve heard during other retirement ceremonies, and I will not be able to keep it together.
For 20 years, this Sailor has stood the watch.
While some of us were in our bunks at night, this Sailor stood the watch.
While some of us were in school learning our trade, this Shipmate stood the watch.
Yes…even before some of us were born into this world, this Shipmate stood the watch.
In those years when the storm clouds of war were seen brewing on the horizon of history, this Shipmate stood the watch.
Many times he would cast an eye ashore and see his family standing there…needing his guidance and help…needing that hand to hold during those hard times…but still, he stood the watch.
He stood the watch for 20 years. He stood the watch so that we, our families, and fellow countrymen could sleep soundly in safety each and every night knowing that a Sailor stood the watch.
Today we are here to say, “Shipmate, the watch stands relieved. Relieved by those you have trained, guided and led. Senior Chief Myers, you stand relieved. We have the watch.”
I will be a blubbering mess at those words. My husband, who be relieved might cry, too. My position as a military wife will be over. My husband will be without his shipmates and I will be without the Navy wives that I’ve bonded with. However, we’ve had some preparation for this. Transfers of our own and those of friends have readied us. He’s always known that departing shipmates would bring new shipmates and friends in their wake. And for me, there has always been the knowledge that there will be another Navy wife somewhere who would welcome my friendship. But not anymore – not once we leave this life.
But what we will have together is our continued life – that and the retirement ceremony. Maybe then I’ll be able to mourn my uniform with my husband, who would then certainly understand what that long walk down a lonely pier was like for me. But he won’t have to walk alone. We’ll walk in between the sideboys – my husband, my son, and I, leaving the military life for the civilian one – together.
For more information on retirement, please check out:
10 Tips for the Retiring Spouse