Salute to Spouses Blog

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Retirement Ceremony – who, what, where, when and maybe, not at all

I’m not going to lie. I was disappointed, and even a little angry, when my husband said he didn’t want a retirement ceremony.


There were many reasons behind his decision. One was that his commander and many of the people he was close to in his unit would either be PCS’ing or gone on leave or TDY at the time (although they did offer to do it before PCS season). Another reason was that retirement is a busy time – between PCS’ing and attending briefings and outprocessing, there is a lot to do. But, really, it just boiled down to the fact that he didn’t want that much attention.


He wanted to go out quietly, without a lot of formalities, much the way he had served his career as a Green Beret.


I wanted him to have the ceremony. I thought he “deserved” it. I wanted our two kids to hear stories and see praise being heaped upon their dad. Mostly, though, I thought it would bring closure to all of us.


Sixteen months later, I’ve come to terms with the fact that my husband didn’t have a ceremony or a big celebration. I’ll admit I get a little jealous hearing about my friends who had a wonderful ceremony and a kick-ass party after. And sometimes I still feel like all of us – my husband included – didn’t get the closure we needed.


But in the big picture, that choice was his. What he deserved was to end his career in the way he saw fit.


There is no rule or regulation that states anyone has to have a retirement ceremony, and there is no rule or regulation that states exactly what a retirement ceremony must include or not include. There are guidelines and recommendations and traditions that vary by service – but those are just that, guidelines and recommendations and traditions.


While my husband didn’t have his own ceremony, I’ve been to several. Each one I’ve attended was different and unique in its own way. The best were short, sweet and to the point, with a few small personal touches thrown in. And every single one made me cry.


Here are some tips and things to consider when planning a retirement ceremony (or deciding whether to have one at all):


Where do we have it? If your retiring service member does opt to have a ceremony, he or she is in control. Some bases do have monthly “group” ceremonies, but you can still have your own less official ceremony at another time and date. Most commonly, a retirement ceremony happens on base. But some people retire after jumping out of an airplane. Others do it on a ship or in front of a historical building or in a location that has deep meaning to them. Some just opt for the unit conference room and call it a day.


Who plans the ceremony? This can vary as well, but generally someone from the unit will help with the planning. If you’re lucky, they’ll do the whole thing with input from the service member and spouse. At the very least, the unit will plan a basic ceremony with the commander as the speaker, a script to follow and a location on base. They should also help with sending out invitations via email and, if necessary, ensuring visitors have base access. If you want to get fancy and do something unique, you’ll probably have to get more involved.


What should the ceremony include? Again, this is up to the service member (and to some degree the commander). A basic ceremony usually includes an award, a short speech by the commanding officer, music, reading of the retirement orders, and a speech from the retiree. But other speakers can be invited (the better the speaker knows the retiree the better), special songs played, or anything, really, that doesn’t take away from the overall dignity of the occasion. Spouses can help decide the program, too. A friend of mine secretly put together an awesome slideshow of her husband’s career that was shown at the ceremony.


What’s my role during the ceremony as a spouse? Generally speaking, none. In a traditional ceremony, you might be presented with flowers or an award or letter of appreciation. Some retiring service members choose to present their spouses with a gift.


What do I, the spouse, wear? Take cues from the uniform your retiring service member will wear. Choose something that will make you feel your most beautiful or most handsome, but at the same time be comfortable and not out of character. Do you.


Can the spouse present the retiree with a gift during the ceremony? You can. But you that’s best saved for another time - maybe at a gathering afterward with family and friends, or just when the two of you are alone.


What’s the best gift to give kids during the ceremony? Maybe I’m old school, but my answer here is none.


What gift should we give our visiting guests? Again, my answer is none. Except for maybe a speaker who traveled to be in attendance. And that gift should be given separately, not during the ceremony.


Should we serve food and drinks at the ceremony? Think of it as similar to a promotion ceremony – punch, cake and maybe a few finger foods will do.


Should we have a party or dinner afterward? Many people opt to have a celebration with family and friends after the ceremony or at a later date, but it is by no means expected. This can be a great way to mark the occasion in a more casual and fun way, present gifts and share funny stories. Just remember that this is an entirely separate event from the ceremony and the unit plays no role. Also remember it’s not “mandatory” to spend a lot of money on such an event. If you do opt to have a party, guests are just as likely to appreciate a backyard BBQ as a formal dinner, if not more so.


The bottom line when it comes to a retirement ceremony? This day is all about the person retiring. Let them mark the occasion in the way they best see fit.



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