Retention Boards: The Waiting Game l Okinawa Hai!


Retention Boards: The Waiting Game l Okinawa Hai!

My husband is a career Marine. For as long as I’ve known him, he has planned on serving for at least 20 years. That all changed when we learned that he may no longer have that option. As we approach his 16-year career mark, we are standing at a crossroads. That is, we are waiting. Waiting to find out if the Marine Corps will allow him to finish his 20 years, or tell him it’s time to retire now. We are not agonizing over which decision to make; rather, we are agonizing over a decision that is not ours to make. The military will decide for us.

I had been hearing the rumors for some time, but largely ignored them. I paid attention to the news reports about the troop drawdown, but I refused to worry. After all, there is no peace in speculation. I didn’t give the situation any serious thought until I heard the words straight from his commanding officer: “You need to prepare.” Then the FY14 STAFF SERGEANT RETENTION BOARD MARADMIN was released:


In other words, if my husand does not get promoted this month, and because he has already been passed for promotion once before, the sun may be setting on his military career. Of the Staff Sergeants passed twice, the retention board will decide which Marines to retain, and which to let go.

At this point, we are planning for the worst-case scenario. We know that my husband has served faithfully, has always done his best to be an exemplary Marine, but we also know there are no guarantees. We are lucky in the sense that my husband has completed 15 years, making him eligible to apply for TERA (Temporary Early Retirement Authority), which would provide a smaller-than-planned-on pension, but still, it’s something.

Of course, there are many variables that come into play when they will decide who is in and who is out. Certain MOS’s will be harder hit than others. According to the MARADMIN, Marines with a weight problem, non-judicial punishment, or adverse paperwork in their record could be more vulnerable. My husband does not fall into any of these categories, but again, we have to expect the unexpected. I don’t pretend to know every nuance of the decision-making process.

I am not panicked, although at times my thoughts get away from me. We have paid off our debt and have some money in savings. Is it enough? It’s hard to know, especially when we don’t know how long it will take for he or I to find a job, and we have no idea what our living expenses will be. Planning for this potentially massive change while living overseas is no picnic. If my husband is forced to separate, I will lose my job in Okinawa, too. We will move back to the states … and then what?

I try to resist being swept away by the endless “what ifs” of this predicament by focusing on the things we can control, like attending a Pre-Retirement Workshop offered by Marine and Family Programs. This organization, by the way, is a godsend to families like ours. We are saving every possible dollar for the uncertainty that lies ahead. We are praying. I believe God will take us where we need to go, wherever that is. We will make the best of it, because that’s what we do. Isn’t that what all military families do?

I write this anonymously not because I am ashamed of our situation, but because I could be any military spouse. At one time or another, we have all been at the mercy of an entity that makes life-changing decisions for us. We may not always be in the driver’s seat, but we buckle our seatbelts and go.

Despite my best efforts to stay focused on practical planning, I find my mind wandering down many different paths. I picture us moving into my parents’ house (or his) while I peruse newspapers and websites for hiring announcements. I see the image of my husband as a full-time student, making the most of his Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits. I consider whether I could wedge my foot back in the door to my old career, the one I had before I became a military spouse.

The waiting game has me wading through all of these hypothetical scenarios, and more. I don’t know how much good it’s doing, but I hope at least I will not be caught off guard, whatever happens. I am not angry, or worried, but maybe a little scared. Just a little. The uncertainty appeals to my sense of adventure, if not my sense of stability.

Writing about what I’m feeling is cathartic for me. I know there are others in the same or similar situations. I wonder how many of us are wondering, fearfully, silently? I invite you to share your experiences, especially those of you who have already been down this road. What is helping/has helped you navigate these uncertainties and challenges? I think we can support one another through this Okinawa Hai community, and I’m happy to start the conversation.



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  2. if you do go back to school make sure you register for not only the veteran’s house, but the school’s Student veteran’s office (SVO) employers want to hire vets so they frequently head hunt in these offices. As spouses we always prepare for the “worst or terrible” but never quite for the mediocre. we bought some rental properties. if you stay in country, if you are going to school you can stay,(i think). join one of the Facebook groups and ask for tips.

  3. Adding my appreciation for seeing my own sentiments echoed here by others. Our Army family is facing RIFs right now too, and we’re in that zone where he is no longer a “young” officer but doesn’t yet qualify for early retirement. My husband is an O4 with 13 years, and we, too, had planned on serving 20+ years as an active duty family. We’ve known since last fall that retention boards would be convening this spring, with word out later this summer, which means he and I have spent the past 6 months – with several to go – in a bit of a holding pattern. I’ve never much counted on being able to make our own decisions, and I’ve gotten quite used to being told where we’ll move to next and when – on the Army’s schedule, if not mine – but potentially being told we’re no longer going to be a part of this life? That’s scary to me.

    My thoughts are with all those who are facing this particular uncertainty at this time.

  4. I appreciate this post immensely. It’s easy to think you are the only one who has it hard but this is affecting everyone, enlisted and even new officers. And if it doesn’t impact you directly, when the downsizing is done the Marine Corps will be a very different experience. We are also in a similar situation and my husband is an E-5. We do not have the TERA to fall back on so that adds a new layer of stress. We have so many possible back-up plans but who knows what will happen. It’s been hard to explain the situation to our families who have always heard us say we would be a military family for at least 20 years. I am going to send our families this article in hopes that it might help them understand why we could be coming home 10 years early.

  5. Thank you for expressing the feelings and uncertainty that is plaguing a large population within the Marine Corps. Our family is also facing this same uncertainty. We have always had a plan for when he retired, but that plan is not supposed to be put into place for another four years. We have been asking ourselves the same questions and the what ifs are huge. I know that the Marine Corps takes precedent, it always has, however, a little grieving will take place. I am not ready to resign my current position but am preparing to do so if he is not selected. What has helped us from letting our mind wander is by staying busy. We are making the most of our weekends and hitting all the beaches and sites that we can here in Okinawa, so if we do have to leave early at least we made the most of our last duty station.

    God bless all of the families in this current situation. The unknown is intense but God has a plan for every last one of us. Thank you again for bringing the reality of this situation to light.

  6. I just read the post to my husband and he asked if I wrote it! Thank you for putting my words onto paper. I haven’t met anyone here in our situation, so it seems like some shameful secret…which I know it isn’t. I know God has a plan and His ways our not our ways…Amen. If He chooses to have us move from the corp early, then it means He has us needed someplace else. The unknown, for the time being, is what leaves me a bit scared…my control issues

  7. We are an Air Force family waiting on retention board announcements, as well. We have small children, and some days I am thankful that they keep us too busy to worry overmuch about what may be….though on other days, the manner in which we will provide for those kids if my husband was selected is enough to bring me to my knees. My heart goes out to all those service members – and their families – who find themselves facing this situation.

  8. Oh sweet anonymous author… I understand what you’re going through as my husband will also be on that board. It’s been a stressful month waiting for the gunny list to come out next week and knowing that if my husband isn’t on it, he’ll possibly be “kicked out.” Thankfully, we’ll also qualify for the TERA, so not all is lost.

    Anyway. All of that to say, I’m praying for y’all! 🙂