It is hard to believe that 25 years have gone by since a certain Captain proclaimed I had swallowed the anchor and retired from the United States Coast Guard.
This is not one of those life is great after I retired posts. It got better, but it took a while to realize how good life was and could be.
Twenty-Five years ago today was the first day of officially being a Coast Guard retiree and a lot of life has happened since that day. I had been practicing retirement for a couple of months, but when that March 1st came, it was…so final.
Yes, as a retiree you can go back to the Exchange, wear the retiree ballcap with pride, even attend multiple association’s conventions, wear your uniform in parades, go to Coast Guard Day picnics, or tell a few sea stories about your time in the Coast Guard.
But the truth is, once you are retired, you are no longer a part of the Coast Guard “team.”
You. are. retired.
For most of us, there is a helluva chasm between active duty and retired. None of the services seems to have any good answers on how to keep retirees “in the family” and often there is not a lot of effort made to do so. A nice ceremony, a bit of celebration and don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out. At least that was my experience.
Although I had a feeling even before I submitted my request to retire that my transition to being a retiree wasn’t going to be smooth sailing. The Coast Guard was all that I had known for my adult life up to that point and becoming a “civilian” scared the shit out of me. There were some things I thought would happen in my personal life as a result of retiring – they did. While most of them turned out for the best in the long run, going through those storms at the time they happened wasn’t easy – they never are.
Once you retire there is no choice but to find a different life from the one you have known. You can’t continue to live in the past, like some attempt to do. Then end up at the end of some American Legion bar, with a bad case of it dunlaps over disease, swapping lies with others who also feel frustrated about their choices and never truly let go of who or what they were once upon a time. At one point I came close to being one of those guys.
Fortunately, I woke up and did what most of us do. The best we can, even attempt a new career or two, make changes in your life to reflect the new you, and hope things turn out for the best.
It took me a few years longer than most retirees, to figure out civilian life, what works, doesn’t work and sort of fit in – to life after the military. There was no longer that feeling of family and mission that I had in the Coast Guard and I missed the family part more than most since I considered the Coast Guard more my family than the family I had left when I joined.
Sometimes I still wonder if I fit that well, into the world around me, even after 25 years of attempting to assimilate into the collective. Oh yeah, that’s Star Trek, not real life…well…or is it? Maybe just a different perspective on life than what I have.
Although like most retirees I have hung on to bits of my past. I know that I and others, still wear too many Coast Guard themed shirts and hats, tell a lot of sea stories, but I am very proud of being a Coastie. 😛
I wonder from time-to-time how things would have turned out if I had not retired when I did. What my next duty station after D1would have been, and what friendships I would have made, and if would I have made more of a positive difference by staying than in the Coast Guard? Stuff that I will never know but that I still wonder about.
Looking back, leaving the Coast Guard was one of the hardest things that I have had to do in my life, but it was the right thing to do at the time.
There were many reasons both professionally and personally for leaving when I did. The baggage I carried around about the Coast Guard for many years was more of my own making then anything else. It wasn’t the Coast Guard that dumped me on the shore and waved goodbye as they sped off. It was me turning my back on my past and walking away from all the support and friendships that I had made in those 20 years – for too many years. It wasn’t bitterness, it was more I missed being in the Coast Guard too much and couldn’t bear to be around it or people I had known.
I have learned (the hard way), retirement is what each individual makes it and is not who or what you were once upon a time. I should have done things differently those first years of my retirement, but at the time I didn’t. Yes, I do have regrets, but at the same time I cannot change the past and can only look to the future and what I can do moving forward.
Over the years I have grown to understand myself more and have become very happy with the life I get to lead. Now as I enjoy the beginning stages of my second retirement, I can look back at a life well-lived and excitement about what is still to come.
And yes, I believe much of the happiness that I have in my life is because of what I learned during those 20 plus years in the Coast Guard. It just took a while to realize how lucky I was and am.
No matter what else happens in my life, I will always be a Coastie.
So to all my old shipmates, I hope your lives have turned out as good as mine has, and may the next 25 years be well-lived by us all.