Nicki’s career preparation for transition
I grew up in the mountains of Colorado, and our family has been returning yearly for family vacations. I grew up in Grand County – home to Winter Park Ski Resort, Grand Lake, and all mountain activities (camping, fishing, hiking, skiing, boating, snowmobiling, etc.). A tourist and ranching community, I graduated with a class of 70 and could not wait to leave as a teenager! However, I always loved coming home for a visit, and as my family grew, Rich and I loved our trips “home” to Colorado more and more.
We decided to move back to the mountains about 10 years before Rich would retire, after a long deployment when our kids were young (Jackson a baby). From that time on, we were working towards that dream.
At about year 14 in his career, I went back to school to get an MS in Education and my teaching license. I worked as a teacher for 3 years in Northern VA, then two in Colorado before retirement. While teaching had always been a dream of mine, it also fit in with our plans for retirement and transition.
Making the Move
Rich and I were in a unique position during our transition. After living in Northern VA for 6 years, Rich received an assignment to Peterson AFB in Colorado Springs at year 19. We had a decision to make: Our oldest, Kiersten was starting high school. We could all move to Springs for 2 years, then try to move to the mountains, uprooting her in the middle of high school. OR I could move up to the Fraser Valley (eastern Grand County) with the kids, and we could live apart for two years. Fraser is a 2 ½ to 3 hour drive from CO Springs.
The kids and I moved to Fraser, and Rich rented an apartment for two years in CO Springs. He came home on weekends. When I look back at this time in our life, I think about how it was hard, but we knew it was only for 2 years, and we really worked together to make this time work. It took a lot of communication and perseverance to successfully live apart for two years while coming together on the weekends. We were really committed to our dream of living up here which helped.
I was able to get a job in the local school district which helped me immediately get involved in the community. We also got all three of our kids involved in sports before school started which helped them meet friends and feel more comfortable in their new environment.
Rich retired in 2015 and we started building our dream home. We had money saved from selling our house in VA, and my parents helped us by gifting us property in Fraser. Everything had fallen into place for our move to CO, but Rich’s retirement was challenging. There were no decent paying jobs open in our area, so Rich became a financial advisor with a company in CO Springs where he could work from home, and he became a partner with a local internet provider. In 2016, Rich ran for County Commissioner and won! He was sworn in January of 2017.
We had to dip into our savings quite extensively the first year and a half. We were building a house, Rich’s income was cut in half; it was stressful. Winning the election was our saving grace, and Rich has now let his other businesses go. If we had retired in D.C. or CO Springs, I’m sure Rich would have retired and continued working for the government or as a contractor, and his income would be much more than it is now. That is the trade off. We live in a place we love, have a very different lifestyle than when we were active duty, but we chose this, and we love it.
I will always look back on our military life fondly: I made great friends, lived many different places, my kids had great experiences and learned to be flexible. Our military retirement has given us the opportunity to live a different kind of life now, and for that, I will always be grateful.
6 Tips for Transition as a military spouse
- Stay positive about your future but also your past. This is so important if you have children. Honor your time in the military; you all sacrificed and worked hard during that part of your life, and it deserves reverence. Share your excitement for your new adventure with your It’s normal to miss your old life, but stay positive about your new one.
- Remember you have done this before. This is not your first rodeo, your life in the military is filled with change and transition; retirement is just another transition. You can do
- Your children will need your support, and it may surprise you. Of course we all know this, but I must admit this one really threw me for a loop with my own children. They each struggled emotionally at very different times. While all three were sad to leave good friends in Washington D.C., they were also excited to move to CO to be near family. After our move to CO:
- My oldest, Kiersten (9th grade), really struggled at the start of the school She knew a few kids from summer sports practices, but she really missed her friends once school started. There were many nights she came into my room and cried the first few weeks of school. By all accounts she got into a good group of friends easily, but it didn’t feel that way to her at the time.
- My middle daughter, Katelyn (7th grade), has always been full of joy, so she was very excited about her new home and school. Things started off well, but about two months into the school year, she felt overwhelmed by the new situation. She started coming into my room at night crying shortly after her sister stopped!
- My son Jackson (4th grade) struggled the most at first. He had a best friend next door in Virginia, so leaving was hardest on Jackson. However, he played football, so made lots of friends before school even started. Making friends has always been easy for Jackson, I taught at his school, so the new school year was a pretty smooth transition. The challenge came for Jackson when I moved schools our second year in CO, and he moved with me for 5th grade. I expected it to be easy for him because he had some good friends at Fraser Valley Elementary, but he was begging me to go back to his old school in It was tough for a couple of months, but he eventually settled in.
- Communication with your spouse is To be honest, I definitely do not always get this right. I let resentment build, hoping Rich will magically notice how upset I am. This never works out well for either of us! I really held onto resentment from living apart. For example, in my head I was thinking, “While you were working in CO Springs, I was spending my day working then picking up kids from practice or games, sometimes at midnight in a snowstorm (true): you owe me indefinitely!” As our lives came back together once Rich retired, I often “punished” him for things he was unaware of. If I had expressed this to him through talking, this transition would have been easier. It was similar to the transition you experience when your husband returns from deployment. I also did not give Rich enough credit for being “alone” for two years. To me it seemed like I had the unfair burden, but truthfully, it was probably harder for him to be away from us for two years. Remember what you love about your spouse during this time of transition.Those traits are still there. The year after Rich’s retirement were probably the biggest test of our marriage because I assumed everything would be great once we were finally together again, living our dream. I failed to recognize his struggles. Remember that this is a big change for your military spouse; listen to him/her, communicate with each other, love each other. This is one more transition in your life, you can get through it and be stronger together on the other side. Four years after retirement, this is the saving grace: We are stronger now, but there are things I wish I had done differently.
- Get involved with your new community. No matter where you end up settling after your retirement, this holds true. If you are staying in the same place, I assume this will be easier, but if you are moving somewhere without a military installation, this is extremely important! Expect people to be curious about your past, but they won’t really understand your life in the military. This has been my experience. Remember, as a military family, you have done this many times! Rely on your tried and true experiences: get involved at your children’s schools, volunteer, attend community events, invite your neighbors over.
- Make your own way, don’t rely on your spouse. This is what Rich and I prepared for years before making the transition, but it can be done at any time. If your children are all in school, I would encourage spouses to work outside the home OR volunteer in the community. My teaching career has been the best outreach for me in getting to know my community and making friends. My best friends are teachers, and we support each other both in and out of