Deciding to Retire


Three weeks ago I chose a path that is decidedly the most painful personal decision of my life thus far:  I made the decision to retire from the Marine Corps.   I held on to the application form for retirement for a week to let my mind cool off and make sure that this wasn’t an emotional reaction to something bad that happened at work and that my spouse is okay with this decision that will surely affect the both of us for the rest of our lives.  I weighed my options and looked at the civilian employment landscape.  I looked in the mirror and asked myself a loaded question:  Do I have what it takes to finally leave my beloved Corps and compete in the civilian world?  Then finally, I walked confidently into my admin center, and the deed was done.  One year from today, I will be wearing a suit to work if I’m fortunate enough to find that desirable white collar job with a nice salary and incentives.  

Surviving twenty years in the military will never cease to amaze me. Many of us just can’t wait to get out after four years. Only a small percentage of military folks make it all the way to their twentieth year.  Having to look for a suitable mate who will put up with the military life doesn’t make it any easier. It took me ten years, but I met mine at my ten-year mark, and he has been the defining characteristic of the ten years that followed. For years I have carried the guilt of dragging him through some rough situations.  And just what kind of life did I give him in the military? For starters, the majority of our relationship happened during “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” (DADT) and the Defense of Marriage Act. I brought him to the most isolated and desolate of duty stations in the Mojave Desert. He had few friends, and even fewer were invited into our home. At one point he forced himself to end a good friendship with a woman who married a young enlisted man because he knew I was uncomfortable with the young man discovering true nature of our relationship and blabbing it to the guys at the barracks. When I deployed in 2010, he couldn’t say goodbye to me the way he wanted to in front of all of the other families who were saying goodbye to their Marines. And for the next seven months that followed, he was alone in a very small and strange city with only two friends that he could count on for support. 

Such was the life I offered him, and yet he accepted it. He stayed with me through thick and thin. Even when California’s Prop 8 prevented us from getting married and the Defense of Marriage Act prevented same-gender military spouses from being recognized legally, he stayed with me.  He was my rock when I felt like wavering and was my voice of reason when I wanted to do something crazy after a frustrating day at work. It was fortuitous that the Supreme Court declared the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional on June 26, 2013, because exactly one week later was our wedding day; the decision was the best wedding gift that Uncle Sam could have ever presented to us. On September 3rd, 2013, we applied for benefits, and now, he’s finally covered by military health insurance and, more importantly, recognized as my next-of-kin and my survivor in the event of a tragedy that cuts my life short. He is legally my family now.

But the twists and turns that I’ve sprung on him just didn’t stop there. Just as he is getting used to the life of a recognized military spouse, I’ve decided to retire. What a cruel joke, it seems. Yet it wasn’t a decision that I made in a vacuum. My husband knows that I have thought about leaving the Corps since the day I met him. My reason at the time for wanting to leave the Corps was that I wanted our relationship to blossom and mature in an environment that wasn’t darkened by DADT. How does anything on God’s green earth grow while constantly hiding in the shadows? But as much as I wanted to get out at ten years, I guess Jay knew me better than I gave him credit for. He shined the light on the fact that I still wasn’t done serving my fellow Marines. He knew that I wasn’t going to be happy at all if I left the Marines prematurely before I was done serving our nation. I was happiest when I was leading Marines by helping them grow to their potential, by setting the example for them, and basically, being there for those who genuinely needed the help of someone like me who had a little bit of power and rank on his collar. And so Jay convinced me to stay in until my heart was content. Not coincidentally, as I climbed higher in the ranks, dealing with troops on a more personal level is becoming less frequent. Those fading interactions with the troops are just part of continual military promotions. And so, at nineteen years as a major who climbed up from the rank of private, mentored countless Marines, led Marines in the combat zone, and helped some of them get commissioned as officers, I believe I’ve reached my point of contentment. As I struggled with the decision to finally set a retirement date, Jay reminded me that this was something I’ve talked about for a while now. According to him, this was always my decision to make, but without the undying loyalty and support from Jay I would otherwise be kicking myself in the behind if I had left the Corps ten years ago and missed out on the great distinction of adding “USMC, Retired” to my name. I owe him. BIG TIME.

Now that I have decided to retire, I am forced to take a look at my life in the Marine Corps and ask myself, “Have I prepared myself and my family enough to bounce away from the safety net of a military paycheck and soar on our own wings and hang with the millions of American civilians who are making it out there on their own?” It’s the dreaded question that only some of us are asking ourselves before we decide to leave the military nest. But even as we make it to the twentieth, or even thirtieth year, many of us end up not preparing ourselves and our families for this next life-changing decision. Hopefully, my next few blogs will allow me to provide insight into some of the steps that my family and I have taken to prepare ourselves for this next great milestone that very few ever reach.  I’ll space them out throughout the next year. 

As I type this I am dreaming about riding the trains in Europe and sipping mojitos on the beach as a retiree. And Jay is sitting next to me reading a book. But those activities are still a year out. So close, yet so far away.



  1. Terry Cowles says:

    Maj Gatongay,

    Excellent blog entry on military service and the decision to retire. I’d like to follow your future blogs. Best wishes.

    Terry Cowles, Major, USAF (Ret)

  2. jack smythe says:

    well done, gentlemen, from the bottom of my heart, thank you both for your service.

    jack smythe

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