When planning to celebrate the end of my husband’s 24 year career in the United States Army I had a tough time figuring out just how the hell to do that. Please understand, I was a terrible Army wife. It’s the first thing I tell anyone when they ask me about Scott’s former career. I never learned the acronyms, the protocols, the politics or the hierarchy. I didn’t go to church, vote Republican, or carry a Coach purse. I avoided Pampered Chef parties, mommy & me play groups, and failed to roll deep with the MWR crowd. And, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with doing any of those things, I’m just a weirdo. A misfit. And a terrible Army wife. Yet, I love my sweetheart (and my country, I swear) and, by God, I was going to throw him an awesome Army-ish party….somehow.
I didn’t extensively scour the internet looking for military retirement party ideas, but what little Google and Pinterest searches I performed didn’t turn up much in the way of inspiration. Lots of red, white and blue decor, several patriotic appetizers that would also do nicely at a 4th of July bash, and a few clever cakes, but nothing that showcased what the norm might be for “So Long, Army” festivities. Fortunately, with the help of my creative mother, we winged it.
Concepts/highlights below: may they prove helpful to some other terrible military spouse out there.
MENU: Chow Hall Reminiscence
We rented a local hall that provided a chef, servers and bar on site – the one-stop-shop convenience of that was, I felt, well worth the added expense! When planning the menu my husband decided to forgo delicatessens and asked if the chef could whip up a dish he remembered fondly from his basic training days: Yakisoba. The chef obliged and it was…..Americana grub, for certain; meaty, salty, carby, tough guy chow.
There were lots of leftovers.
DÉCOR: Red, White & Cheap
Directing the majority of our budget toward venue, food, servers and booze, I allotted only a comparative fraction for decor. The party was in April but, by a stroke of luck, a local dollar store had set out all their Independence Day merchandise early – and I bought it all! The venue manager had told us we could decorate as we pleased, “We had a wedding down here once and the couple hired some gay guy….made this place look like Narnia!”
We didn’t achieve Narnia status, but I tacked up red, white and blue plastic table cloths as wall panels and bedazzled enough items to be as patriotic as all get out. Borrowing from my mister’s skull collection (not real, and not weird…well, maybe a little weird…but purely in the fun, still creepy, but mostly harmless way) and topped them with various military hats. Center piece, meet conversation piece!
My mother built cupcake trees out of Styrofoam discs and wooden candle holders (another Pinterest grab) and our daughters painted them. Pretty cute and blessedly cheap!
PHOTO BOOTH: Because Everybody’s Doing It
Using cardstock to print mustaches, mouths, masks, etc, we hot glued these to dowels as photo booth props. We added military hats of all sorts and, as backdrop, hung an American flag that a family member had flown for Scott while he’d served in Iraq.
And photo fun was had by all (the non-stick-in-the-muds).
SLIDE SHOW: Blasts from a Plentiful Past
The only retirement party staple I was familiar with was that of the projector, the screen, and the photo slideshow down memory lane. But what content to display, and how much, was another expedition into uncharted affairs. Eventually I chose to keep the majority of images related to his career, but I wanted to present an overall snapshot of his life as well. A few adorable shots of his boyhood here, a couple awkward teenager candids there, and I tried to add pictures of him posed alongside the many faces that were a part of his journey; to include ex-girlfriends and ex-wives. That last bit can be a touchy subject for some, but I felt those women were relevant chapters of Scott’s story. Besides, my husband has so many female friends, no one knew which girl photographed was just a pal and which one had seen him naked.
And, thankfully, no one asked.
Non-Pro Tip: I recommend a ten second delay, or more, between slides. We went with five and it proved a touch too zippy.
VIDEO GREETINGS: Be There, in More than Just Spirit
When your job requires you to travel all over the world you tend to end up with friends in nearly every corner of it, and those friends often live so far off they can’t always readily attend your retirement party. Except that they CAN! Sort of.
The ultimate triumph of that congratulatory night was surprising my dearest darling with a video of his most beloved peeps wishing him well.
The idea didn’t come to me until the party was less than two weeks out, so I scrambled like mad to gather 15-30 second videos from friends, family and colleagues all across the globe. The morning of the event I was still receiving, and frantically splicing together, last-minute video clips, but Microsoft Movie Maker made quick-editing a breeze and, after dinner, film rolled flawlessly for husband and guests. Husband was awed, guests were entertained.
-Terrible Former Army Wife, Signing Off.