Tag Archives: military

How to Throw a (Fairly Kick Ass) Army Retirement Party

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.

In keeping with the dining style we’d planned to create a mess hall banner (see photo/link) we found on Pinterest, but sadly ran out of time.

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!
Centerpieces
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!
cupcake tree

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.
HOORAY!
Or….Hooah?

-Terrible Former Army Wife, Signing Off.

Just Like Heaven

Home. He’s home. Back from a year spent in South Korea. One long damned year wherein I thought I’d write more, but every time I went to put words to keystrokes those words ran whiney. Some would say I had the right to whine and some would say I’ve had it amazingly easy, as far as military families go, and I should shut my boo-hooey trap. And it doesn’t matter what people say, I just didn’t feel like whining. Wining, as always, another story all together.

Maybe I’ll revisit those days in a later blog, but for now I’m quite content living these new days. After three weeks vacation he’s gone back to normal work-a-day duties. But even those are slight, until he gets into the rhythm of things. Which means he leaves late and comes home early. Which also means he sucks me into a crazy vortex of laziness. “Come cuddle, and eat delicious snacks, and watch more episodes of The Big Bang Theory,” he beckons. “If the kids are at school/napping we can totally have sexy grown up time, then eat more, and watch more TV….and sleep…sweet sleep. You know you want this.”

And I do. I do want this. So much. I can taste the snacks now.
It’s heaven.

And I almost got away with it, too!

So many thoughts running through my head since Friday.
On overload, hyper-drive, warp speed since last night.

We’ve gone from, “So, what do you think about moving?” last Wednesday to, “What do you think about Germany?” on Friday to, “They want to send us to a hole in Texas and send me off to war in Afghanistan for a year or more” last night.

Son of a bitch.

I wrote to a friend: “Whatever happens, the fact is the days of having him work Mon-Fri, 8 to 5, home on weekends, never away, happy-nuclear-family-time, those days are over. All this time I bitched about getting out of AZ and now I’d be sooooo grateful just to stay!”

And that’s the gist of it. From the moment he caught the scent of this – on the winds of change – and we began to discuss it, I have been looking around this house, our life here, even this stupid little town, and I do NOT want to let it go!

I’ve been incredibly lucky, see. I’ve been with him for five years, his wife for two of those years, and in ALL of those years I’ve never had to do without him for any extended period. Wait, there was the 6 months it took me to move to Arizona to be with him, there was the week he left in 2007, and that other week he left in 2009 and…..that’s it. That’s IT! In fact, the longest we’ve been apart is when I take extended vacations home to Seattle without him. I’M the one who leaves all the time!

And I really thought I was going to stay lucky. I’d convinced myself of it. I really thought I was going to be married to him and never learn what it was like to be a real “military wife”. My daughters would never really experience being “military brats”. Somehow we were going to buck the system, slip under the radar, and remain stable in a completely unstable environment.

It was a semi-reasonable delusion. After all, we’d done it this long. We’d escaped fate for 4 years, only had another 4 years to go, and it looked like he was going to retire here. I could keep my family, intact, in the suburbs of Arizona, living the pleasant suburban life of a TV sitcom family.

Happy. Together. Safe.

I feel like the villain at the end of a Scooby-Doo episode.
“And I would have got away with it, too – if it wren’t for YOU, pesky Uncle Sam!”