by Cynthia Cline
For over 6 years, I battled with the decision of whether or not to separate from the military. Every time the thought crossed my mind, I felt a surge of emotions… shame, guilt, weakness to name a few. It felt as though deciding to leave the military meant I was admitting I was not strong enough to stick it out.
Chances are, if you have served or are currently serving, then you’ve felt it too.
Maybe this feeling is unique to women in the military, or maybe it isn’t?
All I know is that we never want to admit that we are not strong enough. Women have fought to break barriers for us to serve, and yet, we are conflicted about what to do next.
We don’t want to be a disappointment to the women who came before us, and we don’t want to be a discouragement for the women who will fill our shoes.
What will people say when they find out I separated to stay home?
Will my parents be disappointed in me?
Who will I be when I no longer wear the rank?
Am I setting women back by not toughing it out?
Am I really unable to stick it out for the long hall?
Questions take over our minds as we take into account cultural expectations. Then, to make matters even worse, we aren’t even allowed to talk about it.
Fear of Separation or Fear of Disappointment
During one particular season of bouncing back and forth between my options, I was approached by a retired Chief Master Sergeant and 15+ year GS employee named Joe. Joe was known for his candor, so when he pulled me aside and told me that I was the best Lt he had ever seen, I was flabbergasted. Then a few months later, as I pinned on 1st Lt, Joe awkwardly handed me a military clothing sales bag that held a pair of hard Colonel rank. As I pulled the hardware out of the bag, he exclaimed: “if you truly want it, I believe you can make it.”
At that moment, I should have been elated, yet, my stomach churned. Again, I felt guilt, embarrassment, shame…. Joe had no idea I was questioning whether or not to get out.
Have you ever had someone believe in you? Believe that you were capable of far more than you have ever imagined? If so, then you know the sinking feeling you have when you question whether or not you’re making the right decision. Maybe, just maybe, the desire to separate is a normal emotion that any young service member goes through. Maybe, instead, we should try to make it to 20?
Yet, as time goes on, the desire to separate never disappears and our motivation for work changes. As crazy as it sounds, wearing the uniform may no longer feel like the right thing to do for our country.
It’s A Woman Thing
As if the decision couldn’t be any more difficult, we throw in a life change such as marriage or motherhood. It is no longer about solely your military career, but about your family, as well.
And although many days, you may enjoy work, serving your country in this capacity no longer fulfills the desire you have to be a part of something greater than yourself.
Yet, now comes the stigma that we have succumbed to conservative expectations of being subservient women. Would people attribute my decision to separate because I had a child? Or would they believe that there were reasons greater than my new role as a mom?
Unlike for some, I didn’t struggle to go back to work. I enjoyed my opportunity to get out of the house, I needed it. But still, I wondered what my daughter would think? What kind of role model would I be for her if I stopped serving my country? Would she grow up to think her momma couldn’t hack it? That was the absolute last thing I wanted her to believe.
All it took was a deployment for me to see that separating from the military didn’t mean I was done serving my country. Instead, I would serve my country in a new way.
“Our greatest contribution to the [world] may not be something we do, but someone we raise”
A New Perspective
When I deployed, I picked up the habit of writing to help process my life. Writing was how I began to process my feelings in hopes of a better understanding of what was going on. As I began writing, I came to the realization that my fear of separation was really the fear that others would think I wasn’t strong enough to stick it out. I felt that by applying for separation, I was admitting I was not capable of serving my country any longer. That I was simply not strong enough.
But that is a downright lie.
Leaving; choosing to say adios to the Air Force has nothing to do with our ability to serve and everything to do with our obedience to our calling. I learned that my decision to separate would not hinder future women from serving our country, nor would it discredit my service to my country.
Instead, I would serve my country by supporting my spouse and raising responsible, productive, adults that will one day serve our great nation.
So, if like me, you struggle with the idea of separation, can I encourage you? Do not allow the fear of separation to manifest itself in the same way it did for me. Know that you are capable of far more than you give yourself credit for.
And just because you no longer wear the uniform doesn’t mean you have quit serving your country.
Want to hear more from Cynthia check out her interview on Women of the Military Podcast here.
Cynthia Cline is a veteran of the U.S. Military, a Military Spouse, and a momma to two. She has a passion for books, coffee, and Jesus, and a desire to share her story to encourage women. You can read more from her on her blog, A Faithful Step, where she encourages and equips women in the area of Motherhood, Relationships, Military life, and Christian Spirituality. You can also connect with Cynthia on Facebook or Instagram.