Mil spouse on adjusting to civilian life

Meet Mary Elliott Raynor. A veteran Mil Spouse two times over as her husband Glenn served in both the army and the air force, she’s also a military mom.

Photo of Mary Elliott Raynor guest blogger on MilSuccessNet Check out her retro themed blog to learn more of her adventures and particular views. It’ll feel like a different world just visiting Mary’s page. As her “net-met” friend and “sister-Mil-spouse” (editor interpretations) author, Phyllis Zimbler Miller said to me when she introduced us in email, “No one can fully understand military culture unless they’ve experienced it.”

Mary E Raynor is a member of the Military Writers Society of America, but today, she’s our guest blogger. She was inspired to write this post after reading Jesse Hughes ‘s post on life with civilians.  

There’s been lots of opportunity for her to  experience the military and to observe life stateside and overseas. It’s made her appreciate a great deal about the military family and a way of life that took adjusting as she and Glenn settled into a new and sometimes befuddled civilian culture.

The back story, in Mary’s own words

I’m  a 50-something military retiree wife. My husband, Glenn, is 60-something and spent a total of 25 years in the military, including the Army, a few years in the Texas Guard during a break in service while we attended college, and then he finished his military career in the Air Force.

While in the military, we enjoyed being stationed many places in the United States including upstate N.Y. and California, and three overseas tours, to Germany, S. Korea, and England. TDYs (Temporary Duty) were common.

Glenn obtained a bachelor’s degree in political science from Abilene Christian University, an associate degree in civil engineering from Community College of the Air Force, and a bachelor’s degree in pastoral studies from Trinity Bible College.

I earned a degree in Spanish with a minor in German from Abilene Christian University. We’ve also done work on masters degrees in Bible.

While an Air Force wife, I enjoyed being a stay-at-home wife and mother and living on and off base. Our military retirement is in its 20th year and while we’ve fully adjusted to civilian life, not living near any base, we still do miss the military — most notably the people and the way of life.

Raynor family after Sam's basic training graduation in San Antonio in 2009

Sam’s 2009 basic training graduation in San Antonio
(photo provided)

[Editor’s Note: Mary and Glenn Raynor are experiencing the military a second time around, as their two sons, Samuel and Joel, are presently serving in the Air Force. Glenn has pastored various churches since military retirement and Mary is presently a part-time employee of the U. S. Postal Service, serving as postmaster-replacement.]



Adjusting to civilian life

After being a military wife for 25 years, and living through two college careers to boot, I found the transition to civilian life quite a shock. It was hard to relate to civilians, even though our time at college might have been a buffer time. College is a lot like being in the military, because you are only there for a few years and most of the people are young; a campus feels much like a base.

We found it hard to settle down and “find ourselves,”  given that we made three cross-country moves within the first five years of retirement. We went from a small city to a small town, to an even smaller village before parking ourselves permanently, as a family. At least, I think it’s permanently. I don’t really like to think it is permanent; when you’re used to moving, it can feel like you’re dying when you stay in one place very long. And, civilians are different from we are, which might add to the urge to keep moving.

I’ve come to summarize these conclusions about the condition of civilians in brief:

1) They are unsupervised

2) You can’t make them do anything

3) They come in all shapes, sizes, and ages

4) You have nothing in common with them. Or, as we’ve heard many military members say, “Civilians don’t have a clue!”

Some specific experiences led me to this short list of characteristics of civilian culture.

Many civilians have never been out of their neck of the woods. They’ve often been limited in their experience of the world and have never traveled anywhere. Frequently, they live within five miles of where they grew up, and, if they live in a small town, they are likely all related to everyone around them.

As far as everybody in my town being related goes, this fact alone has cured me of gossip, which is a positive thing. All it took was unwittingly saying to the man sitting next to me at a church pot-luck, “Oh, I hear she is not a very good dentist!” His reply was, “Oh, that’s my nephew’s wife!”

Instantly, I learned to bite my tongue. But I digress…

Civilians come and go as they please. They never have to show an I.D. card or justify why they are in a certain place. There was an occasion when a military friend of my husband’s was at a shopping mall in the company of a retired Marine sergeant.

“See all these people here?” asked the sergeant. My husband’s friend nodded. “They’re all unsupervised,” lamented the Marine. To him, this was a chilling thought.

The biggest shock for me was seeing so many sick, elderly people in the general civilian population. The military is, let’s face it, a young person’s profession. Military people are healthy, which they need to be in order to be military; most of their family members are young and healthy, too. And, because we were stationed overseas three times, we only saw the healthiest of the healthy, as they rarely send a G.I. with chronically sick or special needs family members overseas. Bases are not geared up to care for them. Every now and then, a G.I.s parent would visit, but even they were young when you compared them to the more aged civilian population. The they were usually in their 40s and you almost never saw a grandparent.

“Honey!” I said to my husband, shocked after watching one of our neighbors being rushed to the local hospital, “the ambulance shows up as often as the moving van did on base!”

Our neighbor died. The family held a funeral. It was so sad. We have attended a phenomenal number of funerals since becoming civilians, even more so when we lived in small towns where we got to know everybody.

Last but especially not least, I find that I have little in common with civilians because the course of our lives have been so different. It is tedious for me to listen civilians talk about neighbors that passed away long before I got here, relatives who moved away that I do not know, and the status of their vegetable gardens. Thank goodness for the weather. Being able to talk about it has saved me from many an uncomfortable silence.

To put the shoe on the other foot, our civilian acquaintances have just as hard a time trying to talk to us. I know they must get tired of hearing about our many moves, family separations due to deployments, and overseas living.

Sometimes, I get the impression that they don’t even believe us — our stories sound so fantastic.

One of our fellow church members was horrified to learn, when we told him about some of our family vacations, that we stay in billeting on base. In his mind, he saw the four of us, my husband, two sons and me, sleeping in the barracks with the enlisted men and being marched around on the parade ground. The next time he saw us, he presented us with a crisp fifty-dollar bill and told us to go stay in a NICE motel the next time we traveled.

We were touched at his generosity and wouldn’t, for the world, have told him that $50 only gets you a CHEAP motel, if you’re lucky. Turns out, we didn’t have to — he found that out for himself a few months later when, on a trip, the only room he could find for himself and his son, anywhere, cost $100.

All that being said, We HAVE adjusted to civilian life; we had no choice, as we did not retire near any base. If I say so myself, we have done very well.

There are things to do, to help in the adjustment and I’d like to share them with you.

MilSuccessNet will post Mary’s next installment in a day or so. She’ll have her 5 top tips for adjustment and comfort in your new civilian community. 

Please comment below if  Mary’s experiences hit home with you and add to the conversation on transition, on the home front with family, on the job and even back into the everyday routine of America at the mall, out socializing or signing up for studies. 




  1. Bravo to my friend Mary Raynor for speaking out about the difficulties of adjusting to civilian life after leaving the “security” of the military. I can relate to most everything she writes about.

    Mary and I met when she read a story about me and my book in “Air Force Times” in early 2010. My novel deals with life on a military base. According to Mary, she ordered my book, read it, then contacted me via my website. We have had several phone conversations, exchange e-mails, and “talk” to each other nearly everyday on Facebook.

    Thank you for publishing Mary’s story. I too had a few adjustment issues when my husband first retired from the Air Force and we moved to a metroplex in North Texas of six million people. What helped me was working on my book because I could “travel back in time” to our Air Force days and relive them as I worked to bring my story to life.

    I look forward to reading more of Mary Raynor’s stories. I think she has a lot to bring to the table regarding life outside of the military.

    All the best,

    Kathleen Rodgers

    author of the novel “The Final Salute”

  2. Thank you for your comment, Kathleen. You have been an inspiration and encouragement to me. Everybody should read Kathleen M. Rodgers’ book, “The Final Salute,” available on Amazon. I read it and loved it. The book is realistic about military life and really held my attention. Anybody who has ever been in the military, and even those who have not, will relate.


  1. […] Elliott Raynor shared her experiences of adjustment from military to civilian life  with us recently.  She and her husband Glenn have been retired from the military and active in […]

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