The Defense Department Advisory Committee on Women in the Services wants to know why women are leaving the U.S. military during the window that occurs between their fifth and eighth years of service. As a woman who left after serving eight years in the United States Air Force, I’d like to shed a little light on this subject. Here are the three big reasons why women leave the military between five and eight years of service:
1. Initial enlistments are for four or six years and many soldiers need to extend a 4-year enlistment in order to take a stateside assignment after an overseas tour. This means that a single hitch will be anywhere from five to six years. Most military members who have enlisted for educational benefits have used these benefits by this point in their career and are ready to move on to a civilian career with their new credentials.
2. With most enlistments being in four-year increments, a soldier needs to make a serious decision at the eight year mark. You see, if you stay in for any more than ten years, it just makes sense to ride down that hill to twenty years and get the retirement benefits that come with twenty years of service. The eight year mark is when the big decision is made to make the military a career or just use your experience to move on to a civilian career.
3. When most soldiers join at age 18, they are generally 26 at their eight year mark. This is the age when many people consider starting a family. The realistic soldier understands that regardless of how young their child is, they could be deployed at a moment’s notice. This is often a compromise many people do not want to make. I know a Munitions Specialist who has been married to a Fireman for about eight years now. They have two children. For the past several years, both military members have had to be deployed for 6 out of every twelve months. This means that each one is a single parent whenever they have the luxury of being with their children. Sometimes their deployments overlap and their sons’ grandparents have to pick up the slack and stay with the children until a parent returns from deployment.
As for my situation, my husband and I managed to keep a long-distance relationship going for three years before we finally decided that one of us had to leave the military if we both ever wanted to be in the same state at the same time and be able to finally get married. We planned on having children, so we came to the decision that I would leave the Air Force and be able to stay at home with our children during their formative years. Once our children started school, I could consider a job as a teacher or do some other job while they were at school in order to be home with them before and after school. My husband has been deployed to the Middle East and several other places many times since we’ve been married and every time, we were thankful for having made the decision we did.