How to Host a Military Retirement Party

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How to Host a Military Retirement Party
Chief Master Sgt. Darrell Pratka retired after 33 years of service in October 2020. (149th Fighter Wing Public Affairs/Katie Schultz)

One of the questions we regularly get is how to throw a military retirement party. Are you supposed to plan it? Does someone else? What is it supposed to be like? What kind of food is expected? Who are you supposed to invite?

And we know how hard these questions are because we've wondered the same thing! The good news is that once you've been around the block in military life, you realize there are a lot of different answers to the same questions and that no matter how stressed you are, pulling off a fabulous retirement party won't send you to debtor's prison -- or drive you crazy. Here are some military retirement party ideas for how to pull it off.

Military Retirement Party: Ceremony

Many spouses ask us: Should I plan some sort of formal ceremony?

The answer is a little complicated: What's right for you?

Some spouses insist that formal ceremonies are the military's wheelhouse and not yours, and for those families, a simple moment of honor and thanks at the celebration can suffice. Have your spouse say a few words, and make sure to ask someone he or she has worked with to have a small, casual statement prepared as well.

Your spouse might not want the attention, but people they have worked with through the years will want to pass along their thanks. A brief but elegant toast can be perfect for the person who shies away from the spotlight.

On the other hand, if your spouse loves military pomp and circumstance, coordinating a final formation or something similar is both meaningful and beautiful.

"Even though guys will say they don't really want it, it does look good and it is memorable," advises one knowledgeable service member that I lovingly call my husband.

If your spouse isn't coordinating this themself, work with the command and see what they usually do and what they suggest.

Military Retirement Party: Invitations

Some people go all out with formal invitations.

If you decide to print a formal invitation (or send one via email), don't let the wording throw you off. While there are endless ways to phrase things, here's a good start for how to word a military retirement invitation:

After X years of service

Rank

Name

will be retiring from

Branch

Please join us to honor his/her achievement/dedication

Date

Time

Location

R.S.V.P.

If a big-to-do doesn't mean a lot to your spouse, there's no reason to sink your savings on printed media that costs as much as your wedding invitations. People remember the person, people remember the service, people remember the fun -- you are the only one who will remember the invitation. Truly.

So who do you invite? Chances are high you want to include family and friends, and in your spouse's unit, it may be customary to invite the chain of command and peers, too. Let your spouse make the work-related decisions here - and double-check to make sure you aren't leaving out any families or friends who have supported you along the way, too. (Behind every great woman is several other great women and all that.)

Military Retirement Party: Celebration

Food! Drink! Music! This is the easy part. Military families know their way around a party like no one else - from wetting downs to meet-the-neighbors and welcome-the-new-guy potlucks to Mando Fun events, we've got celebratory covered.

But retirement parties get to be a little special. Take time to focus your efforts on memories -- gather photos from across your spouse's time of service for display -- and make sure you talk to the unit to see if they are doing something special. Often they'll make a plaque, memory box or something with that last unit's symbol.

Think of your decorations not just as things you'll just put away at the end of a party and store for next Indepdence Day (or whenever else you break out the red, white and blue we all own in spades), but rather as things that will live in your home celebrating your spouse's achievement.

We have a lot more great ideas for decorations on our Pinterest page to help get you going. And if you've found something amazing, we want to see it! We all benefit from sharing our best ideas on this one.

Military Retirement Party: Refreshments

While we've been to retirement parties that were lemonade and cookie affairs and were completely lovely, many spouses take this as an opportunity to go all out. (And if your spouse is anything like mine, they would expect to be the person in charge of the menu. I definitely play sous chef here.)

But if you don't want to sink your retirement fund straight into baked goods, remember that people love a cold beer and a burger just as much as the fanciest sit-down meal. And if you asked my exceptionally proper mother, she'd probably tell you that lemonade and tea are more professionally appropriate anyway.

Moral of the story: You do you. Whatever you want and can afford to provide people will be received as the kind gesture you intend. After all, they aren't there for the food. They're there for your spouse.

"Even the smallest retirement party is nice," advises my best-party-throwing neighbor and longtime Air Force wife. "I've been to probably 20 retirement parties, and they were all great. A champagne toast. A midday BBQ. Some donuts and coffee for a breakfast. All are great ideas, and all celebrate someone's service. That's what it's all about that."

Smart woman.

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