Leaving the army is a unique experience for everyone – what to do and when to do it will vary depending on your family’s needs. The more proactive you are about seeking information and support, and the earlier you start planning, the more successful your move to civvy street is likely to be. Some families choose to settle outside of the UK, adding an extra layer of complication, but as we find out here, it’s definitely do-able…

The Clarke family (main photo) – Meghan, Jamie and their daughters – are heading to the United States…

When did you start planning?

Moving back to the US was always our plan as that’s where I’m from. I met Jamie when he was stationed at the British Embassy in Washington, DC, and before he even proposed we discussed eventually settling in the States. He told me that if I was willing to spend 10-15 years following him around Europe that he’d then happily retire in America. 12 years later, he’s making good on that promise!

What have been your priorities?

Being close to my family, so that really narrowed down the area where we wanted to settle. After that, it was where I was able to find a job that determined our exact location. How did you find the process? My daughters and I are all American citizens, but it was quite a lengthy process to get Jamie his visa. We had heard it could take 12-18 months, especially given all the delays since COVID, so we started early and filed the first petition in February 2021. Over $1,000, three trips to London, and lots of paperwork later, we finished the process in April. Obtaining a visa via a spouse is given priority status, meaning that it was easier. It’s much more difficult and can take a lot longer to get visas through other relationships.

What have you found most challenging?

Sorting out logistics – especially with kids in the mix. There’s a lot of second guessing as to whether you’re doing the right thing.

What’s the most exciting part of leaving the army?

We’re excited about a new sense of freedom and control. Being able to make our own decisions about where we want to live feels very liberating. We’re looking forward to living closer to family and Jamie having a job that doesn’t require him to be away.

What do you wish you’d known earlier?

That it would all work out. It’s easy to get caught up in what ifs and worry about things that are outside of your control.

What would be your one piece of advice to other families?

Start early. It takes a lot longer than you might think to sort visas and shipping etc.  

The Munson family

The Munson family

The Munson family – Linda, Col, Muse (15), Lincoln (11) and Peggy the Doodle – recently began their new life in Canada…

When did you start planning?

In 2012 following the redundancies, we thought about what would we do in that situation. We agreed that our love of travel and open spaces would lead us to emigrating but we weren’t sure where. After 23 years’ service, Col decided on a new career path in 2019, so we left it rather late to actually start doing anything!

What were your main priorities at the time?

Housing, but it had to be the right community. We were confident that we’d find work and our children, being resilient military kids, would settle in easily. We spent six months scouting Alberta for our ideal community and found it in Gibbons.

What have you found the most challenging?

It was difficult to get assistance to do the most basic things because of COVID. We had to wade our way through most of the leaving process with no guidance. There were lots of arguments and tears, but we stuck together, making sure we were always listening to each other. Col didn’t really contact anyone other than AFF to talk to about the worries he had.

Post leaving, we settled into our new life quite easily. It’s in our nature as a seasoned army family to move, fit in and carry on. Col initially struggled with losing the daily camaraderie. Leaving during a pandemic meant that there were none of the usual farewells so it was challenging not to have that closure.

What’s the best part about leaving the army?

The stability we are able to offer our children. For the first time, Muse knew she would finish Junior High and start High School with the same gang of friends. Oh, and no magnolia walls!

What do you wish you’d known earlier?

From Col’s point of view, a more streamlined approach on how to support those leaving under difficult circumstances. I wish that we’d started saving earlier. We don’t regret all of the opportunities and travelling that we had in lieu of savings. However, getting a mortgage would have been much easier with a larger deposit.

What would be your one piece of advice to other families?

Talk openly. Not just with your partner, but your children too if you have them. Be honest about what you feel and want.

Where to get help… 

Defence Transition Services (DTS), part of the MOD’s Veterans UK, provide information and support for those service leavers and their families who are most likely to face challenges as they adjust to civilian life.

If you require support with your transition and have ongoing welfare needs they can support you overseas, but as a UK-based organisation they don’t have expert knowledge of local support available for each country. DTS caseworkers will research available options on a case-by-case basis in line with location.

The Royal British Legion also provides support or links in with overseas organisations in some areas.

If you live abroad you can also approach your local British Embassy or British Consulate for assistance. Search ‘Veterans UK’ at gov.uk for more information.

The Career Transition Partnership will help your soldier with skills workshops, training and routes to employment – ctp.org.uk

SSAFA’s mentor programme helps recent departees, and their families, with the transition to civilian life – ssafa.org.uk

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