How To Plan a Military Retirement Party
I can remember dreaming about my military retirement party when I was a young Non-Commissioned Officer in the Army. I was attending a party for a senior NCO in my unit, one that I helped set up and decorate for and I remember thinking that he must have been so proud. Everyone was taking a turn to tell their favorite story – most funny, some heartwarming, all personal and focused on the guest of honor. It was at this moment that I thought, “Man, he must be so proud. I hope my retirement party is filled with all this nostalgia and comradery.”
With expectations like that, it can be a little daunting to plan the perfect military retirement party. But whether you’re planning one for your spouse, your friend, or your mentor, I’ve got some tips for you to help you along the process.
Tips for Planning a Military Retirement Party
One of the first things you need to figure out is if the party you are planning occur in conjunction with a military retirement ceremony or if they will be separate events. It’s been done multiple ways. I’ve attended events where the formal ceremony happened first, and then a party came right after. I’ve seen the formalities plopped in the middle of the program with a cocktail hour to start and the party continuing after the ceremony. If the party you are planning includes military programming, you’ll need to coordinate with the chain of command to be sure everyone is on the same page.
Some retiring service members decide to have several parties for different situations. It’s pretty common to have a military retirement party with the chain of command and unit members, a casual military party with work buddies, and yet another retirement party with family and civilian friends.
Ultimately, it’s up to your retiring loved one to decided how they want to celebrate their milestone. You’ll just need to be clear which type of party you’ll be responsible for planning.
The next step in planning a military retirement party is choosing a venue. When thinking of the perfect place for the party, consider the following details:
⦁ What does the retiring servicemember want?
⦁ How many guests will attend?
⦁ Are there physical accommodations for disabled or mobility-challenged guests?
⦁ Will guests be traveling?
First and foremost, you’ll want to follow the wishes of your retiring loved one. Chances are, they’ve thought about this day for a few years. Ask them where they’d like the party to be. If you’re looking to do something more formal selecting a nice local restaurant or inn is a good idea. If you’re located on or near a military installation or reserve facility, you can often rent or use space there.
Casual spots that are fun for retirement parties are outside picnic groves or lakeside pavilions. Is there a favorite bar or tavern that has a party room or outside deck you can use? These are all great options for more laid-back parties and if you can tie it in to a favorite hot spot that’s even better.
When it comes to guests, you’ll need to be sure the venue is big enough for your guest list and consider any accessibility needs that need to be accommodated for disabled or mobility challenged guests. Include a list of nearby lodging with invitation for guests that wan the option to stay overnight.
Speaking of guests, who should you invite to a military retirement party? Once again, it’s best to ask the guest of honor who they want to be at the party. If you still need help with the guest list, consult friends and fellow service members who know them well.
Whether you send out formal stationery invitations or opt for digital invites, include all the essential information for guests. What do they need to know? Answer the 5 Ws: who, what, when, where, and why, and you can’t go wrong. Let guests know if you want them to bring anything such as a gift, photos, or stories. And allow them to tell you about any dietary needs they may have on the RSVP.
In my opinion, two things set the tone for a retirement party: the venue and the food. We’ve already talked about how to choose a venue that fits the style of the party. Next, let’s consider the menu. The possibilities are endless and come down to a few points:
⦁ What can you afford?
⦁ What type of food and drink do you want to serve?
⦁ Who will make it and serve it?
⦁ How much do you need?
I’ve been to smaller parties at restaurants and bars where each guest paid for their own food and drink. That’s definitely the easiest for party planners. But if it’s a larger party, you’re probably going to have a catered meal where you’re charged by the plate. You can still have guests pay for drinks to keep costs low (because the bar tab at a retirement party can get pretty steep!)
If it’s more of a casual party, you can have it professionally catered or prepared by dedicated volunteers on your party planning team. You might want to provide the beer and wine at this type of party, and let guests bring any other specialty drinks they desire. Have lots of snacks on hand to nosh on throughout the evening, especially if drinks are being served.
Fancy food or finger food – as long as it’s delicious and there’s lots of it – guess will be happy with the menu.
Oh, and don’t forget the retirement cake. Every great military celebration has a cake, and you might get bonus points for cutting having a sword available to cut it!
Here’s an opportunity for you to get your creative juices flowing! If you’re the crafty, do-it-yourself type, a quick search on Pinterest will give you thousands of decoration ideas. But if you’d rather buy decorations that come out of the package ready to go, you can find tons of customizable options online. Some catchy favorites include a “Goodbye Tension Hello Pension” banner and a “Straight Outta the Air Force” sparkly sign.
A personalized touch can really highlight the guest of honor. Consider adding your loved one’s name, branch, and service dates on coasters and napkins. Photo displays and collages always bring laughs and stories. And don’t forget a swag bag for guests with party favors. How much would your guests love a party-themed T-shirt, stemless glassware, tumbler, or a 50 caliber brass ceramic shot glass?
After all the hard work of planning a military retirement party, there’s just one thing left to do. Celebrate! You can do just about anything, but here are some favorites:
⦁ DJ and dancing
⦁ Darts / Pool tournament
⦁ Gift giving / special presentations
⦁ Roast the guest of honor
And most of important of all – tell stories! This is the absolute best part of any retirement party. Laughing over all those times the craziest things happened. Commiserating over training in the rain. Breaking down in military trucks. Deployment orders that happened suddenly. With at least 20 years to cover, guests will have a lot of material to review with the soon to be retired comrade.
Help the guest of honor treasure these stories after the party by having a guest book available or cards on the table for guest to write well wishes on. Maybe ask them to bring a photo along to pin onto a collage board. Whatever you choose, make sure guests know what to expect and come ready to join in the fun.
Start Planning That Military Retirement Party!
With just a few thoughtful touches, you’ll be sure to throw a military retirement party they won’t forget. I can’t remember attending a retirement party that I didn’t like, so don’t overthink it. If guest are comfortable and fed, they will be happy.
If your military retiree feels appreciated and is surrounded by the friends and family that supported them along the way, they will be happy. Create an environment where the retiree can reflect on their time in service and celebrate with military comrades, friends, and family.
There’s no right way to host a military retirement party. Ask the guest of honor what they want. They’ve likely been dreaming of this day since graduating from boot camp! A military retirement party is an event that every career service member has dreamed of. Make sure the party is one they’ll never forget. You can't go wrong by sticking to their wishes, adding personalized touches, and including guests in the celebration.