This Ten Questions interview is with Laura Hottenstein. Laura was the supportive spouse of her Navy husband, Scott Hottenstein, whom I was stationed with in Sigonella, Italy several years ago. They’ve remained good friends, and have since settled down in Florida where they’re living their post-military life as a dual-educator family. Read on to learn more about how the Hottensteins have dealt with their post-military life!
1. What’s your military background? Career, family, etc.
I am a family member of a US Navy retiree of 5 years. (Has it really been that long????) Scott and I were married at the Naval Academy in 1997. We have two kids, 12 and 15. Settled in the Tampa area upon his retirement after spending 4 1/2 years in Sicily and many other duty stations mainly on the East Coast.
2. What is it that you wanted to do after you left active duty? Did you end up where you wanted to be?
I earned my master’s degree while overseas and knew I wanted to get into school counseling. The answer would be Yes. I am currently a middle school counselor. I was very fortunate to have found a job relatively quickly after arriving in Florida but it was a waiting game. Counselors needed to go through a screening which was only offered three times a year. I missed the one for summer so had to wait just over three months to screen before I was even allowed to start applying for jobs.
3. What is it about your service experience do you think has best prepared you for your transition?
Flexibility, organization, flexible children, reliability on my spouse….pretty much all of it. Flexibility being the key. We were not planning on staying stateside. I had my application in for a DoDEA job (yep the overseas schools). Scott was interested in being my “dependent” for a while. However, our son became sick weeks after moving back which caused us to settle in Florida. He was diagnosed with a kidney disease and the specialist here was too amazing to leave. In hindsight it was the best decision we made even if it was “forced” upon us.
4. Think of the most challenging part of your life to this point. What is it that you’ve done that helped you through it?
Starting out the transition as the sole breadwinner. My husband really wanted to spend time with the boys and to substitute teach for a little bit before looking full time. Yes, we had the pension but that was not enough to really thrive on. This was my first job in my new career and one that I needed to learn to navigate. It was amazing to be in that position on one hand because it allowed me to feel like I was actively contributing to the transition.
To allow us additional income into the home while my husband had time to breathe before having to jump into a second career full time…this was a family decision that we came to that worked best for us. I truly have relied on other working moms to help me navigate this. I keep myself focused on the main goal, making sure we have enough saved so I don’t have to work summers. This allows me to spend time with my family.
5. On a scale of 1 to 10, how confident were you in your financial situation as you transitioned?
4 in the beginning. Knowing the pension was there was a nice safety net but so much of transitioning was unknown. We did not initially have jobs so truly lived those first few months solely off the pension as income which covered our mortgage, one car payment and maybe a few bills but otherwise we were living off savings. Now I am at about a 7. The change in tax bracket through us for a loop. I am also concerned with college savings even though we are blessed to have the post-911 GI bill for the kids.
6. What was your biggest fear about your transition?
We would not find jobs and I would not find friends/a community. Being a military spouse allowed me a built in support system through base contacts. Other spouses were truly my resources. It is what I call speaking in “short hand”. It is hard for those who have not been involved in the military lifestyle to truly understand it. Although we live in a larger community of military connected people, our neighborhood is townhomes. Not as much interaction.
Would my boys find friends they had something in common with and would I? And will I or my husband or kids get bored staying in one place? As much as resilience plays a factor in being a spouse it truly is a significant part of all transitions. I had a strong community in our last duty station, lifelong friends. This was a hard move. And to answer my own last question….I did get the three year “itch” for a change of venue. Travel helps.
7. If you had one question that someone could have answered for you (not doing something for you, but a question that they could answer), what would it be?
Is getting an accountant worth it, even if it is only once, post retirement? We will most likely need to go that route. We are now a dual income family for the first time since having children. There is the pension that bumps us into a different tax bracket even though we are both educators in the State of Florida. We have already met with our financial advisor who suggested we speak with an accountant to address taxes. But that would be the one question we should have asked initially.
8. What would you like to see “out there” that doesn’t exist, but if it did, it would solve a big problem for you, and other people like you?
A spousal transition guide. There are few resources available for spouses as we relocate post retirement. The closest base is about 45 minutes away without traffic. A group for spouses of retirees is as needed as when we were active duty. If they do exist I have not seen it. It was a time when I was navigating the healthcare of my son, a new job (in a career where jobs were luckily available), a new lifestyle.
Yes as a spouse we know how to find homes, schools, activities for our kids but it is the other piece. I was lucky that Scott transitioned relatively smoothly into his new career as a teacher but again we are in education in a large county where there are job openings. As a spouse the emotional support is just as important as transitioning financially.
9. What person has helped you through your military career and/or transition the most?
Actually two people.
My husband. He has been my biggest cheerleader as I started this counseling career. I could not have put my all into this job, which can be quite demanding on all fronts, without his unconditional support. Truly he is my partner-in-adventure.
The other person was actually at the school I worked in. He is a retired Army officer and a current JROTC instructor. He understood the transition into civilian life without me having to explain detail. If there were times I needed to catch my breath or in need of a reality check in my new career he definitely provided that. His experience transitioning as a family helped me as we transitioned for sure.
10. Do you want to be contacted by people who think you might be able to help them? If so, how do people get in touch with you?
My email is firstname.lastname@example.org or through messaging on FB. Yes we use aol still but mainly because it has been the one consistent thing in our contact info for years.