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Commentary: The Importance of Spouse Careers

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Martin Dempsey and his wife Deanie

This commentary is by Deanie Dempsey, wife of Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

America will need the strength of its military families more than ever in the coming months and years. As we approach the second anniversary of a massive campaign to help veterans find jobs, Hiring our Heroes has been a godsend to those who care about our country's future. But helping military spouses plan careers is equally important to our country and our military in the long run.

More than one million servicemembers will leave the military in the next five years. With this drawdown, and ongoing budget cut discussion, it's fair to say that our military families are in a state of high uncertainty, even for our community. Decisions are currently being made that will not only affect the size and scope of our military, but the health and readiness of those who stay.

The past 10 years have stretched our military families thin. There is no need to recount the effects of multiple deployments and the general stress of war on us all. Many of our families who have lived through the struggles have turned their strife into strength.

The "it takes a village" culture permeates our military community in extensive ways. Military spouses volunteer on and off installations at more than three times the national average. Drive down any street on any installation in the U.S. and you will find families covering child care and moving furniture for neighbors, providing both a helping hand and a shoulder to lean on.

This attitude carries over to every aspect of a military spouse's life to include their workplace. Military spouses are flexible and independent, loyal and hard working.  Employers who "take a chance" on a military spouse soon find that they want to hire more. They quickly discover that hiring military spouses isn't charity -- it's smart for business.

And for spouses, getting a job and maintaining a career is beneficial to their own families and communities in the long run. Research has shown over and over that steady employment leads to more confidence and life satisfaction. Dual-income families are the norm in America now, and military families are no different. A second income helps cover expenses that families must bear when they move or travel. And some military families, particularly junior-ranking families who fall among the 60%+ who live off of installations, need a second income to make ends meet.

Steadily employed spouses will help the country transition its young heroes to the civilian workforce. Post 9/11 veterans and particularly those under age 24 suffer from unemployment rates at double the national average.

Fewer would suffer financial crises if their spouses were gainfully employed, and particularly so if they were able to save and invest that second income over the course of their service.

For those families that stay in the military, an employed spouse with some amount of upward mobility will be more likely to support her servicemember's career, meaning a larger and more diverse pool of potential future leaders in a military that will need them.

The Department of Defense has an excellent full-service program to help spouses prepare themselves for the job search and connect with employers who recognize their value. As demonstrated by the successful efforts of Hiring Our Heroes' Military Spouse Program working with DoD's Military Spouse Employment Partnership, this effort requires true public/private partnership. Employers need to understand the value of military spouses in their workforce, and how they can commit to supporting military spouses with a successful career path throughout their mobile military lifecycle.

Spouses need to network with each other and with people in the business community to learn how communicate their strengths. Together, we can help strengthen our military families, our military and our economy.

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