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Spouses in Major DC Job Hunt

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which last year launched its ambitious Hiring Our Heroes program to help the country's returning servicemembers find civilian jobs, today held the largest-ever career counseling event for military spouses.

More than 115 corporations, agencies, and veterans' service organizations provided career guidance, resume workshops and even free makeovers to spouses looking for employment in Washington, D.C., for the Military Spouse Career Forum.

The aim of the project is to help upward of 1 million spouses find jobs, said Patricia Shinseki, senior adviser to Joining Forces, the White House-led initiative to support servicemembers and their families.

"There are 1.2 million military spouses. Ninety-five percent of you are women and one million of you want to work," Shinseki told the crowd. Shinseki was a military spouse for decades as the wife of retired Army Gen. Eric Shinseki, now the secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Laura Dempsey, an Army spouse and director of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Hiring Our Heroes program, said the Washington event is not a one-time or one-place event. She said the Chamber will be sponsoring up to 20 similar career fairs over the next year, but taking them to bases across the U.S. and overseas.

"We know that military spouses don't have time to drive an hour or two hours to go to a jobs fair," she said.

Mary Winnefeld, wife of Adm. James "Sandy" Winnefeld, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the latest generation of military spouses faces some challenges she did not when she became one 25 years ago. Today, more families live out in communities, not bases, and so they don't have that immediate connection and support.

"That's where the internet comes in," she said. "Now there is networking available, I think the internet is a valuable resource for spouses."

But getting spouses into or back to work and careers is something that the career fairs can help achieve on a larger scale, since it brings the employers into the same location as the job hunters.

Among the employers who set up tables for the event were AT&T, Verizon, Wal-Mart, Booz Allen Hamilton, CVS, Capital One, Monster.com (parent company of Military.com) and the University of Phoenix.

Maria Patrocollo-Emerson, a Sweden-born spouse of a retired Navy lieutenant commander, was in one of the longest lines, to defense contractor SAIC. Her husband has been out several years, but now works on the JSF program so they're still very much connected to the military, she said.

"I worked [previously] in international public health," she said, and so is looking for something "health related."

No one was hiring today, but some employers said they had jobs to be filled. Other corporations were not hiring but simply offering services to the job-hunting military spouses.

One of those was Dennis Roche, owner of Roche Salons in Washington, who said the spouse career event was a first for him, though he has been volunteering his services for the Army and hospitalized troops since the 1970s.

"I had brothers who served in Vietnam and family that served in Korea," he said. Roche and six volunteers from his salons cut and styled hair and offered styling tips. Nearby make-up professionals from Lancôme at Bloomingdales in Tysons Corner, McLean, offered makeovers.

Michalle Heckard, a Marine spouse, took advantage of the free hairstyling. Just relocated to the Washington area from San Diego with her gunnery sergeant husband, Brian, she'll be searching for a job that will put her master's degree in criminal justice to use.

"I think it's wonderful that everybody here is volunteering their time for military spouses," she said. The professional styling is a treat that many women don't give themselves, she said.

"I get my hair cut regularly," Heckard said, "but not usually at this level of expertise."

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