Fifty military spouses gathered in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday to get a crash course in running for office.
Military spouses have found a voice on Capitol Hill as they have used social media to organize and gain the attention of their congressmen on issues regarding proposed budget cuts in the budget debate.
The Homefront Rising political action training conference was held at the Reserve Officers Association and was hosted by the Military Spouse JD Network and InGear Career. The course included information on how to build a public image, raise funds, pitch lawmakers and manage an effective campaign.
Several elected officials, all veterans, participated as speakers and offered their own experiences seeking elected office. Rep. Dave Reichert, R-Wash., and Rep. Jim Bridenstine, R-Okla., both shared the challenges of being an unknown candidate and the unorthodox ways they built support and raised money.
Bridenstine said his campaign was so poor he refused to give away bumper stickers and instead insisted he put them on a supporter's bumper to ensure they didn't just throw it away.
Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, told of her first campaign at the age of 21 and encouraged the audience to get involved regardless of what people tell you about having no experience. She encouraged the group to take action.
"There is so much that is misunderstood about our military and the challenges we face in this world both for our servicemembers, our veterans and our military spouses and families," Gabbard said. "The only way we get to change this, to remove some these misperceptions, is to get you involved."
While many of the lawmakers expressed a desire to see more military spouses in office, an aide to U.S. Sen. John McCain was asked about how military spouses could find jobs as staffers. He offered an honest response and said the frequent moves required of military spouses meant there was "not space on the Hill for term employees." Military JD Network President Mary Reding and InGear Career founders Lauren Weiner and Donna Huneycutt created the event because they saw "so much talent" among their military spouse peers that was not being put to good use.
While veteran service organizations began to grow in visibility, they realized there was no organization that addressed how to get military spouses in the decision-making process and become advocates for their community.
They are committed to growing the idea to more events and possibly forming a political action committee to help fund military spouses seeking office, but no firm plans have been made yet.
Adrianna Domingos-Lupher attended because she has seen the shift as a military spouse in culture from a decade ago and the impact technology has had on uniting spouses on issues.
"You don't have to wait to move to the next duty station to build your network or meet people," she said.
Citing social media as the biggest change in how military spouses communicate and organize, she thinks more and more military spouses will jump into the political ring.
"Who better to speak out than those who are painfully aware of the issues facing our military and our country?" she asked.
There is a "culture shift afoot in the military. We've been watching an evolution and if the military is a microcosm of society, then it stands to reason that like society, women will take on more and more leadership roles and become more involved in public life than ever before."
Military spouse Dawn Montgomery has no plans to run for office but attended because she wants to see others run and support them. She echoed the sentiment that there is a culture shift happening and said it is obvious military spouses are starting to "feel empowered and realizing they have a voice."
When asked why this event is receiving so much attention, Domingos-Lupher said budget cuts and a long time at war have forced military spouses to act as a special interest group.
"It's about time we found a way to exist in our own space and have a voice," Domingos-Lupher said.