Let's Give Our Military Families the Support They Need

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A military spouse speaks to a potential employer at the Marston Pavilion aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune during the Military Spouse Business Alliance Hiring Fair and Career Forum Aug. 9. (U.S. Marine Corps/Lance Cpl. Jackeline M. Perez Rivera)
A military spouse speaks to a potential employer at the Marston Pavilion aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune during the Military Spouse Business Alliance Hiring Fair and Career Forum Aug. 9. (U.S. Marine Corps/Lance Cpl. Jackeline M. Perez Rivera)

Carsen Zarin Groberg is a marketer and a recent transplant to Seattle after nearly a decade in Washington, D.C. Zarin Groberg's husband, Florent Groberg, was medically retired from the U.S. Army in 2015 and later that year received the Medal of Honor for his gallantry in action.

We ask the world of our military families. We rely on them for so much as they endure long separations, frequent moves and ongoing anxiety about their service member's safety and well-being.

Military service is a dangerous job that impacts every member of the family and requires the entire family's support. We owe these families our respect, but more importantly, we owe them our real, tangible support, not empty platitudes. As a nation, we have long delivered that support, but it came to a swift and unfortunate end in 2017.

In 2011, then-first lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden came together to launch Joining Forces, a nationwide initiative calling on all Americans to rally around service members, veterans and their families to support them in wellness, education and employment opportunities. Joining Forces worked hand-in-hand with both the public and private sectors to ensure these families had the tools they needed to succeed both while serving and afterward, as civilians.

At this same time, my husband Florent was medically retiring from the military, and we were navigating the choppy waters of deciding what was next. We couldn't wrap our minds around a job outside of the U.S. Army for Florent, yet alone a career in corporate America. Little did we know that during the five years Joining Forces existed, it would solicit and receive commitments from corporate sponsors to hire more than 1.25 million veterans and military spouses and helped broker legislation that enables spouses to transfer certifications across all 50 states.

Even now, many of the veteran and military spouse hiring initiatives embraced by corporate America began because of Joining Forces. That unprecedented and Herculean effort made all the difference in our lives, and the lives of millions of Americans.

Despite the massive success of the program, the current administration has chosen to abandon Joining Forces, moving the website to the archives shortly after the 45th president's inauguration. Despite his frequent praise for military service, President Donald Trump not only abandoned Joining Forces, but made no effort to replace it.

While it should be apparent to all why it is important for veterans to find work after serving, few grasp the impact military service has on military spouses' careers, particularly those working in fields that require a professional license.

Three years ago, I made the commitment, with the full support of Florent, to make a complete career change and leave my job as a marketer to explore real estate. After taking many classes, studying fervently, and passing my exam, I landed a stellar job with a team in Washington, D.C., and had my start date just weeks away.

Just days after I received my job offer, Flo rang me, and I knew immediately he was bracing himself to tell me difficult news. We were going to be leaving D.C. to move across the country to Seattle in a matter of weeks. My job -- my whole licensure for real estate in D.C. at that -- was a lost cause. That was tough.

I am glad to be here now, but just imagine being in that situation every 24 months. American military families move, on average, every two to three years. This means many military spouses must change jobs at least that often. Husbands, wives and partners must also adapt to their service member's unpredictable schedule and to the possibility of unplanned, long deployments or training absences, often forcing the spouse to be a single parent with little notice. With the likelihood of moving and the need for workplace flexibility, it can be extremely difficult for military spouses to find an employer who is even willing to hire them (and that is in a good job economy).

And yet, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 62% of American families rely on two incomes -- an economic reality from which military families are not exempt. At the same time, military spouses have, at 24%, the highest unemployment rate of any group in the country. Indeed, military families are twice as likely as civilian families to report having trouble making ends meet.

Without employers who are sympathetic to the unique demands on military spouses, many military families find the cost of service too high and the consequence is that their family cannot afford to serve.

Fixing what is rapidly becoming a national security problem was a primary goal of Joining Forces, and under President Joe Biden, we will be able to restore this imperative initiative. Military families need Joining Forces, and we need Jill Biden advocating on our behalf again.

If you believe we owe our military families respect, then let's get Joining Forces back in action under a Joe Biden administration.

-- The opinions expressed in this op-ed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Military.com. If you would like to submit your own commentary, please send your article to opinions@military.com for consideration.

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