WASHINGTON -- Exciting changes are underway for military spouses that could affect families who serve for generations to come.
It used to be, in the not-so-distant past, that a decision to marry into the military was a decision to not have a career of your own. Even if a spouse could juggle the demands of military home life plus a paid position, who would hire her (95 percent are female, according to Defense Department figures) knowing she would be gone in a couple of years due to a forced military relocation?
And how would she even get to the point of applying for a job if she had to renew her professional license -- nurse, teacher, realtor, therapist, just to name a few with such requirements -- in every new state?
Both of those employment hurdles are getting lower as Defense Department, White House and nonprofit entities rally state legislators and the corporate and business communities to make things easier.
Through the work of DoD’s Military Community and Family Policy office and Michelle Obama and Jill Biden’s “Joining Forces” campaign, 16 states have passed laws to improve professional license portability and another 11 have legislation pending. Also, DoD’s Military Spouse Employment Partnership last week added 34 employer “partners” for a total of 128 that post jobs on the site specific to military spouses. As part of the program, the employers -- CACI, General Dynamics, Dell, Microsoft, American Red Cross, GEICO, and Sterling Medical are just a few -- agree that their positions can move with hired spouses.
The catalyst for change has been the spouses themselves who spoke up about the need. Indeed, DoD officials say 85 percent of military spouses have responded that they either want or need a paid job.
One spouse who turned her frustration into action is Lauren Weiner, a former federal employee analyst with the White House Budget Office, whose career came to a halt when she relocated with her husband, Charles, a Navy civilian, to Naples, Italy, in 2004. Unable to find a senior-level professional job on base -- and spouses aren’t permitted to work off-base in Naples -- Weiner networked with Naples-based wives and found others in the same situation.
Weiner responded by starting her own government consulting business, Wittenberg Weiner Consulting, LLC. In just a few weeks, she hired her friend, Donna Huneycutt, a lawyer and Navy wife, to help keep up with the expanding workload. Together, the two built the business -- Wittenberg as president, Huneycutt as executive vice president -- to what is now a 60-person firm in which 75 percent of employees are military spouses.
Besides giving back by hiring other spouses, Wittenberg Weiner last year started the nonprofit, In Gear. It provides a forum for community support, information-sharing, and mentoring for career-minded military spouses. It also partners with other organizations working to support the professional endeavors of military spouses, such as the Military Spouse JD Network, which is working to ease state-by-state attorney licensure requirements for military spouses. “We realized there was this incredibly talented pool of spouses out there,” Huneycutt said, “and we wanted to make sure this was more than a pit stop in those spouses’ careers.”
Weiner and Huneycutt represent a growing number of spouses who refuse to accept that a military life means the end of their working life -- or a 20-year hiatus. Military spouses who want to work outside the home in any field are getting more opportunities all the time, and that is good for everyone -- spouse, servicemember, and the military community.