Challenges of a Military Spouse Career and Retention of Service Members

Should the Pentagon Do More for Military Spouse Careers?

An Internet article in Foreign Policy Magazine, titled Junior Officer Retention, thinks that the military spouse career plays a significant role in the retention of service members and perhaps the Pentagon should take notice.

They should be thanked for recognizing the obstacles faced by military wives seeking employment:

“Consider the difficulties a young educated woman faces when her husband commissions into the armed forces. As she watches her friends enter the workforce and embark on their new careers, she will almost certainly be forced to move to an entirely new community with little in the way of local employment options. If she is lucky enough to find a good job, her excitement will undoubtedly be tempered by the knowledge that within a year or two she’ll be forced to move and start over. Every time she begins a new job search she’ll be competing against not just all the other recently arrived spouses, but also against non-military locals who employers know will not be leaving in the near future.

Military wives spoke up in the online comments, reiterating the difficulties of career options mentioned above, along with real-life examples. They spoke of part-time job offers with no expectations of promotion and how income opportunities are difficult when employers know that a Permanent Change of Station (PCS) is pending.

Other ambitious wives were quick to point out that every spouse should not have to choose to dedicate themselves to the service member’s profession.

One spouse even brought up the role-model example set by many other military spouses — stating she felt like she was surrounded by spouses who only “doted on their husbands 24/7.” Clearly she wanted a different path; a career with an income of her own.

Another military spouse criticized the skills gained when volunteering and stated:

“Smart women want to use their brains for more than fundraising, organizing bake sales, and joining spouses’ clubs…[A ridiculous idea is] perpetuated by senior leaders’ wives that “volunteer” work will help these wives gain a foothold in the “real” world after their husband has gotten out of the service. … no matter what kind of BS you have been fed, no one, and I mean no one, outside of the FRSA program is interested in hiring someone who has never worked outside the home other than to be a volunteer for 20+ years.”

The article focused on service member retention and summarized that when one views these hardships faced by military wives:

The choice for young officers will become stark: Stay in the military and make their wives unhappy, or get out and give them a chance to pursue their dreams as well. See source

The USFSPA and Arguments Concerning Careers of Military Wives

The military spouse job vs retention. The article makes the assumption that both parties will hold marriage above personal ambitions.

Will a military member really be happy resigning from service and following the ambitions of the military spouse?

The desire to serve one’s country can outweigh the commitment to marriage. And, the resentment that builds within a spouse who sacrifices a career may also lead to divorce.

Reading this topic reminded me of the irrational argument often raised by those who wish to change the USFSPA. The argument claims the USFSPA is outdated. The line of reasoning is the statute was passed back when a military spouse was unable to pursue a career, and proposes that today (in 2013) times have changed and as such, the USFSPA law should be repealed.

The military retention article serves as testimony to real-life examples that dispute this line of thinking. It confirms that even in 2013, military wives still face challenges when pursuing a profession. Spouses look for portable military spouse careers, something that can keep earning despite relocation. This continues to be a challenge.

Readers’ online comments are refreshing. We see both service members and military spouses responding in support of the military spouse. Active duty personnel made comments such as:

  • [what service members are saying is:] “I married an educated woman with some gumption. There’s not a lot for her to do with her education and gumption in F-ville. If the Army doesn’t think more about this, then I have two choices: (1) lose the job or (2) lose my spouse.”
  • “In the past two years, I have lived in three states and two countries. This has forced us to decide whether it is best for her to stay in one place and apart from me, or to keep moving with me and search for jobs that she never needed to spend tuition on an MPA to obtain.”

Saving the Military Marriage

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Clearly both service members and spouses would like to see more from the Pentagon.

There’s no doubt that the subject of Career is a fragile topic impacting the stability of the military family.

The question is identical for both the member and spouse:

“How can I pursue my career and still hold my marriage together?”

Unfortunately, all too often, the answer is not harmonious for each participant in the marriage.

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