When I met Mike at a Super Bowl party in February 2004, I was entering my last semester at Harvard Law School and I had already secured a job at a leading law firm in Boston. Mike was a junior officer on a U.S. Navy submarine. As we fell in love and began to imagine a life together, I didn't give much thought to his career's impact on my professional future. Shortly before our wedding, however, I got my first glimpse of the professional challenges I would face as a Navy wife. Mike received orders to Naples, Italy and I left my job to accompany him.
When we arrived in Naples, I was confident that I would find interesting, challenging employment, so I was stunned when the Human Resources Office on base suggested that I start at an entry-level government position and work my way up. With only two year orders, it seemed impossible that I could rise to a fulfilling position with the government while in Italy. Disheartened but undeterred, I expanded my job search. Unfortunately, there were no suitable positions with contractors on base and no opportunities that I could find for telecommuting. Military spouses in Italy are not allowed to work outside of the bases, so getting a job "in town" was never an option.
With no remaining avenues to employment, I filled my days exploring the area around Naples and I befriended other spouses, many of whom were highly-educated and unhappily unemployed. I began to see just how pervasive professional frustration is among military spouses. Although I wanted desperately to support Mike in his career, I started to doubt that I could achieve my own professional aspirations if he remained in the Navy. Looking into my future as a military spouse, I saw endless job searches and a permanently stalled career. That was not the professional life I had worked so hard to achieve.
As I was considering whether to ask Mike to leave the Navy, a friend put me in touch with Wittenberg Weiner Consulting, a new company on base. Using government contracts, WWC puts qualified military spouses to work as senior-level analysts on military installations. WWC hired me immediately to provide management consulting support to various offices in Naples. I was thrilled to be utilizing my analytical reasoning skills again and I threw myself into my work.
With a renewed sense of professional satisfaction, my attitude towards Mike's military career softened and he signed a new contract with the Navy. As with most spouses who are lucky enough to find an employer willing to work around the challenges of military life, I have remained loyal to WWC. I've now been working for the company, off and on, for almost six years, through four military moves and multiple deployments. I wouldn't choose to work for anyone else.
My professional struggle as a military spouse is not unique. Studies have found that military spouses are more likely to be unemployed than their civilian counterparts and that their search for employment will take longer. Interestingly, research has also shown that the most satisfied military families are those with an employed spouse. Career-minded spouses, in particular, feel a strong tie between employment and personal fulfillment. Maintaining a positive home environment for our military members is key to both their readiness and their willingness to continue serving our country. Although it may seem like a stretch, the issue of military spouse employment is, at its core, about the quality of our military.
Recognizing that WWC alone could not support the large number of professional-level military spouses seeking employment worldwide, WWC founded InGearCareer.org in 2011. InGearCareer is a non-profit organization that assists career-minded military spouses in their search for employment. Not only does InGearCareer provide practical advice, such as tips on how to navigate the government hiring process, but it also empowers military spouses by bringing them together in online communities where they can crowd-source solutions to their employment dilemmas and plan grassroots advocacy activities. InGearCareer also advocates for and 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.
Although I have found professional satisfaction, there will always be highly-qualified military spouses struggling to find employment amidst the logistical challenges of military life. As you think about how to show your appreciation for the sacrifices our service members and their families make every day, I ask that you consider hiring a military spouse, connecting a spouse with an employer, or financially supporting organizations that advocate for military spouses such as InGearCareer.org.