In Sickness, Deployment...and Unemployment?
Can a military spouse have a career?
Yes, maybe, it depends.
When I requested a leave of absence at my teaching job, I was denied because my husband was a soldier in the U.S. Army. And yes, that was the stated reason, in writing.
Fat, Lazy, and Stupid
From the outside looking in, military spouses might seem like leeches. We’ve heard all the stereotypes before: we’re fat, lazy, and living off of your heard-earned tax dollars with our free health care and housing.
Leaving aside that, unless he is deployed, my husband is paying taxes and that many military spouses do have paychecks, on which they also pay taxes, maintaining a career is very challenging for a military spouse.
Our soldiers move around as they are sent from post to post. With each move we need to find housing, reestablish that home base that is so important to the soldier’s morale, re-situate our children in schools, and generally create a place for ourselves in this new community. A military spouse does not have to tell a recruiter about her husband’s service, her resume does it for her with entries for new jobs in new cities every 3-4 years.
Military spouses who are career-minded would be smart to look for jobs that are in demand everywhere (teaching mathematics or science, nursing, accounting, etc.), work for a large, national corporation with offices in most states, or hone skills that translate well to telecommuting or independent consulting.
Although I had a highly portable career as a teacher, I did need to be recertified in each state every time we moved. While I respect the right of each state to set certification standards, in practice, this is largely a bunch of unnecessary red tape and a waste of time and money. Luckily, Texas had a program that provided financial assistance for military spouses leaving behind a job to move on orders. Even then, I found it was much easier to become an educational consultant and work from home writing curriculum. Because my husband had enlisted later than many soldiers, I had the academic credentials to establish myself. Many younger spouses have difficulty finishing college or graduate degrees because of their frequent moves. And larger employers could encourage managers to hire candidates that may stay with the company, even if they are unable to stay with the branch.
While it might seem fair to keep a potential employee’s long-term goals and plans in mind, is there ever a guarantee any employee will be with a company for 5 or more years in today’s economy? We have a highly mobile workforce and military spouses are just a part of that. Uncertainty is part of the package these days and employers would be better served choosing the best person for the job. Military spouses might even be better able to plan for moves and train replacements than civilians who often have, and provide even less notice.
If It’s So Easy, You Try It
Critics (I believe the kids are calling them haters, these days) are often fond of pointing out that this is all about choice. In fact, that was the exact word our Superintendent used to describe my situation. Yes, our soldiers have chosen to serve the United States as part of its military. And, yes, we as spouses have chosen to support that service by moving with our soldiers. Aren’t civilians glad that someone has stepped up to the protection of the nation? And isn’t family moving with the soldier part of that defense?
The alternative to the volunteer Army, filled with soldiers that have made that choice, is mandatory service. Everyone can serve for two to four years and see what they think of the so-called “Easy Street” lives of our soldiers and their families. Since it is so attractive, why not consider joining us?
More from our "real" military wives:
- I Hate My Military Life
- When Everything Falls Apart While Your Husband is En-Route Home
- What's The Biggest Misconception About Military Wives? (VIDEO)