It is Change of Command season, and the same words we all have heard before trickle out of the CO’s mouth: “I would not be here today without the support and sacrifice of my loving spouse”. Spousal support is a huge part of any partnership, but in the military, it takes on a life of its own.
With 92% of military spouses being women, the heteronormative, traditional relationship dynamics are a systemic catapult for men to achieve military success. Women are so frequently pushed out of the workforce whether due to geographic moves, children, or the operational demands of their partners and face little to no protections from the military.
When I made the decision to separate from the military at the end of my contract, I was excited! I now had a world of possibility in front of me after feeling that I had reached my maximum desired professional potential in the service. I was excited to see something different. However, I would also be taking on a new role, one that on my best day, I was absolutely dreading – I was going to become a military spouse.
As a veteran who has spent a lot of time around service members, I know the bias and stereotypes that exist for military spouses because I heard them when I was on active duty, every. single. day. The antiquated relationship dynamics of my superiors, the “dependa” jokes, and the stories of unemployment and underemployment of my peers’ spouses. Even the servicemembers who did not support these negative remarks or have this disposition did acknowledge the difficulty their partners faced living normal, fulfilling professional lives.
With the COVID-19 pandemic continuing to rage on with no end on the horizon, spouses now will suffer more than ever. Operations extended due to quarantine requirements, increased time demands from having school-aged children at home, and nationwide job loss leaves military spouses left with increased vulnerability and no additional protections.
One large takeaway I have from my military service is to not complain about things you do not have a solution for. In keeping true to my word, here are my proposed solutions:
- Stop the lazy detailing: Can we please start requiring detailers to give service members individualized attention? What is the point of even having detailers if they put a name to a billet – a computer can do that. Does the spouse have a job and the family wants to stay in that area? That should be assigned a numerical point value, the same way a service member’s qualification would. School-age kids? Point value. We must stop making family subjective in the military. If the military cannot accommodate? A written explanation of proof and justification.
- Employment laws to protect military spouses: There are laws for government contractors, but not every spouse can be a government contractor or wants to be. Many spouses have jobs that have state licensing requirements – let us work at accommodating that. If the COVID pandemic has taught us nothing else, remote work is feasible for a plethora of professions. If a family does end up having to move and the spouse has a job that does not facilitate relocation or remote work, assign them a Subject Matter Expert in their field and/or geographic region to help them find a new role. This could be a civilian contractor position within the military or even a reservist billet. Some military bases are in some very strange places, and our spouses deserve to be successful wherever they live.
- Severance pay: I am a realist – if the above proposals fail, which given the nature and structure of the military is entirely feasible, spouses should receive severance pay if they are forced to leave their jobs for relocation reasons. We need to help our families maintain their quality of life while they are in transition.
These methods are far from foolproof, and the intricacies of implementing them are not lost on me. However, the first step to reducing the stigma of military spouses is to start providing protections that facilitate them being valued, contributing members of the workforce, AND the family.
Submitted by an anonymous writer!
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