ARLINGTON NATIONAL CEMETERY, Va. - Through Joining Forces, an initiative offering employment, educational and wellness resources to military families, Pentagon officials Wednesday inducted 38 organizations into the Military Spouse Employment Partnership in a ceremony at the Women in Military Service for America Memorial here.
The ceremony recognized the signatory corporate partners who have made substantial efforts to reduce the high unemployment rate and close the wage gap that military spouses face as a result of frequent relocations that service members' missions often require.
Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Military and Community Family Policy Rosemary Freitas Williams and Principal Deputy Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness Dr. Laura Junor said their goal is to keep military families healthy, strong, and cohabitating whenever possible.
"We do that by working together to provide the comprehensive support and assistance our service members, spouses and families need to be successful through their mobile military life," Williams said.
Williams also noted the need for public-private partnerships which link the right mix of resources and recognize that military spouses have the education, diversity and skills to enhance workforce productivity and produce national and international business success.
The new inductees, Williams said, join 266 enduring partners representing all business types, from small businesses with regional footprints to international corporations that provide products and services for a global market.
"Our research clearly shows that when our military spouses are able to meet their own career objectives, our military members are more likely to remain on active duty," Williams said. "We need to retain that top talent for national security purposes."
When military spouses are able to maintain meaningful employment despite frequent relocations, especially following the return to civilian life as their service member's military career ends, Williams said they are able to provide family financial stability which is critical to their short- and long-term health and well-being.
"We used to think that that was a good idea; we now know it's science - it is absolutely evidence based," Williams said.
And participating employers, she added, do more than provide mere jobs to spouses.
Williams said, "You'll be providing our spouses and military families with work-life satisfaction, strong family financial stability and ultimately, the military personnel readiness that we need for a sustainable military force and a strong national defense."
Military spouse workforce
According to Junor, more than half of the DoD's 2,000,000-plus service members are married. Those spouses, many of whom are well-educated, face perennial challenges - including a 25 percent unemployment rate, while another 25 percent are underemployed.
"[The spouses] are not looking for a favor; they are looking for the opportunity to be the valuable employee that they know they are," Junor said.
A personal experience
Junor described her personal experience in 1992 as both a new wife and Ph.D uprooted from Washington to Naval Station Mobile, Alabama, with her husband, who was then a Navy lieutenant junior grade. She recounted scouring organizations and educational institutions for work, finally even seeking an internship, which like previous job prospects, fizzled because employers were reticent to hire someone who would eventually leave once their service member changed duty station.
Junor explained that she later accepted an offer as a visiting assistant professor of economics at Tulane University - two states away in Louisiana.
"As newlyweds, my husband and I did not live in the same state," she said, adding that experience sparked the next 3-5 years of separate residences so she could develop her career.
Junor said she and her husband decided that he'd depart the Navy in the interest of family togetherness.
"Military life is difficult for a two-career household, but the second career for those that are looking for it, matters," Junor said. "Having that second career is a very valuable safety net when the inevitable transition time comes."
Junor emphasized the quality of today's military spouse workforce.
"You're not going to find a more resilient, motivated and adaptable group out there," she said. "If you're willing to give them a shot, you will get more than that in return."