Dear Mr. President,
Happy President’s Day! Today we celebrate the foresight of the Founding Fathers and pause to remember and honor the men who have served as president these last 243 and a half years. I am an Air Force wife, and recognizing this day is different for me because I am not only reflecting on past presidents, but I am also remembering the actions of commanders in chiefs under whom my husband has served. In many ways, I have also served under these presidents.
President Abraham Lincoln, in his second inaugural address delivered just weeks before his assassination, said, “With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan — to achieve and cherish a lasting peace among ourselves and with the world.” A sacred obligation, indeed.
This year marks the 20th anniversary of the war in Afghanistan — a somber anniversary that has impacted not only my family, but also many veterans, military members, and their families. In a country where only 1 percent of Americans serve, the burden falls on fewer and fewer shoulders.
Mr. President, as you know firsthand, military spouses often get sidelined from decisions that directly impact us. We watch our military member deploy and hold our breath until he or she returns safely, while trying to maintain a sense of normalcy on the home front. We are encouraged to be resilient and strong, supporting the mission at home on behalf of a grateful nation. It is often a very lonely, isolating, and weary job.
Up until recently, I was unaware that there are 2.6 million military spouses and family members, more than the 2 million active duty and reserve military members. These 2 million military members have official leadership, but the 2.6 million dependents do not have an official voice within existing infrastructure. Military spouses struggle with many well known issues you’re well familiar with, as your family has a history of engagement with our community. Reports demonstrate that in recent years military spouses have a 25 percent unemployment rate and earn approximately 27 percent less than their non-military peers. Beyond the severe economic impact that comes from simply being the spouse of a military member, my peers and I grapple with education for our kids, consistent moving, creating community, mental health issues, marriage and relationships, financial difficulties, health care, and extended family back home. These issues can be overwhelming and, in my experience, do not occur independently of each other. Even worse, many times we feel that we have to go it alone — especially if we do not fit in with the command-sponsored programs, or have a “spouse club” attached to our member’s unit.
The military knows how to maintain national security, keep our country safe, wage war or keep peace, and many other things. However, the world of supporting the military family is different; it is a world that should be given an official voice and permanent seat to speak into these issues. The Air Force has an Air Force member leading the organization; same for the Army, Navy, Marines, Space Force, and Coast Guard. Someone who knows what it is like to serve in that branch is who leads men and women within the organization. The same should be true for families. Spouses are capable of leading ourselves, but we have long been shut out of important decisions on family readiness and spouse programs.
Mr. President, it’s time for spouses to have a seat at the table in an official capacity with the Department of Defense. I propose that you create a “Director of Military Spouses” position, paid and embedded within DoD and individual branch infrastructure and ensure military spouse voices are heard.
I believe that spouses need seats at the DoD and branch tables, but when spouse programs are at the pleasure of their attached command, many spouses do not have the ability to truly discuss issues that affect us. Spouses have the expertise, knowledge, and on-the-ground training to deserve a say in policies that impact our families and ourselves.
There are programs and organizations outside of the DoD that offer resources and support to spouses. These initiatives, including Joining Forces, are wonderful and offer avenues for help outside the chain of command, but they can only lobby for critical changes, not make them like a Director of Spouses could in conjunction with these organizations. Military spouses, as you have seen time and time again, are essential to supporting our national security, military retention, and morale. Countless spouses volunteer their time to lead and mentor other spouses yet are unpaid in their work.
Mr. President, I love being a military spouse. For me, I am following in the footsteps of many family members, including my grandmother, who was also an Air Force spouse 50 years ago. Some of the same barriers that she faced, my peers and I still face. Some of the adventures that she had, I am honored to have as well. Fifty years is a long time for spouses to continually contend with these problems, and I think that the military will only be able to overcome them by allowing those who have lived them to be empowered to reform them.
It is time for our country to fulfill the vision laid out by President Lincoln and to fully care for the families of those who have borne the battles by empowering them to have an official and lasting say in these policies and decisions.
Aleha Landry, Air Force spouse
Editor’s note: This is an op-ed and as such, the opinions expressed are those of the author. If you would like to respond, or have an editorial of your own you would like to submit, please contact Military Times managing editor Howard Altman, firstname.lastname@example.org.