Defense family officials soon will be taking their show on the road, listening to military spouses’ concerns about employment and other issues, and helping guide them to resources, said Deputy Secretary of Defense David Norquist.

Norquist spoke at a Military Spouse Employment Partnership induction ceremony, bringing in 42 new employers who have pledged to recruit, hire and retain military spouses. Since 2011, the number of employers in the partnership has grown to about 430, and they’ve hired more than 139,000 military spouses, cumulatively.

Among the 42 new employer partners, are large and small employers ranging from Google to FETCH! Pet Care, Inc., to Raytheon, and four federal agencies -- the departments of Veterans Affairs, Homeland Security and Agriculture, and the U.S. Census Bureau, to Raytheon.

A lot of work in areas such as spouse employment is done on the ground at the installation level. For this new “road show concept,” Norquist said, defense officials will work with the services to identify installations that could use support from the spouse employment partnership, especially those that are highly populated or have low levels of spouse employment.

“We will visit these installations to meet military families, listen to their concerns, and guide them to the resources that fit their needs, introduce them to MSEP partners and help them find military friendly employers through their job search,” he said.

They’ll also bring the families’ messages and concerns back to leadership “so we can continue to improve our programs,” Norquist said. It will be a two-way conversation: officials will also ensure that spouses have information about programs like Military OneSource, and the Military and Family Life Counseling program.

Secretary of Defense Mark Esper has made the well-being of service members and families “a critical part of our National Defense Strategy,” Norquist said. Spouse employment is an important part of that well-being. About 82 percent of the nearly 1 million military spouses seek employment, and of those, about 24 percent are unemployed.

The challenges of military life, such as frequent moves, deployment and work-life balance issues, child care difficulties and professional license portability, make it “extraordinarily difficult to maintain and rebuild careers,” Norquist said. He said he spoke last week at a Council of Governors meeting about the progress some states have made to break down barriers to spouse employment and licensing, he said, “but also about how much more there is to be done.

“Those governors committed to make progress on this essential issue.”

Military spouses should be able to get a job and retain that job when they move, said second lady Karen Pence, who also spoke at the ceremony. "The Military Spouse Employment Partnership is so important to reducing the unemployment rate among our military spouses.”

Military spouses hold things together on the homefront when service members are deployed, she said, and she asked the companies to spread the word about the significant role spouses play in national defense. It’s not just about thanking spouses and helping them to get employment, she said.

“They’re actually contributing directly to the defense of our nation," Pence said. "They’re helping us have the businesses and the lives we get to experience.”

Pence began her initiative a year ago to “elevate and encourage” military spouses. She has held listening sessions with spouses all over the world, she said. Over and over, the issue of spouse employment has risen to the surface, she said. One effort is a May summit with 46 businesses to brainstorm for employment solutions for military spouses; she will reconvene the businesses in November for their ideas.

Military spouses are competent, well-educated, flexible, hard-working and resilient, she said. “Employers who hire these spouses benefit from their tremendous talent and breadth of experience.”

Two military spouses spoke about their difficulties in maintaining their careers.

Susan Trotman said when she moved to Hawaii, she applied to a number of companies for a job in her field of counseling, but it was “crickets,” she said. Then she applied to be a military and family life counselor, and was hired. She works for Magellan Healthcare, which provides these counselors and other services to nearly 300 bases around the world.

When her husband was transferred to Virginia, she contacted the MFLC program at Fort Eustis, the nearest base, to ask about a possible position. Getting that process rolling ahead of time ”allowed me the time to focus on what was really important, getting my boys enrolled in school ....finding a home, getting our [household goods] shipped, unpack, getting our car shipped across country. I was able to get everything settled at home and then start a job.”

Barbara Ashley, wife of the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, Army Lt. Gen. Robert Ashley, said during their 20 moves and 34 years of marriage, she has sold advertisements for a newspaper, worked as a secretary, been a travel agent, an office manager, worked in schools as a teacher’s assistant and on the office staff, and volunteered with a number of organizations such as sports, schools, spouse clubs and other community organizations. While the types of jobs differ from spouse to spouse, the patchwork resumes are a common theme. In 2011, she started her own home-based travel business, following her passion.

“I wish the options you’re being presented with today were available to me and my friends when I was a younger spouse,” Ashley said. “Military spouses are a unique and wonderful group….. we are planners, accountants, caretakers, hard workers, dedicated and resilient…..

“We may not be able to work for you for 30 years, but while we are with you, we will give you our all. We are experienced and don’t need to start at the ground floor every time we PCS . . . “

She thanked the representatives of the 42 companies, noting they’ve signed on “to hire some of America’s best employees. I feel confident that this will turn out to be one of your best business decisions ever.”

The 42 new companies in the Military Spouse Employment Partnership are: Adcomm Installations, Inc.; Amada Senior Care; American States Utility Services, Inc.' Armed Services YMCA; Bell Techlogix; BHS; Bloomin’ Brands; Cape Fox Corporation; Colorado State University - Global Campus; CWT; Datrose, Inc.; Deloitte Consulting LLP; eAssist Dental Solutions; FETCH! Pet Care, Inc.; FlexJobs; Freedom Learning Group LLC; Google LLC; Hand & Stone Massage and Facial Spa; IST Management Services, Inc.; Johnson & Johnson; LinkedIn; Marriott International; Mercury Insurance Services, LLC; National Association of State Workforce Agencies; News America Marketing; Power Home Remodeling Group; Premium Retail Services; Raytheon; Rimini Street, Inc.: Sandboxx; Senior Helpers; Skookum Contract Services; SRS Distribution; TaskUs; The Children’s Place’ Virginia Department of Transportation; TridentUSA Health Services; T-Solutions, Inc.; U.S. Census Bureau; Department of Agriculture; Department of Homeland Security; Department of Veterans Affairs; Victra.

Karen has covered military families, quality of life and consumer issues for Military Times for more than 30 years, and is co-author of a chapter on media coverage of military families in the book "A Battle Plan for Supporting Military Families." She previously worked for newspapers in Guam, Norfolk, Jacksonville, Fla., and Athens, Ga.

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