Before Mollie Raymond met her future husband over coffee and doughnuts at a church in Grand Forks, North Dakota, the only time she’d ever moved was to attend the University of North Dakota.
She was a college student and he was on his first assignment as a missile launch officer, stationed at Grand Forks Air Force Base. “I had a job where I gave tours of the chapel on the campus, and I went up to him and asked him if he’d like a tour. So I gave him a tour of the chapel,” Raymond said.
The rest is history. They married in 1987, and will celebrate their 34th wedding anniversary in June. Since then, they’ve made 16 military moves together, she said, in an interview with Military Times about her experience as an Air Force wife, and her priorities as senior spouse in the new U.S. Space Force. Her husband, Gen. John W. “Jay” Raymond, became the first Space Force chief of space operations when the new service was established in 2019.
“Originally I’m from St. Paul, Minnesota, and I was not familiar with the military lifestyle at all. I grew up in the same house on the same street, same friends, community,” Raymond said. When she left her Midwest roots with its four seasons in their first move as a married couple, “moving to California was a really tough adjustment. But now we have moved 16 times and I would say I absolutely love my military lifestyle.”
She’s used her experience as an Air Force spouse for 33 years, and her conversations with Space Force spouses for more than a year, to frame her priorities for helping Space Force families get off to a good start.
Space Force will be a much smaller service by far than the other branches, and Mollie Raymond sees that as an advantage for families.
“The small size gives us the opportunity to really work hard at building a family-like culture. I encourage spouses, families to reach out to me directly,” she said. She’s on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter, @raymond_mollie.
Currently there are about 5,000 Space Force active-duty guardians and 6,000 civilians; total numbers are expected to reach about 16,000.
Raymond has been working over the last year to build connections to foster communication with Space Force families. Most of that work has been done in virtual platforms during the pandemic and she’s looking forward to getting out to meet Space Force families in person when travel opens up more. But the pandemic has shown how helpful the virtual platform is in connecting to guardians and families stationed around the world, she said.
She wants to hear from families, wants to hear their questions and concerns, and she wants to get the word out about helpful resources. She’s personally seen the benefits of military life, and has taken advantage of many programs offered to families — and wishes she had used some services more.
For example, in the first eight years of her marriage, she was employed in the marketing field, and was able to find jobs with the help of the DoD spouse preference program at both Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, and Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado. After those eight years, three children came along within four years, and she chose to stay at home with the young children.
The PCS moves mounted. Each of their three children attended three high schools, and those transitions were among the family’s biggest challenges, she said. “Academics. I wish I had relied on the school liaison more often and sought out their recommendations, their support. That’s what they’re there for, and I wish I had reached out more often.” School liaison officers for all the military branches work with families and schools to help provide information and resolve issues.
For spouses, she said, “it’s so important that we know what resources are available to us, and that we can also refer others to them.”
Space Force will hold a Virtual Spouse Welcome and Orientation on May 12. She and Gen. Raymond will have a welcome message, followed by a mission brief from the general; health tips from a military doctor; and an update on resources and support programs.
Her husband has been deployed once during their marriage, to Southwest Asia from September 2006 to January 2007, as director of Space Forces in support of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Their children were young, and he was gone during the holidays. While those in the space career field don’t generally deploy a lot or frequently, she said, there are some deployments, and there are a lot of temporary duty assignments where the guardian is away from home, and a lot of remote assignments.
“We have a lot of families who are separated with their active-duty members in remote assignments,” she said.
Space Force is a separate service under the Air Force, like the Marine Corps and the Department of the Navy. Space Force will continue to rely on the Air Force for their family readiness programs, Raymond said, which include the school liaisons, Exceptional Family Member Program, financial counselors, employment support, and many other services. The HeartLink program provides an orientation to the resources available at Airman and Family Readiness centers.
One of Raymond’s priorities in her second year in this role is the key spouse program. Key spouse volunteers are appointed by the unit commander, and work in partnership with commanders and first sergeants, to provide information, resources and support. They also have a pulse on the community, and a pulse on issues. “We’re always trying to recruit new key spouses and just to let them know how much we value their volunteering and their service in that role,” Raymond said. The key spouse program, built on the Air Force key spouse program, is similar to programs in the other services, such as the Navy’s ombudsman program.
Earlier this year, the Air Force and Space Force held the first Key Spouse Virtual Engagement Series on self care, which was identified during a key spouse survey as a main issue. So Raymond and Sharene Brown, wife of the chief of staff of the Air Force, offered a two-hour forum for Air Force and Space Force key spouses, featuring professionals and chaplains speaking about self care and emotional intelligence, and providing tips, Raymond said.
She said Gen. Raymond is working on an initiative called Guardian Connect that will allow guardians and key spouses to receive up-to-date information by way of the Microsoft Teams platform.
Another priority is spouse employment, a critical quality of life issue for many military families. “They are unemployed and underemployed, and I know the pandemic has especially impacted that…. It’s one of my priorities, to help and support and promote spouse employment,” she said.
One of the first steps in that arena is a LinkedIn 101 webinar for Space spouses on May 18, focusing on growing a network and connecting professionally with that platform. “Space Force, by design, is very tech savvy and innovative and we are going to leverage technology for spouses,” she said. The link for signup is on her LinkedIn and Facebook pages.
Other priorities include promoting child care options; the Exceptional Family Member Program; and mental health awareness to share resources and help foster a culture where it’s okay to seek help, she said.
Raymond also uses every opportunity to remind people of the importance of the Space Force mission. “A day doesn’t go by when we don’t use space, because of our satellites and our other assets in space,” she said. “We rely on them for our everyday life — pumping gas, cell phones, ATM machines, Internet. Protecting those assets and defending them is a very important mission and I’m so grateful that our country has this new service.”
Raymond advocates for Space Force families in her conversations with military service organizations, reminding them to include guardians and guardian families in their language. “We are here, and we are very much part of military support. It’s important to make sure we’re included,” she said.
Embracing change — a constant in military life
Over the years, she’s learned to embrace change. “How many times have we had to pick up our families, pick up our children and relocate, diving into new communities, new locations, learn how to navigate. There were times when we didn’t want to move. But we’ve always looked back and said, ‘Aren’t you glad we did? That was the best assignment.’ "
One example is their move to Japan in late 2010. Their daughters had just started their ninth grade freshman year and were just getting adjusted into their comfort zone when the orders came to be in Japan by Christmas. “They were so sad,” she said. “We got to Japan, and they loved that assignment. They cried when they had to leave Japan. It’s just such an opportunity to experience new places, new cultures, new environments, and I think our kids are really looking back, very grateful for those opportunities.”
That assignment at Yokota Air Base, Japan was her favorite duty station, Raymond said, “just because of the culture, the people.” They were there during the tsunami and earthquake in 2011, and her husband was part of the military assistance with the recovery efforts.
Raymond says she’s seen firsthand that the military lifestyle can help build resilience in military children.
“My daughter wrote to my husband after she want to college and said, ‘Dad, I’m so grateful that we had the opportunity to move, because a lot of students here have never had to move. They’re really struggling. They don’t know how to adapt. They don’t know how to adjust to new surroundings, and go out of their way maybe to say Hello and introduce themselves.’ ”
‘We need to be good stewards of this time’
“One of the of the biggest benefits of your military life is the people you meet along the way…..People who have different backgrounds, different experiences, and how awesome it is to get to know them and to serve alongside them,” Raymond said.
“People are our best asset,” she said. “What a huge opportunity and honor it is for Jay and me, and we need to be good stewards of this time. We’re really committed to making a family culture,” she said.
“I never thought my husband would be retiring from the Space Force, but I couldn’t be more proud of him and his team. … It’s just an honor to be part of a new service with such amazing people,” she said.
She urges other Space Force guardians and families to be proud, too. “Think of the legacy you’re leaving…. One day for your children and their children to say, ‘mom and dad were part of this new service. They were some of the first guardians.’ "
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.