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What I wish people knew about military spouses

Career Exploration

ACP added military spouse mentoring in 2019. As both a long-term mentor and a military spouse, here’s what I wish people knew about us:

  1. We’re not all wives. The US military is approaching 20% female in both the officer and enlisted ranks, so there are many husbands, too. The Navy, for example, renamed their traditional Wives Clubs to “Spouse Clubs” in the mid 90’s, and my husband has had both male and female commanding officers over the years. There’s also a good number of same-sex couples.

  2. Most of us work outside the home. The traditional, stereotypical stay-at-home military wife has become the exception, not the norm—much like it has in the rest of the US, where 70% of mothers with children under 18 work outside the home. This holds true for the military, as well.

  3. We’re not all “entry level.” I regularly hear employers speaking about customizing entry-level jobs to accommodate military spouses. Most officers’ wives tend to be college educated (think about where you and your friends met your spouses); with the transferability of GI Bill benefits to spouses, that’s also true for a growing portion of enlisted personnel. While junior officer and enlisted service member spouses might be entry-level and an appropriate fit for a contact center agent or junior associate position, many of us have graduate degrees and extensive work experience, and would be a better fit in a management position.

  4. We’re also not all nurses and teachers. When I became a Navy wife 27 years ago, it felt like all other spouses were either nurses or teachers, because, at that time, wives that wanted to work tended to pick jobs that made it easier to move around. Now, with the significant increase in military husbands, the rise in two-career households, and the proliferation of jobs that allow remote work, spouses have a much wider range of careers. We have friends whose wives have worked remotely, one as a divorce attorney, the other as a senior IT specialist, when the Navy transferred their husbands. (Both spouses kept their previous jobs and places on the career ladder.) And, despite my husband’s nine moves around the world, I’ve had a successful career in Human Resources.

  5. We may not always move with our spouses. Many couples choose to have the military spouse be a “geographic bachelor” (or “geo-bach,” in military lingo)—an option that allows the spouse to continue his/her career or maintain school stability for children. My husband’s command has three service members currently geo-baching; most of our friends have lived apart for at least one tour; my husband and I have lived apart for 10 of our 27 years of marriage, for the benefit of both my career and our daughter’s schooling.

  6. We may need additional flexibility. Thanks to my husband’s service, I have relocated several times and have been able to relocate with my employer each time. I’ve also been amazingly fortunate that my current employer has allowed me to work part of the year in Italy while my husband is stationed there. I’ve also had to serve as a single parent more than once, and needed flexibility for child care responsibilities.

  7. You may already work with us. Many of my co-workers had no idea until recently that my husband is in the Navy, because it just never came up. Unfortunately, I’ve also had employers with whom I didn’t feel comfortable sharing my husband’s job because I was concerned it would impact my promotion and career opportunities.

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