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DoD Funds Spouse Employment Projects

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 24, 1997 – Carolyn Becraft, Ruby DeMesme and Karen Heath are top Pentagon personnel officials today, but they haven't forgotten what it's like to be unemployed or underemployed military spouses.

They know what it's like trying to find jobs in such far-flung places as Naval Air Station Brunswick, Maine, and Lajes Air Base, Azores. They know how hard it is to gain seniority or earn a pension when military families move every two or three years.

The three personnel chiefs put their past military life experiences to use, shaping a DoD project to help military spouses find employment. Feb. 19, DoD family policy officials named five Air Force, four Navy and one Marine Corps installations out of 34 competitors to receive a total of $210,000 a year for the next three years to fund spouse employment programs. Individual awards ranged from $8,000 to $60,000 per year. No Army installations entered, DoD officials said.

Winning proposals included programs to provide language, computer and other job skills training, career counseling, support groups and an Internet job source homepage to link spouses with local employers. The programs will serve as models for future projects throughout DoD.

Becraft, deputy assistant defense secretary for personnel support, families and education, along with being a military spouse she was also an enlisted soldier and Army officer.. She said she is especially sympathetic to military spouses' employment problems because as one herself, she, too, was often unemployed.

Spouses' ability to find jobs as they move with their military partner is a critical family concern, Becraft said. It can become "a bone of contention" affecting families finances, morale and service members' decisions to remain in the armed forces, she said.

About 65 percent of DoD's 680,000 spouses are in the labor force, Becraft said. About 90 percent of DoD's spouses are women. Due to frequent moves, the income range for military spouses is 13 to 30 percent lower than comparable civilian spouses, she said, and the spouse loses employment time and job seniority whenever the family moves.

"This has a cumulative effect over lifetime earnings and pensions," Becraft said. "Underemployment is also a significant issue among spouses. They may get a job, but many are more talented and more highly skilled than the jobs they are able to find."

Most military spouses work to help support their families, Becraft said. "Very few work for what used to be called 'pin money.' Our research shows working spouses have fewer medical problems and are less likely to tolerate spousal abuse. Working spouses are also better able to cope with deployments because their work provides an additional support environment."

A lack of jobs for spouses can lead to an exodus of trained service members, Becraft said. It becomes a major factor as couples weigh the benefits of a 20-year military career against the potential loss of the spouse's income from move to move. "The ability to maintain a job or have the hope of being able to secure employment as you move is also a retention issue," Becraft said.

Heath, deputy assistant secretary of the Navy for manpower and reserve affairs, was an Army wife for about five years during the Vietnam era. "It's clear these innovative projects will help Navy and Marine Corps spouses who are seeking employment and educational opportunities in some very challenging work environments," Heath said.

DeMesme, deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force for management and personnel, was also an Army wife. "Having been a military spouse for over 30 years," she said, "I can identify with many of the concerns and interests of our spouses. I was lucky in that I was never not employed, but I was often underemployed."

DeMesme said she is proud of the winning Air Force programs, calling them especially innovative and forward-thinking. "One of the things I liked about the proposal from Lajes Air Base was that they recognized the reality that there are no opportunities there right now for spouse employment," she said. "So they're focusing on developing skills to make [spouses] job-ready when they leave Lajes for their next location."

DoD officials said winners were chosen based on local employment needs, level of collaboration with other installation and community programs, outreach strategies and cost and performance measures.

Other winners are:

Andrews Air Force Base, Md.: The Military Spouse Training Initiative will provide training and affordable child care and encourage volunteerism as a way of gaining work experience, self-confidence and a professional attitude.

Cannon Air Force Base, N.M.: Job Track will train spouses for clerical and health-related jobs in the local area. Sixty spouses will learn advanced computer word processing skills. Forty will prepare for certification as nursing assistants.

Nellis Air Force Base, Nev.: The Saturday Job Market will teach spouses computer skills and job search techniques during six Saturday training sessions. Quarterly follow-up sessions will provide feedback, assessment and peer support.

Ramstein Air Base, Germany: Becoming Your Own Boss will help spouses identify opportunities and develop skills needed to open their own business.

Fleet Activities, Yokosuka, Japan: Project Haigusha ("spouse" in Japanese) will teach job skills to compete in the local job market where there are severe linguistic and cultural barriers to off-base employment.

Naval Air Station Brunswick, Maine: Job Source Home Page will create an Internet database of employment openings for spouses. The project will increase local employers access to high quality, responsible, flexible and motivated employees.

Naval Construction Center, Port Hueneme, Calif.: The Independent Study Program will focus on English and Spanish language skills and computer training. Day, evening and weekend classes will be offered.

Naval Submarine Base New London, Groton, Conn.: Special Opportunities for Underemployed Spouses is a self-help program offering discouraged unemployed and underemployed male spouses training, peer support and intensive networking with local employers and community agencies.

Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, S.C.: The Training and Employment Assistance for Military Spouses project will serve family members from Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island and the Naval Hospital and Dental Clinic. The program focuses providing career counseling, training, referral and mentoring to entry-level spouses who say a lack of transportation and child care interfere with their pursuit of education and skills training.

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