Spouse Employment Tops DoD Summit Agenda
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Oct. 6, 2000 Creating job opportunities for military spouses and exiting service members is a top priority of DoD's new partnership with corporate America.
Janet Langhart Cohen, wife of Defense Secretary William S. Cohen, listens to H. Ross Perot address senior defense officials and corporate executives at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington, D.C. The multibillionaire businessman urged corporate America Oct. 5, 2000, to support efforts to improve military quality of life. Photo by Linda D. Kozaryn.
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
DoD has teamed up with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to improve service members' quality of life. Defense and chamber officials formally launched the initiative at the chamber's headquarters here Oct. 5 at what they dubbed "the first annual" Military Quality of Life Summit.
Defense Secretary William S. Cohen and other senior defense officials met with H. Ross Perot and other corporate executives to discuss ways to increase cooperation. The chamber represents 3 million businesses and organizations across the country as well as American business interests around the globe.
Cohen told the business leaders that military spouses have the same talent, energy and drive as the men and women in uniform. They want to work, but they often can't find employment due to frequent moves and, in some cases, local restrictions.
"You can help by calling on some of your subsidiaries, your associates, to employ these talented people," he told chamber members.
The secretary also called on the business community to hire those separating or retiring from the military. Defense officials estimate 285,000 military personnel seek post- service employment each year
"These are action-oriented, task-oriented people," Cohen said. "That's precisely what business wants and needs. You want the kind of high-energy, high-leadership, high-quality people that we have in the military. When they finish their careers, they can move out into the private sector and help take the reins."
During a luncheon address, Perot encouraged fellow business leaders to support those willing to risk their lives for our country. The multibillionaire chairman of Perot Systems Inc. then saluted a number of past and present military heroes including the Special Forces' legendary Army Col. Arthur D. "Bull" Simons.
"There are no words I have that can adequately express the magnitude of the heroism of our military forces and what they've done to protect the entire world," he said.
"It is so important that we honor our heroes in this country," Perot continued. "They are tremendous models for our children. We've got to make sure that we reinstate our vigor for doing that. We understand freedom is precious, freedom is fragile and maintaining freedom exacts a price, and they pay the price."
Cohen told the group that over the past four years he and his wife, Janet Langhart Cohen, have worked to "restore, revitalize and reconnect" America to its military. Today's downsized military has a low profile in most Americans' daily lives, the secretary said.
"For the most part, they don't see the military. They don't understand the day-to-day sacrifices that our men and women endure every day, and especially what their families have to endure," Cohen said.
The United States has been the most powerful force for freedom and stability in the history of the world, he said, "and our men and women in uniform are largely responsible for that."
Service members' quality of life can no longer be seen as secondary to warfighting capabilities, Cohen said. "If we don't have the best people, then we won't have the best military. If we don't have the best military, then we won't have the kind of stability and security that we see in the world today."
The secretary called on the business community to invest in the country's prosperity by supporting its men and women in uniform. Improving quality of life by supporting pay increases, retirement benefits and helping to provide better housing will make the military more attractive to recruits and encourage people to make the military a career, he said.
For the first time in three years, Cohen continued, all the services have met their recruitment goals, a major achievement given the current economy and the number of people both business and the military are drawing from.
"We will -- with minor exceptions -- meet the retention goals as well," he added, "because we have been focusing on quality of life."
Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers said America's 2.7 million active duty and reserve component personnel ask for little in return for serving on the frontlines of the world's trouble spots: "Just that we give them meaningful missions, appropriate training, modern and effective equipment and a pledge that we'll take care of their families while they concentrate on their jobs.
"Certainly, that's not too much to ask," the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said. "In my view, and most of the senior leadership's view, it's our moral obligation to provide it."
Corporate America needs a strong military to support U.S. interests and trading relationships, said Thomas J. Donohue, chamber president and chief executive officer. "We are absolutely committed to that," he said.
Recruiting and retaining quality personnel is a challenge for both the military and corporate America, he said, and it's going to get much more difficult in the future. Demographically, he noted, there are fewer people to fill jobs.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates the nation's employment needs will increase 14 percent from 1996 to 2006, Donohue said. During that same period, officials expect the population to increase about 10 percent.
"A key component to maintaining a strong military or a strong work force, is ensuring that people enjoy a good standard of living," he said. Spouse and post-service employment, financial skills, housing, transportation and health care -- "are all matters that we can, for our mutual benefit, work on together. Business can really help."
The new partnership aims to provide financial skills training and other business skills for junior enlisted personnel and their families and to find private sector solutions for housing, transportation and other quality of life issues.
"Given the chance to work with the Department of Defense, businesses can create more opportunities for themselves by helping the military take better care of the service men and women they're responsible for," Donohue said. "Just as we can help the military improve the quality of life for its personnel, the military can help us -- business -- with the labor shortage."
Ambassador Craig Johnstone, chamber president, urged members to participate in the partnership that will be national in scope, but also extended to the state and local level. The chamber will start an outreach effort with our three million business members and establish working groups to cover such areas as employment, information, education and housing, he said.
"We're going to start by looking at the issue of spouse employment," he said.