WASHINGTON - In an effort to address military spouses' employment challenges, the Defense Department today launched a program to expand career opportunities for military spouses worldwide, and to recognize the skills and talents they bring to the employment table.
Flanked by military spouses and corporate leaders, top government and military officials unveiled the Military Spouse Employment Partnership during a ceremony at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce here. The partnership encompasses more than 70 employers who have committed to opening their doors to spouse employment.
In remarks at the event, Dr. Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden, lauded military spouses for their service and sacrifice as they juggle households, children, volunteer work and jobs -- many times in the midst of deployments.
Due to their ability to thrive despite multiple challenges and demands, she noted, military spouses possess the qualities highly sought after by employers, such as dedication, flexibility, a strong work ethic and "endless energy."
"If you're looking for hard-working, highly skilled and educated, dedicated employees," Biden said, "our military spouses are precisely the employees you need.
"Every day our military spouses are giving back to our country," she added. "While their loved ones are called to serve, they serve right alongside them. Now we must serve them as well as they serve us."
Deborah Mullen, who was accompanied to the event by her husband, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, acknowledged the difficulties military spouses face in finding jobs. Many spouses, she noted, are turned away for jobs, not due to their qualifications or training, but due to the frequent moves their service member spouse is required to make.
"More than one spouse has told me, 'All I wanted was to get in the door to be able to be judged on my merits, my qualifications and my strengths," she said. But in many cases, she noted, they are unable to even score an interview.
"They aren't asking of rules to be broken or regulations to be cast aside," she said. "They know the economy is tough out there ... This isn't about entitlement for them; this is about opportunity.
"Military spouses just want the same shot as everyone else," she added.
Only 1 percent of the nation serves, comprising about 2.2 million service members, Mullen said, and about half of them are married to someone seeking a job. And most of those job seekers are women, she noted, "educated resilient, serious women who possess strong values and even stronger work ethic."
The partnership launched today signifies a positive step toward employing these highly skilled spouses, Biden said. "We're making it a little easier for them to find work, and perhaps a little less frightening for new employers to take that gamble and find the talent so resident in our ranks," she said.
But the work is just beginning, Biden noted. Today, the Defense Department launches the partnership, she said, and "tomorrow, we must make that partnership work."
Dr. Clifford L. Stanley, undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, lauded the partnership, noting that programs like this didn't exist when he joined the Marine Corps in the 1960s. He recalled a time when he and his wife had to watch their spending, unsure of whether or not she'd have a job at the next duty station.
Today, there's an abundance of programs aimed at supporting military families, and their welfare is taken into consideration at every level of command, Stanley said. The partnership is a significant commitment toward that military family care and, he added, "a big deal" for spouses and employers.
The event also marked the inclusion of 15 new employers who signed onto the partnership today.
Leaders from each company stepped forward to sign a statement of support, signifying a pledge to:
-- Increase employment opportunities for military spouses, while maintaining employment for relocating spouses;
-- Provide career promotion opportunities for military spouses who are excelling at their jobs;
-- Ensure pay equity for military spouses commensurate with their level of training, work experience, accomplishments and credentials; and
-- Spread the word about spousal support throughout the military and corporate America.
Partners also are pledging to post job opportunities on the Military Spouse Employment Partnership Web portal located on OurMilitary.mil at http://www.ourmilitary.mil.
The partnership program evolved from the Army Spouse Employment Program, through which more than 100,000 military spouses have been hired since 2003, explained Robert L. Gordon III, deputy assistant secretary of defense for military community and family policy.
"As [this program] continues to grow, just think about what this partnership can do for our spouses, for our military," he said.
Retired Army Brig. Gen. Gary Profit, senior director of military recruiting for Walmart, one of the program's partners, noted the importance of caring for military families in all sectors of society.
"As a retired Army officer, and with a spouse that followed me around the world for 31 years, it's an opportunity to give back to those with whom we had the privilege of serving," he said of the partnership. "It's an important public and private partnership we have to honor the service and sacrifice of military spouses who have served very much as their uniformed member serves."
Military spouses also voiced their approval of the program.
"It will make our lives as military spouses so much easier, because right before you move, there's that ramp up of getting that resume ready and all that on top of moving," said Kristi Hamrick, an Air Force spouse who has moved 11 times in 17 years. "If you can get a job where you have another job waiting on the other end ... that would reduce so much stress."
"I'm overwhelmed," added Jennifer Pilcher, wife of Navy Cmdr. Eddie Pilcher. "I truly think it's the first time in history that the military spouse has been recognized. To sit here and hear the program is for us is overwhelming and exciting."