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Mission Family: Spouses helping spouses get ahead

Aug. 13, 2014 - 04:51PM   |  
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Over the past few years, increasing attention has been focused on connecting spouses with employers that can provide them opportunities for meaningful, portable careers.

As more spouses tap into these careers across a wide range of fields, hopefully the tentacles of spouse networks, both formal and informal, will grow stronger as well. There’s no downside to having more spouses become mentors to smooth the way for others seeking to follow in similar careers.

Many spouses have already made a difference to those who are following them, by showing their employers how much value their talents, flexibility and work ethic can add to an organization. And if they’re able to stay with an employer long enough, some have indeed been mentors to other spouses who sought their career advice.

Among them is Denise Hunter, who says she has enjoyed being a mentor not only to colleagues with the Army and Air Force Exchange Service, where she works, but others as well.

“Sharing knowledge is what it’s all about,” Hunter said. “I’m very grateful to the people who invested their time and knowledge in me.” She added that she endeavors “all the time” to pay that tradition forward.

Hunter also has spoken to groups of military spouses about her experience at AAFES. She started as a food service worker in Germany in 1987, and is now the exchange service’s liaison officer to the Defense Department.

Throughout her moves with her Army husband, Hunter said she was inspired by other military spouses whom she saw climbing up the chain.

For years, AAFES has had a program to help spouses maintain their careers with the organization. Now, many other employers are finally catching on as well, pledging to help spouses in their own ways, through the Defense Department’s Military Spouse Employment Partnership program.

Along with such institutional programs, some organizations are taking more steps to help spouses. JPMorgan Chase, for example, has established a networking group for its military spouse employees.

Military spouses are all too aware of the anxiety that spurs them to try to quickly find a job after arriving in a new location, and quickly get acclimated to it. Having a network to turn to in a new company can make that transition easier, with other employees providing tips. And that network can perhaps provide advice on paths to take within the company that can lead to not just staying with it, but moving up.

No one needs to offer military spouses a free ride. But learning from the experiences of other spouses in their sometimes bumpy career paths could certainly make the ride a lot smoother. Regardless of whether there’s a formal network, spouses can and should marshal all possible resources — to include asking a fellow spouse for help and advice.

And the spouses who respond can feel gratified that their success in overcoming their own career difficulties can make a difference not just to their own families, but also to military families in the future.

Karen Jowers is married to a military retiree.

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