Military Family Appreciation Month: Strategies for Meeting Military Families' Toughest Challenges

Jan Meert has looked at the role of military spouse and mom from both sides now. Jan is married to an Army Soldier, and they have two boys, 12 and 14. Jan has had a federal civilian career working on bases in the U.S., Asia and Europe, managing on-post organizations like Army Community Service (ACS) that benefit servicemen and women and their spouses.

Unemployment, underemployment and limited career opportunities

Jan Meert has looked at the role of military spouse and mom from both sides now. Jan is married to an Army Soldier, and they have two boys, 12 and 14. Jan has had a federal civilian career working on bases in the U.S., Asia and Europe, managing on-post organizations like Army Community Service (ACS) that benefit servicemen and women and their spouses.

Jan and her husband, having most recently served 9 years on bases in Germany, relocated in 2017 to Virginia. She sat down with us recently on the occasion of Military Family Appreciation Month to share her unique perspective on the challenges that military families face and to mention often overlooked resources that can help spouses improve their lot in military life – especially by finding meaningful, well-paying work.

First I want to share with you some statistics on the perennial plight of our military spouses. Did you know that more than half of American military families have relocated at least three times, according to a report from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation? While most military families believe they need two incomes, more than 40 percent of spouses say that companies don’t want to hire them because the family may have to move. Disturbingly, 80 percent of responding spouses said that their job search process has created stress between them and their active duty spouse.

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FREE ONE-HOUR WEBINARS for Military Spouses and Federal Job Search Strategies with EO 13473
To register: click here.
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In Jan's experience, the key challenges for military spouses are:

  • Finding reliable child care and helping your children adjust to their new home/location
  • Building a local support network, only to receive permanent change of station (PCS) orders shortly thereafter
  • Not knowing what to expect with an overseas assignment, and feelings of isolation once having arrived in a foreign country
    • “Being stationed overseas can create culture shock,” says Jan. “A lot of people get nervous – because for example – driving is on the other side of the road in England or Japan – so maybe they are hesitant to go off post. There are also challenges associated with language barriers, lack of family or friends nearby, changes in financial status (maybe the spouse had to give up her job when the family relocated thereby decreasing the family income)…all of these things can cause a lot of stress for military families.”

      Take advantage of the military spouse preference

      For military spouses, federal employment – often with the Department of Defense – typically holds the best promise of plentiful opportunities with career potential and good pay and benefits.

      For military families, the secret weapon for career and financial success is to register with Program S, the military spouse preference program for civil service jobs. Enrollment makes spouses eligible for noncompetitive appointment to civil service positions when the family is relocated via PCS order. What does that mean? These qualifying spouses jump to the head of the line of applicants for federal civilian job vacancies.

      “The military spouse preference for federal vacancies is especially powerful when you’re overseas,” says Jan. For a given Program S-eligible position, there are likely to be “fewer applicants, maybe only 10, and only five qualified. It’s also a great benefit for those stateside spouses because there are definitely more opportunities available.”

      There’s also broader help available for spouses seeking jobs on a military installation. “You can go visit the Family Services Center and get help with resumes, as well as getting on a weekly or monthly email list of local area job postings,” says Jan. “Some centers will even do MBTI tests, conduct mock interviews, and point out volunteer opportunities that might lead to employment.”

      Seek out and use all relevant resources on-post and online

      Whether you need help with school adjustment or with finding a job, many resources are available to you – though not all are easy to discover.

      “It’s critical to ‘learn to fish’ – to discover the services, resources, opportunities and anything that could help with your life or that of your family,” Jan says. She particularly recommends connecting with the local Family Service Center as well as your service’s branch of Family, Morale, Welfare and Recreation. Both agencies are a plethora of information on a variety of topics, all of which are helpful to military families.

      To develop a broad network, be active in many circles

      Beyond asking for information and assistance through official channels on your installation, it’s critical to make as many informal connections as you can, and to let them know about the kind of job you’re looking for.

      “It could be any group – from a spouses club to a running club – because you might hear about someone leaving an organization and creating a vacancy,” says Jan. Get involved in schools, service organizations, and social media, and stay active in those groups.

      “If you let people know who you are, the skills and strengths you can bring to the table, opportunities will come up,” Jan says.

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      FREE ONE-HOUR WEBINARS for Military Spouses and Federal Job Search Strategies with EO 13473
      To register: click here.
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      Take advantage of the military spouse preference

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