Career-isolated military spouses: Why would the DOD want it any other way?
By Jaime Gassmann Best Defense guest columnist In April, this blog served as a platform for the discussion of military spouses’ (particularly junior officers’ wives’) dreary career possibilities, the tough choice that follows for many young officers to stay in or get out, and the implications for the future of the officer corps. Positions taken ranged from ...
By Jaime Gassmann
By Jaime Gassmann
Best Defense guest columnist
In April, this blog served as a platform for the discussion of military spouses’ (particularly junior officers’ wives’) dreary career possibilities, the tough choice that follows for many young officers to stay in or get out, and the implications for the future of the officer corps.
Positions taken ranged from "this sucks" to "suck it up." Tom commented that the issue is of the "utmost importance." I think he is wrong, and that instead all is well for the DOD in this matter, and it is ludicrous to suggest it consider a change.
The military gains much from spouses’ geographic isolation from career opportunities. From this pool of unemployed spouses, many of whom feel pressure to contribute to their servicemember’s career or else risk being a detriment, the military can gain unpaid (volunteer/voluntold) labor and also emotional labor as they socialize other spouses into acceptable (useful) roles.
Furthermore, soldiers and their families who leave were not going to contribute two workers for one paycheck as readily, and perhaps were not the sorts of true believers who were going to raise members of the warrior class. Better to weed them out as soon as possible and only invest in the career development of servicemembers and their families who chose the Army life over other quality-of-life considerations. The military has a system that, by its harsh and greedy nature, selects for families who will fully support it.
Allow me to review the original arguments to which I am responding. Many of the responses to "Stand back!: Military wives speak, and the situation is even worse than I thought" were very personal, and on a personal level it’s nearly impossible to not complain about the wretched vagaries of tied migration in military life. By nature and for historical reasons, big posts and bases are not in urban centers where career-building jobs are plentiful. When I asked Pat Lang to help me brainstorm ways to get my husband’s military career to bring him to D.C. so I could continue to work for RAND or a similar place, he said simply, "I think it will be very difficult for you and your husband to find yourselves in the same geographic area for quite a while. He needs to be with troops."
My husband does indeed need to be with troops — not just for his career but because it makes him his best self. I married a man with a calling.
This is good news for the DOD: It writes one paycheck and gets two workers.
Our example: I followed my husband around so that we can be together as much as possible between train-ups and deployments. I saw no appealing career in Hinesville, Georgia, so I continued graduate school. Then I was all dressed up with a Ph.D. and no where to go with it. What I did have was immense pressure to volunteer with the unit and participate in social events (things I could much more easily have turned down if I were employed full time — here I make the sardonic smile that is a hallmark of the military spouse). Now, years have passed. The only life my family has ever known is the military, and my résumé has a gaping hole. So for both these reasons it is in my interest to encourage my husband to hang on to his steady job.
I’m now a shill for the DOD, literally logging hours for it when I volunteer and also promoting the military as a career to my husband for fear of the unknown for both of us out on the economy.
In previous posts and comments, some junior officers suggested that solving this problem is a crucial matter, pointing out that some of the best servicemembers will look for solutions as civilians, causing the officer corps to suffer.
But though some of the best in terms of quality and even sense of calling will certainly leave, those who stay are the ones the military wants to stay. The spouses who are willing to be unemployed to follow a young officer to remote posts and hold families together during the relentless churn of deployment cycles are often spouses who are also willing to give of their time and efforts to their servicemember’s branch of service, who are more likely to encourage 20 years of service, and who normalize this behavior for other spouses and thereby bring them into the fold. And their servicemembers are probably a good investment for the military, with high likelihoods of staying in until retirement no matter the work-life unbalance.
The author is a social scientist and public policy researcher on what appears to be a permanent hiatus. She is currently riding out a deployment with a future member of America’s warrior class (who, when he grows up wants to be a surveyor, a soldier, a lawyer, and then the president). Her dissertation may someday spawn a book titled, Patrolling the Homefront: The Emotional Labor of Army Wives Volunteering in Family Readiness Groups.
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