DOVER AIR FORCE BASE, Del. --
Ordinarily, there is nothing remarkable about a Tuesday morning. At best, it proves we made it through Monday; at worst, it serves as a reminder that Friday is still three days away. For the past 24 months, it has meant something more to me and my wife. As I type these comments, Lacey, a Senior Manager at Deloitte Consulting, is braving the Bay Bridge on the way to her office in Rosslyn, Virginia. She will arrive in time for her first meeting and remain in the National Capital Region until Thursday or Friday.
This has been her routine since January of the year we were married.
While this may sound torturous, it was the best option to ensure Lacey had the opportunity to progress in her profession. We have no doubt she could have found work in Delaware, but the nexus of federal consulting is in Washington.
So, she had to make a choice.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports, 48.8% of married-couple families in 2018 were dual-income households, in which each partner was employed. This dynamic is becoming more common in our Air Force, and our institution needs to provide the flexibility and velocity necessary to ensure we retain our best Airmen and their families.
In 2017, Hiring Our Heroes published a study, which opens with a summary of the plight of the military spouse:
“Their service … comes at great personal sacrifice and stress. Deployments, frequent moves, and ever-changing family needs make it difficult to maintain or advance a career.”
In light of International Women’s Day this past Sunday, I would like to point out that the HOH study found 92% of military spouses are women. The study also underscored that military spouse unemployment rates range from 20% to 25%, with underemployment rates estimated at 35% to 40%. Consider those numbers in the context that military spouses are overall more highly educated than most working Americans – HOH’s study found that 88% of military spouses have at least some college education, and 15% have postgraduate degrees.
Military service inherently comes with sacrifice, but are we asking too much of our Airmen and families?
To be fully transparent, Lacey is not part of the 35% to 40% of military spouses who are underemployed. She outearns me as a professional, and when we worked together in the Pentagon, she outranked me. In 2017, she left a position in the Deputy Secretary of Defense’s front office so that we could move to Delaware and I could assume squadron command.
She found a position that best balanced her professional advancement with our time together in Delaware. We both wish it was a choice she didn’t have to make, but that is a current reality of the professional military spouse. For too many, career advancement is implicitly dependent upon domestic absence.
I hope Lacey’s story inspires us to consider a few questions:
Is our Air Force working hard enough to present viable options for professional growth to military spouses?
Are we relying too much on grit and self-sacrifice to retain our best?
And finally, if the answer to those questions are “no” and “yes,” consecutively, then what does each of us do about it?