I graduated from college in 2003 with a degree in International Affairs. It was right after the country went to war with Iraq and the defense industry was booming so I moved to the Washington, D.C. area and got a job working for a defense contractor. I was basically a glorified secretary with a deceptive title, but the position gave me a security clearance and experience in the defense industry, which helped me land my dream job as an intelligence analyst. The intelligence field was the perfect career path for me. I love research and writing and it gave me a chance to use my degree. It was my way of serving the country and contributing to the greater good and I found great satisfaction in my job.
I got married a few years after college. My husband went to West Point and then moved to D.C. to go to medical school before entering the army. He spent most of his free time studying so I decided to go back to school so we could study together. I worked full-time and went to school at night to earn a master’s degree in International Commerce and Policy. After he graduated from medical school, the army sent us to Georgia for his residency program. I applied for an intelligence analyst position 40 minutes away and got the job. I stayed in that position for five years until my husband finished his residency and we moved again.
After nine years in my dream job, that move effectively ended my career. There weren’t any intel positions available at our new location and by the time we moved to the next duty station my clearance had expired. Job advertisements for intelligence analysts always require active security clearances because the clearance process is costly and time-consuming. I was devastated.
Sadly, my experience is not uncommon. Most of the military spouses I have met during the past 13 years are college-educated and many have advanced degrees. ALL of them had their own careers before they met their partners and ALL of them, with the exception of a few nurses and teachers, were forced to leave those careers behind.
Military spouses are disproportionately unemployed or underemployed compared to their civilian counterparts. The unemployment rate for military spouses is 24%— 10 points higher than the unemployment level during the height of the pandemic, which peaked at 14.7% in April 2020. It is getting harder to support a family on one income so many spouses take any job they can find, often working in positions that do not match or utilize their skill sets. Of the spouses who are lucky enough to find jobs, it is estimated that 31-51% are underemployed. I was eventually able to find a part-time position editing articles for an online company making one-sixth of my previous salary. While many are grateful just to have a job, underemployment is demoralizing. It is unbelievably frustrating to know that you have gifts and talents to contribute to society, but the military lifestyle, with its constant moving and deployments, prevents you from realizing your full potential.
Military Spouse Appreciation Day is on Friday, May 7th. Do me a favor and thank the women and men who are married to the military. It is almost never acknowledged, but most of them have sacrificed their own dreams and careers in service to this country. And that is a sacrifice worthy of recognition and gratitude.