You Are Not Alone: Sarah’s Story on Military Spouse Employment

Published: January 9, 2020

sarah berkey_careers

Welcome Sarah B., military spouse, to the Blue Star Families blog!

Sometimes I wish that military life came with a handbook—advice, suggestions, and hard truths that come with your new path in life. My husband is active-duty military member, and we have been stationed in three states in the past eight years. As a military spouse from a family with no military service outside of World War II, no real knowledge of how the military works, and dreams of my own, marrying someone who is in the military required me to adjust my thinking and my way of life quickly. 

My husband and I met in Charleston, SC, while in college. I was attending the College of Charleston studying marine biology, and he was attending the Citadel. While he did earn a degree, he was always on track for active-duty service. 

After considering the two different paths my life could take, I chose to marry someone I loved, knowing that my ability to work in my dream career and chosen career field would be difficult or impossible depending on where the military chose to send us. 

Finding employment at each duty station has always been a struggle. My resume looks awful. Between gaps in employment and jobs that didn’t last more than nine months, getting companies to take you seriously is challenging, to say the least. At each interview, it always seems to come up, that eventuality I would be moving. After a few failed attempts at a real career, I now take any job that will have me. I’ve worked as a server at a restaurant, an intern, a teacher’s assistant, an education associate at an aquarium park, a sales associate, and a part-time library page. I’ve never really gotten a chance to work toward my career, but I’ve done everything to ensure that I have a job and a paycheck. With every new station, the hunt for a new job continues. 

I knew I was not alone in this struggle, however. I’ve seen Facebook posts from other spouses, often with college degrees and even advanced degrees, trying desperately to find jobs that can support their families. 

I had no clue that there were others aware of the issues who wanted to help. Then, a post in my local military Facebook group caught my attention. Blue Star Families was looking for active-duty military spouses to speak on their unemployment/underemployment experience at an event in Los Angeles. 

Blue Star Families is one of the largest supporters of military families and the military community at large. It’s hard to be in the military in any capacity and not know who they are. So, I reached out to the representative, Beth, and shared my story with her. She graciously invited me to participate in the event, and share my story with the attendees. The overall goal was to share the story of military spouse unemployment, why it matters, and how to solve it. The people attending this event were influencers from Hollywood and other media, a few writers, producers, and even executives. 

Getting to be in that room was one of the most surreal experiences in my life. I have always been an opinionated, outspoken, bluntly honest person, but sharing my life with a room full of strangers made me just a little nervous. I quickly realized, however, I had no reason to be. Hearing these people, many of whom were from major companies, tell me that my story and my life were important was overwhelming. Having the opportunity to bring a personal perspective to the issue was one of the reasons I was so excited to participate. Being able to sit in that room and listen to the discussion of the next steps brought hope that maybe something could actually be done to help bring awareness to an issue that is consistently overlooked. 

Being a military spouse comes with unique challenges and skills. I often tell people that it takes a certain kind of person to thrive in this lifestyle. You become an expert in paperwork and packing up a home. You also come to accept that, sometimes, you have to take whatever job you can to ensure your family can support itself. Knowing that organizations like Blue Star Families are working on this issue gives me hope that, soon, taking just any job will be a thing of the past for military spouses. 

Ultimately, most military spouses want to and need to work to help support their families. It’s essential that companies recognize that there is more to an individual than just being a military spouse. If they looked at the qualifications first, unemployment and underemployment would be a thing of the past. 

I look forward to the developments that come out of the meeting in Los Angeles. I truly feel that by working with Blue Star Families and other organizations to get this message out, we can change the narrative and hopefully help aid in getting spouses employed. 

While my story is my own, my experience is not unique. I consider myself extremely lucky to have been able to be part of the conversation in what could really change what it means to be a military spouse in the future. 

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