Military Spouse Employment in the Spotlight at Modern Day Marine Expo

Military Spouse Employment in the Spotlight at Modern Day Marine Expo
Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger, here addressing a 2019 symposium, discussed spouse employment concerns as part of Modern Day Marine's inaugural Military Spouses Employment Brunch last month. (Photo by Lance Cpl. Mellizza Bonjoc/Marine Corps)

The nation’s top Marine officer helped focus attention on military spouse issues during last month’s Modern Day Marine expo, speaking at the event’s first-ever Military Spouses Employment Brunch.


“Family support is probably the No. 1 element of someone’s success in this organization,” Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger told attendees.


[MOAA INTERVIEW: Marine Commandant Offers Roadmap to the Corps’ Future]


Berger speaks from experience, having served in uniform for the last 42 years – 41 alongside his wife, Donna. The commandant discussed improvements made to support military spouse employment – more education and certification opportunities, the establishment of the Military Spouse Employment Partnership (MSEP), and more telework options – but acknowledged we still have more to do.


One example: The commandant recognized that the passage of the Military Spouse Licensing Relief Act doesn’t fix the licensure issue. And even in states that have worked to expedite the issuance of licenses or certifications, military spouses making a move have “just lost all the status you spent the last three, four, five years building,” Berger told the group. “You may get to work, but you have to start all over.”


[RELATED: MOAA Seeks Funds to Ensure New Law Supporting Spouses Makes a Difference]


For over 40 years, the Modern Day Marine expo has showcased the latest innovations in military equipment and systems, actively seeking solutions to address the evolving, expeditionary needs of the Marine Corps. Marta Sullivan, a Marine Corps veteran, military spouse, and a director at the Marine Corps Association, was the catalyst behind the inclusion of family topics at this year’s event.


The event featured a well-known military spouse comedian and friend of MOAA, Ashley Gutermuth, who has become a staunch advocate for the military family community. From hosting a one-on-one interview with Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) about the Military Spouse Hiring Act to rolling up her sleeves to start a program to address food insecurity at her local base, Ashley brings attention to issues that have negatively impacted military families for decades.


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Joining Gutermuth for a panel discussion to round out the spouse employment brunch were:

  • Patricia Barron, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Military Community & Family Policy
  • Meredith Lozar, Manager, Deloitte
  • Dawn Ellison, Shareholder, Greenberg Traurig, LLP
  • Adam Rocke, Senior Director of External Engagements, Hiring Our Heroes


Bringing their own knowledge and experience to the conversation, the panelists highlighted existing resources spouses can and should access to improve opportunities and expand networks. The Military Spouse Career Accelerator Pilot, a 12-week fellowship program for military spouses launched by DoD in January, was mentioned frequently; it has seen significant success in its first year, with an over 80% job offer rate at the end of the fellowship.


Two points from the panel resonated louder than the others:

  1. Members of the military spouse community should stop thinking that those who have found success don’t face the same challenges as others. Professional success looks different to everyone, and the way military spouses “climb the corporate ladder” will never look normal to anyone.

  2. It’s important to keep talking about spouse unemployment and underemployment, but it’s time to change the tone of the discussion. Rather than one-upping each other in a “who had it worse” professional journey, spouses should share tips and tricks found throughout the journey. There are several resources and programs designed to address these unique challenges, and it’s incumbent upon military spouses to spread the word.


For more military spouse news, visit MOAA’s revamped spouse resources page, which includes links to recent articles, MOAA-specific resources, and more.


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About the Author

Jen Goodale
Jen Goodale

Goodale is MOAA's Director of Government Relations for Military Family and Survivor Policy.