On May 11th, 2018, Military Spouse Appreciation Day, our nation recognizes military spouses for their sacrifices and contributions. This day is part of National Military Appreciation Month. Aside from Memorial Day, most people will let the greener, warmer days of May pass by without much thought or recognition of these women and men. Not this old soldier. I’ll be speaking at a military spouse event sharing my deep love and respect for these selfless servers or as I call them, American National Treasures. I read an article recently which labeled several American public figures as National Treasures, many of whom were entertainers like Tom Hanks and Ray Charles. The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to preserve what it calls US National Treasures, mostly locations and structures they deem worthy of preservation and recognition. We recognize people, places or things as national treasures so we can pay special respect to them, admire their grandeur or contribution to an industry, field or society. This special deference should be paid to our military spouses as well. Overstating this perhaps? I don’t think so. I consider myself fortunate to be married to a military spouse and lucky to be the recipient of her love and support for over 27 years in uniform. I and my sons were direct beneficiaries of her care through thick and thin. So too were countless other people and communities in the 16 different places we called home and over 21 organizations we led. She may not have defeated a terrorist organization, certainly does not wear a chest full of ribbons as I do but her contribution and that of spouses like her is profound and worthy of pause and admiration.
Life as a military spouse is hard. I won’t sugar-coat it. My wife endured months and years of separation while I trained away from home or served in combat zones like Iraq and Afghanistan. She lived out of suitcases, slept on blow up mattresses, served as mom and dad, wrestled with school transitions and thrust herself out of bed in the middle of the night to welcome soldiers home from combat. With poise and grace and a large dose of bravery she delivered healing remarks to a grieving battalion of families following the loss of our soldiers. She embraced our sons who sent their father off to war not knowing if he would return. I’ve often said, I believe it was more difficult being home with a husband or wife in combat than it was to be deployed. While I was certainly in more danger, I knew when danger was at its peak or when I was in the relative safety of a secured base. My wife never knew and thanks to a constant stream of media coverage, was always reminded of the danger I was in. She lived in constant fear of a notification officer approaching the house to deliver news she could never fathom. Some spouses, our Gold Star spouses, did experience such horror and my family and I and our nation holds a special place in our hearts for them. I would be remiss if I did not make special mention of the spouses of the Vietnam War. They enjoyed practically none of the benefits today’s military spouses do. They faced resentment from a population at odds with those who served in the war and a military which failed to recognize them. I cannot imagine an environment like that today and I am glad that our nation and military has recovered from this national shame embracing these deserving people.
Life crucibles experienced by a military spouse do not come with instruction manuals or a paycheck yet the need for their volunteer service continues. These experiences forcibly create a tough, resilient person who possesses perseverance, leadership and bravery; a person with a hard, outer shell but a warm, loving inner core. Amidst all this hardship, I know my wife is eternally grateful for a wonderful life in the military raising our children on secured bases surrounded by families who honored our nation and subscribed to a set of values like respect, selfless service and integrity to name a few. While I was away she always knew she could count on a responsive support network and tap into a comprehensive community service program prepared to assist in times of need. My wife does not seek sympathy. Instead she continues as she has always done caring for her family and giving back to her community and those around her. Like me, she is grateful for an enriched life in countless places where we bonded, learned, grew and raised our family.
Re-entering the workforce a few years ago, my wife, like many military spouses, experienced hardship. Due to the nomadic lifestyle of the military, she chose to stay home and care for our family while I was away; thus, she found it difficult to re-enter the workforce since she lacked the experience and current credentials needed for her teaching profession. While lacking in these areas, she did possess years of experience in a variety of environments helping me lead and care for and the families of soldiers. Employers focused on her dusty old teaching degree instead of her experience, earned as a military spouse, in leadership, mental toughness and a sense of community and team work. There is no acronym, certification or stand-out accomplishment listed on a resume capturing all these spouses have done. Their experiences and triumphs should be in the form of a PHD, or as an entry on a resume recognizable by all; “hey, is that a military spouse?” As an employer might recognize certifications like PMP, Lean Six Sigma or SHRM which set job-seekers apart, so too should “Military Spouse.” Employers should recognize they are in the presence of someone special and react as if they had just met a celebrity. At the football stadium of the United States Military Academy, West Point, there is a plaque affixed to the wall with a quote from General George C. Marshall. It reads, “I need an officer for a dangerous and secret mission. I need a West Point football player.” A plaque like this should be affixed to the wall where hiring officials reside in organizations across our country. This one should read, “We need a tough yet caring person on our team with a wealth of experience overcoming adversity. We need a military spouse.” What military spouses contributed to war-bound units, they can contribute to organizations of all types. These contributions, more than certifications and current industry experience, are the essential elements which help organizations thrive. If it is SHRM they need, train them and certify them for that but recognize, as this old soldier does, what these wonderful people deliver is the real fuel an organization needs. Give the task to a military spouse, step aside and watch her or him go.
I encourage you to welcome spring and enjoy the beauty that accompanies the month of May, but I ask each of you to join me in championing these wonderful people by sharing this message. Attend local military spouse event, and to admire these national treasures. Talk to them and find out what they can bring to your team. Hire them or ask them to join your organization where you can benefit, as the military did, from all they stand for and all they can do. Recognize, as I have, that while they may walk and talk and look like so many others, they are special. They are true American National Treasures.