When second lady Karen Pence stepped into her new White House role in 2017, she pledged to do as much as she could with the opportunity, placing military families at the top of the priority list. Nearly two years later, she’s kept that promise and is expanding what it looks like.
Mrs. Pence traveled to Fort Carson last month to launch a new campaign aimed at elevating, encouraging, and thanking the nation’s military spouses. The mom of three, whose son serves as an active duty Marine, has traveled the globe to meet with spouses of all branches of service. She says these listening sessions helped her gain a better understanding of what military life looks like today.
“I’m not a military spouse so there’s no way I could presume to know what their issues are, so we started having listening sessions all over the country with all branches, and some overseas,” she said. “We asked the spouses, if you could have one thing that we could help you with and we could help to change, or bring awareness to, what would that be? And we asked them, don’t give us something that’s so overwhelming we’re not going to be able to make a difference. Give us something that we could focus on, bring awareness to, draw people together for meetings to impact change.”
A direction emerges
The feedback from participants offered Mrs. Pence and her team a clearer picture of what to focus on. Some of the topics that surfaced repeatedly involved careers, a trending topic as the spousal unemployment rate remains in the double digits.
“There were some issues that surfaced over and over and over. One was the licensure issue, including just employment because it’s difficult for military spouses because they move so frequently to just get hired even though they are very, very qualified. … And another was security clearance. It seems to take so long for military spouses to get clearance and be able to be employed on a base or a post where they are stationed,” Mrs. Pence explained.
The Second Lady also heard numerous positive stories about what it’s like to be married to someone that serves.
“Being a military spouse—it’s a special club. It’s a very large club, but also one where only military spouses know what it’s like to really be a military spouse,” she said. “Some of the experiences that they shared with us, being able to travel and making lifelong friends, and raising children who learn how to make friends quickly because you move all the time.”
The campaign’s initial impact
Mrs. Pence’s announcement has already inspired one military spouse to think bigger in her own career—and with others in mind.
Lauren Hope, Army wife and owner of Hope Design LTD, says Mrs. Pence’s announcement led her to create the #shopmilitary movement for entrepreneurs, like herself, in the military space.
Prior to starting her own business, Hope’s background was in culinary arts, which included a career at the Ritz Carlton. With each PCS move, she says it was challenging to find opportunities in her field.
“When I married my husband, our first duty station was Savannah so I managed to maintain what I’ll call worthy jobs there, and after that every duty station was just a chip away. At Fort Knox, Panera Bread was the most fine-dining place I could find, so I worked there. And then at Fort Hood there weren’t jobs available so I ended up decorating cakes at the commissary,” she explained.
She realized it was time to pivot her career, and jewelry making was something she had done since she was little. Since then, Hope Design LTD has allowed her to build a flexible career for herself. And, it was during Mrs. Pence’s Fort Carson event that Hope’s products reached ‘elevated’ status. The Second Lady wore one of Hope’s handcrafted brooches.
“It was amazing because I know I am one of many, many military spouses who hustles hard to just feel like I make a difference, whether it’s for my family or at a larger scale. To just have someone of such stature validate that work was an incredible feeling,” Hope shared.
Within 24 hours of that event, Hope got the idea to encourage consumers to buy products and services made by small business owners with a military connection. The #shopmilitary movement will also rally together military entrepreneurs to get them in front of Americans.
Mrs. Pence will continue traveling to gain insight from spouses at military installations. She says quality of life is vital for military retention efforts.
“We want to spread the stories that these military spouses are amazing men and women, and we want to help them be fulfilled in their role because it’s only having fulfilled and happy military families that’s going to encourage our service members to stay in the service,” Mrs. Pence said.
She adds that her office is determined to walk “alongside” military spouses through this campaign, while showing appreciation for the sacrifice made by the entire military family.