An Army program traditionally focused on career transition for soldiers is expanding support to include military spouses of all branch affiliations.
Lt. Col. Ismael Ortizrivera, employment director for Soldier For Life, said focusing on spouses is essential for modern military families.
“The spouse is part of the economy, and their career choices are now impacting the service member’s ability to serve a full career. We want to influence policy to make a difference for spouses,” Ortizrivera said.
The program’s shift to address military spouse concerns is based on military retention and recruiting rates, according to Ortizrivera.
“Spouse employment is a retention tool,” he said. “One, you may increase recruiting, and two, you improve retention.”
VFW National Legislative Service Associate Director Brittany Dymond recently discussed the connection between military spouses and retention rates in a speech to the Senate Committee on Armed Services.
“Like any occupation, benefit packages will always fall short if individuals’ basic needs, or those of their family members, are inconsistently satisfied,” Dymond told the committee. “Not only do quality of life issues affect the retention decisions of those currently serving, but negative experiences and public perceptions also affect recruitment of future generations.”
A previous Army study showed 93% of married service members stay on active duty when their spouse favors it, according to Dee Geise, now-director of the Army’s Soldier and Family Readiness Division, who spoke at an AUSA Annual Meeting and Exposition in 2018.
“As early as 1993, we knew that spousal support was an important factor in Army retention,” Geise said in 2018 while serving as chief of the Army’s Soldier and Family Readiness Program in the Office of the Assistant Chief of Staff for Installation Management. “By 2007, we knew that families that used support resources adjusted and adapted better to the military lifestyle.”
A 2019 Rand Corporation study of how military spouses address challenges found that those whose needs weren’t met “had the most stress and the least positive attitudes, suggesting that, while not having a problem in the first place is best, a problem solved is a far better outcome than a need that goes unmet.”
In response to these concerns, the Soldier For Life program will move in a new direction this year: listening to military spouses.
“We want to talk about a wide variety of issues facing military spouses,” Ortizrivera said. “We only make an impact when we listen to military spouses. I want to have a space in Soldier For Life for the military spouse presence and a spouse forum because the spouses are essential in the life of the soldier.”
“The Army doesn’t have to create anything new but needs to strengthen relationships between existing organizations that can provide value to the spouses,” Ortizrivera said. “Let’s make it easier for the spouse to get access to all the tools and resources that are already out there.”
Spouse employment is one of the first topics added to the revamped Soldier For Life program.
“The reality is that spouse employment is a retention tool,” Ortizrivera said. ”Today’s spouses are not like those in the 1980s who stayed home taking care of kids. They are highly educated, involved and want to be part of the economy of the home.”
To meet spouse employment concerns, Soldier For Life is now organizing spouse hiring fairs, virtual events and inviting spouse guests to participate in a live streaming broadcast called SFL Live, Spouse Edition.
“I’m meeting individually with spouses and influencers to get to know them, learn what initiatives are working, and to share resources,” Ortizrivera said. “We can’t just push everything out at once like a fire hose. The intent is to continue to sprinkle and ‘water the plants’ so they can grow, with constant water and nutrients.”
In coming months, the show will cover additional topics, such as existing DOD programs, financial planning resources, PTSD and entrepreneurship during PCS moves. They also are considering other programs, such as spouse sponsors for families going through a PCS move.