MCCONNELL AIR FORCE BASE, Kan. – Airmen and their spouses face many challenges ranging from deployments and employment to what it’s like immersing in a new environment during a move.
“I remember when Sam and I were a young couple in a squadron when he was a lieutenant and captain,” said Kelly Barrett, wife of 18th Air Force commander Maj. Gen. Sam Barrett. “He was routinely pulled away to the Middle East to fly while I was home working and taking care of our children. It was hard. Many families are going through that today. Know you are not alone.”
The Barretts visited McConnell and met with Airmen and spouses talking about how they can help families cope with the everyday challenges that come with choosing to serve.
“The issues are common across all bases, and I feel helping spouses with moving state to state, using license reciprocity and being able to help support their family is very important,” she said.
License reciprocity is an agreement between states, where a professional certification in one state is honored by another, eliminating the need for a spouse to complete their licensure program all over again. It’s one of the biggest concerns facing military spouses while making a permanent change of station move because it allows them to begin working in their professional field immediately. Otherwise, they may have to seek lower paying jobs, part-time work or be unemployed while re-accomplishing their certifications.
“If the [spouse] moves from one state to the next and can work in their licensed field sooner, the family’s earning potential is way higher, lowering the service member’s stress level and ultimately helping readiness,” Kelly added. “The loss of time in their career may make them not look as reliable or credible and can make it harder to get a job too.”
According to research from the National Conference of State Legislatures, the employment of military spouses plays a significant role in the decision of the military member to leave or remain in the service. Strengthening opportunities for spouses could contribute to retaining Airmen.
That same research shows the issue affects families both in and outside the military. It noted people with licensed professions were more than a third less likely to move to a new state – something that may not be an option for military families, or it can cause a family to make a painful decision between the military career or a spouse’s profession.
The research also said 35 percent of military spouses were employed in career fields requiring licenses, largely healthcare and education.
The state of Kansas has taken steps to address some of these concerns. In 2012 and 2015, the state passed laws allowing occupational licensing boards to issue licenses within 60 days of a completed application. They also expedite military-spouse applications.
Although paying application fees can be a struggle for many spouses, there will be a new Defense Department program providing reimbursement for up to $500 to allow spouses to become qualified in their same profession in a new state. This program will help Air Force members and their spouses reduce stress when PCSing.
She said she understands how that stress affects families.
“I want spouses to know they are valued and listened to,” Kelly said. “One of the reasons I’m meeting with them is to say, ‘thank you.’ Why? Because families are a key factor in enabling the mission, the member’s happiness and their ability to do the mission.”
Another struggle spouses face when they PCS is being able to adapt to a new environment.
“Finding someone who is there or someone who has been there that can help you find information — that is so important, it makes a really big difference,” she said. “Key Spouses are vital and the Airman and Family Readiness Center can help too. But an important point I’ve found is to get involved, both as a spouse and as a family. The squadron is a great place to start.”
Although moving every few years can take a toll on a military spouse, they’re not the only ones who sacrifice. Children also face unique challenges with military life, something Kelly, too, has experienced in her more than 30 years as a military spouse working and raising children at the same time.
“Whether it’s choir, sports, drama, scouts, find anything that they were involved with at the previous location and try to continue it at the next location,” Kelly said. “This way they are making friends and feel connected to the community. It really helps ease the transition to a new area.”
Overall, she said her military experience has helped her grow as a person, and she hopes other families can grow the same way the Barretts have.
“Being a military spouse has really helped me make new friendships and learn from the military community as a whole,” she said. “Key Spouses and the camaraderie we built in squadrons really helped add to that. The more we got involved as a family, the more enriching the Air Force became. That’s where squadron vitality comes in. It helped us become a part of a greater Air Force family and I know that will really help our families today.”
Reciprocity is an issue senior leaders have continued to address in recent years. The secretaries of the Air Force, Army and Navy wrote a letter to the National Governors Association last year asking them to address barriers to licensing.
On base visits, Maj. Gen. Barrett, Kelly and Chief Master Sgt. Chris Simpson, 18th AF command chief, routinely meet with civic and elected leaders to discuss issues affecting Airmen and families. Reciprocity is often discussed.