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Second Lady of the United States Karen Pence talks employment with Fort Campbell spouses

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Second Lady of the United States Karen Pence talks employment with Fort Campbell spouses

Second Lady of the United States, Karen Pence, visited Fort Campbell Feb. 28 to connect with military spouses and share new initiatives to help create employment opportunities and solutions for military spouses. 

Pence was accompanied by Leah Esper, wife of Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, who is a former 101st Airborne Division spouse. Pence and Esper have decided to travel to military installations across the nation each month, to discuss employment solutions in-person with military spouses.

“When I became second lady, a lot of groups reached out to me and wanted me to be a champion for their issue,” Pence said. “There were a lot of veteran’s groups that reached out. I felt as much as we love our veterans, there wasn’t enough of a voice for military spouses, so I decided I wanted to help elevate and encourage military spouses.”

Pence said she wanted to provide a voice for military spouses as well as hear how she can better support them.

“I think [military spouses] are under-encouraged,” Pence said. “When I started this campaign, I decided it would be important to speak with military spouses because I’m not a military spouse. I asked them what the one thing they would like me to accomplish would be. Over and over, these spouses asked for help with employment licensing.”

The spouses were excited to meet Pence.

“I was more than happy and excited to meet Mrs. Pence,” Army spouse Michelle Bowler said. “I know how much of a champion she is for military spouses. I just about fainted, it’s a huge honor.”

Bowler was recognized by Pence during her speech. Bowler was recently awarded Military Spouse of The Year due to her work as the creator and host of The Waiting Warriors Podcast, a podcast which shares the stories and experiences of military spouses.

“I wasn’t expecting to be mentioned during her speech, that was incredible,” Bowler said. “I love being around military spouses, there is an energy and an understanding you can’t find anywhere else. These women are truly incredible, and I don’t feel like their story is shared enough.”

Recognizing the unique challenges which come with being a military spouse, Pence said she is looking for support from the states to make employment more accessible for them.

“They moved every few years, and every time they move, they have to redo their license in the next state,” Pence said. “Sometimes it can take a year or two just to get the license. I feel like we are asking them to move, so we should see what we can do in the different states [for them]. We are working with businesses and organizations around the United States to come up with creative ways to hire military spouses. We are trying to come up with creative ways to have a military spouse trained in a national company and then take the training to the next place.”

Pence also discussed a new policy which will help spouses access employment even when moving duty station.

“We are very excited because the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act, which just came out, authorizes the Department of Defense to help fund inter-state compacts for all the states,” Pence. “Now, states can be more open to allow a spouse to use a license from one state when they move to another.”

By sharing information and resources with the military spouses while speaking to them, Pence can bring attention to resources spouses may be unaware of.

“What is important is to let them know some of the changes that have just happened,” Pence said. “One of the changes is they can get reimbursement for up to $1,000 instead of $500, I always like to tell them about Military One Source, which is a place they can call with any issue they may have. Also, LinkedIn Premium allows military spouses to have one free year every time they change a duty station.”

Access to federal employment is also a priority for spouses to be made aware of. Pence said The President of The United States recently signed an executive order to make it easier for military spouses to access employment in the federal government.

“There are a lot of things out there a spouse may not be aware they can access. We want them to be fulfilled and we want them to work in their chosen career if possible,” Pence said. “It directly affects our military readiness. If the spouse is happy and they enjoy military life and they also have a career, their spouse is probably going to stay in the military longer.”

Pence also shared information available on Fort Campbell, such as the Campbell Strong Workforce Partnership. The Campbell Strong Workforce Partnership was made possible through a $7.7 million federal grant from the Department of Labor and was designed to support the employment readiness of Fort Campbell’s military spouses and transitioning Soldiers.

“Fort Campbell actually has a grant where they are able to come alongside financially,” Pence said. “If a spouse has a financial issue standing in the way while they are trying to get employment, like childcare, they can actually come alongside [with financial support]. I think it’s important when you have a facility on base that is supposed to be there to help military spouses get employment, is train them to write a resume, practice an interview, and prep them to be aware of the jobs in their field out there. Let’s help them the first month with childcare, there are ways where we can come alongside our spouses.”

Through employment opportunities and resources, Pence hopes to help military spouses find fulfillment and feel supported.

“We are so proud of our military spouses, we want them to be fulfilled,” Pence said. “To have a job which gives you purpose in life and there’s fulfillment at the end of the day, it helps with mental health as well. When their spouses deploy, it can be a lonely time. We want to come alongside, we want them spouses to know we see you, we hear you, and we stand with you.”