Military Spouses: Deployments, Pandemics, and Now Schooling at Home

Fort Campbell, Ky – (August 20, 2020) – “Hurry up and wait.” This is, by far, one of the most common themes across military branches all over the Unites States, well known by service members and their families alike. The phrase alludes to the inevitable changes that often happen with little to no warning. Sometimes this looks like last-minute training orders, minimal notice to prepare for a few weeks in the field, or a sooner-than-planned deployment. Even more often, it presents itself in the form of changes in duty station assignments. Military families are all too familiar with the need to be flexible, resilient, and ultimately prepared to have the plans set for tomorrow change before the end of today.

Every military branch has its distinguishable uniform, varying in colors, layout, and presentation. Service members in uniform are recognized all over the world, immediately known for their occupation. This recognition often affords them instant respect, appreciation, and even awe. Members of the Armed Services deserve all of this and more as they are truly some of the best representations of our country. With all of this in mind concerning resiliency, adaptability, respect, leadership, and so much more, there is another individual who is often hidden in the shadows: the military spouse.

Military family

Military family

Picture the military spouse as most of America sees them: Generally, the spouse is viewed as a woman, and just as often, a mother. She can be seen in the grocery store in her leggings, loose fitted T-shirt, and messy bun, accompanied by a small army of children. Many assume she is the stereotype of a stay-at-home mom, solely focused on caring for the kids, cooking, cleaning, and maintaining the home while her spouse is off serving the country. The reality is the stereotype is not that far off. The life of a military spouse revolves around caring for the family, ensuring the home is a safe and loving place. The spouse’s primary role is to support their soldier, whether they are home or away. What does this mean in application, though? What exactly, if the spotlight was to turn to showcase the spouse, would be found beneath the stereotype? The answer, though complex, is summed up nicely in a simple response: More. So much more.

Despite the aforementioned “stereotypical view,” military spouses come in all different ages, ethnicities, and genders. Some spouses are male, some female, some are prior service themselves, grew up in the military community or are currently serving alongside their significant other. Many military spouses are young and new to the military journey, while others are lifetime partners who have been through it all. Still yet, some are from places outside of the United States and come from backgrounds and cultures uniquely different from those most common in America. The military spouse has no uniform or rank. They are rarely, if ever, identified by site, eliciting no special treatment or respect from bystanders. Each spouse plays their role differently, adjusting to every new situation the military presents their families to the best of their abilities.

Many military spouses are full-time parents, dedicating their time to maintaining the home front, taking on every responsibility revolving around the children, finances, and home upkeep. At the same time, some spouses have careers ranging from retail to teaching, banking to medical. Working outside the home can generate needed income and afford the spouse the opportunity to advance in their own careers while supporting their soldier.

Regardless of how they choose to live, the military spouse serves a higher mission just like their service member. When the soldier is given last-minute orders to go on temporary duty, the spouse is there, packing gear right beside them. When the camera stops snapping photos after the family waves goodbye, the military spouse provides comfort to crying children, pulls the saddened mother of the soldier into their arms for a tight hug, and gathers everyone back at home to start yet another stint managing things alone. Even when the service member is home and the family is complete, the spouse’s duties never fade. They work tirelessly to help their children adapt to yet another strange state after yet another move across the country. They encourage them to make new friends, find hobbies, and learn to love their new environment. Often, the spouse is so centered on aiding their families in these transitions that they find little to no time to adapt themselves. Finding their own personal village seems almost frivolous next to transferring medical records, securing new doctors for their child’s various therapies, and settling into another cookie-cutter house, decorating and rearranging furniture until it feels like a home. Those needs surpass any desire they have to meet new people and develop friendships.

Just when it looks like the life of the military spouse can’t get any more complicated, the world ends up in various stages of shutdowns due to a pandemic. Now, on top of deployments and training schedules, spouses are juggling fears of infection, risks to their children, and uncertainty on whether or not their soldier will be coming home each night. Some families are stuck hundreds of miles or oceans apart from their loved ones during these shutdowns, unable to find solace in their support systems. Extended quarantines mean even longer separation periods from returning sponsors. With the risk increasing daily in many places, the next phase of life starts to look more unfamiliar. Parents are now presented with difficult decisions regarding schooling. Many public schools are not offering on-campus options, forcing parents to make accommodations to provide a virtual school experience at home. Some parents are unable to send their children to school, regardless of what their local school system is allowing, due to medical concerns in the family. More and more military families have increased their household by at least one elderly or disabled parent in the past few decades as the cost to provide around-the-clock treatment for their loved ones is too high. Sending children into the public-school environment, potentially exposing them to the virus, could prove detrimental to these elderly family members.

Mother working with her son

The military spouse is resilient. The definition of resiliency, the ability to withstand or recover quickly from difficult situations, perfectly encompasses the foundation of the military spouse. Difficult situations are their norm. While the rest of the world has been overwhelmed with the quarantine lifestyle, restricted from travelling wherever they would like, the military family is well prepared. The struggles that continue to arise due to the pandemic are far from miniscule, and despite their abilities to handle high levels of stress on a regular basis, military spouses are now being hit in a place they generally don’t have to worry too much about: finances. Few people would say the military life is anywhere close to luxurious, and service members deserve far more compensation for their dedication than they receive. Stability is the norm in the military world, and fluctuating finances, while rarely extravagant, tend to be an area the military spouse can easily adjust to accordingly. Many military posts offer part-time opportunities either within the compound or right outside the gates. Child care options are often extensive thanks to nearby facilities, child services on post, and fellow spouses providing in-home care. In a normal world, should they need to, the military spouse can jump into the workforce.

This world, however, in all its splendor, is far from normal. Businesses have closed, some permanently, due to the pandemic. Those that have remined open have greatly downsized to account for decreases in revenue. While there has been a steady demand for essential workers, child care options have been reduced to practically nothing, affording parents little to no choice for assistance. Service members have security in their positions, but spouses who previously worked outside the home or who now need to find employment are struggling. With minimal child care options, high-risk health worries, schooling from home, and the routine instability that comes with the military family schedule, military spouses all over the nation are finding themselves trapped between a rock and a hard place. If they find a job, they risk increased exposure, they are forced into child care options they may usually avoid, they put the weight of their children’s education on the shoulders of the children themselves or their caretakers. And the moment one family member becomes ill, their new job is at risk due to mandatory quarantines. It seems like there is no way to win.

Digital Works: Helping Military Spouses Thrive

Digital Works provides one-of-a-kind training specifically geared toward developing the most sought-after skills in the telework world. The telework industry is competitive and difficult to navigate. Many options seem too good to be true, and they usually are. With so many potential risks at play when searching for remote work employment, many individuals have given up hope in finding legitimate options. The Digital Works program pairs students with knowledgeable facilitators who provide one-on-one placement assistance for each student following graduation. There are so many viable opportunities in the telework industry, one just needs to know where to look, and the team at Digital Works has it down to an art. Vendors are thoroughly vetted by staff and graduates, ensuring not only legitimate job information, but also quality company introductions. Digital Works is designed to encourage mentorship, foster individual growth, and prepare students not only for entry-level jobs in the field, but also assist them with finding opportunities for career advancement.

Roughly two years ago, the rare perfect match was discovered. After five active years of helping stabilize economies and support small communities by providing outside job options that could be ported into these areas, the Digital Works training program met its first military community. Throughout this piece, a recurring theme has emerged: The life of a military spouse is hectic, demanding, and ever changing. With this in mind, the ideal career for many spouses would allow them to move all over the country (and sometimes outside of the country) while remaining employed. This would greatly decrease the stress of finding a new employer at each duty station as well as limit the employment gaps spouses see all too often due to constant relocations. Most military spouses have at least one child at home, some with their own personal soccer team, and with children comes unexpected illness, crazy schedules, and due to COVID-19,  too many unknowns when it comes to school. The ideal career option would most assuredly also include schedule flexibility, with the ability to work around the ins and outs of military life. Last, but certainly not least, spouses have a difficult time finding their village. As mentioned before, many set their own personal needs to the side to focus on supporting their family with all of their energy. A pitcher, however, can only fill so many glasses before it needs to be refilled itself. Finding an avenue to meet others who understand the demands and lifestyle they lead while offering encouragement and support is essential to mental health.

Team Zoom meeting

Telework provides all of these opportunities and more. Most vendors are located throughout the United States with many also having branches in other countries frequented by military families. This allows for movement without loss of employment. Spouses begin their training and work in one location, then when they receive orders to move, they simply notify their vendor of the transition, close their computer at one post, and open it at another, picking up their work where they left off. This eliminates those employment gaps during moves, allowing the military spouse to build time with one company, strengthening their résumé.

Remote work opportunities are endless, with a variety of industries within the telework world. Such variety comes with flexibility unmatched in any other industry. Military spouses need to be able to navigate their schedules without the stress of inconsistent child care or mandated extra shifts at work. Many of the vendors Digital Works has vetted over the last seven years have extreme flexibility in shifts. Spouses can choose when they work, how much they work, and what type of work they do. They can work evenings when their children are small and need constant attention during the daytime, then shift to daytime hours once they are regularly at school. With the uncertainty of public-school attendance in the coming months, these career opportunities are uniquely beneficial, allowing parents to ensure they have the time to provide instruction and care to their at-home school kids.

Digital Works is more than just training. At its core, the program focuses on relationships as much as it does quality customer service skills. Cohorts bond, learning about each other and finding things they have in common. The facilitator works to provide resources to students well past graduation, encouraging long-term interaction between graduates from all classes. This companionship plays a vital role in the mental health of the spouse while also providing additional child care avenues when graduates swap care.

Rarely will you hear about a military spouse backing down from a challenge or quitting when things get tough. It isn’t in their nature and they are truly deserving of recognition and support. At Digital Works, providing sustainable resources, relationship building opportunities, flexible career options, and quality personal assistance to each and every student is not only the mission but also the privilege of each of team member. Digital Works exists to meet people where they are, finding them employment that matches their needs and desires. That purpose is strengthened by each and every student who comes through the course and achieves their goals. The military spouse already faces a tough road. Digital Works is here, virtual, and ready to help lighten the load and provide relief to the people who spend their days providing for others. That’s a relationship worth investing in.

About the Author: Jessica Golson is the Digital Works Fort Campbell Facilitator. She is a graduate from Austin Peay State University where she earned her bachelor’s degree in Psychological Science. She also has more than 10 years of experience in sales and marketing. Jessica has always had a passion for teaching and guiding others and that passion is mirrored in her background.

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