The noble calling of our military is to defend us from our enemies.
But the men and women of the military often have spouses, whose career prospects are deeply affected, and sometimes destroyed, by the mobility of military life.
Is there a way to preserve military preparedness and yet improve the career outlooks of military spouses?
That is a question that Second Lady Karen Pence worked to try to solve with her activities on behalf of military spouses. Republican Senator Tom Cotton and Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen put forward a bill to help military spouses transfer occupational licenses to a new state when they move.
Today in the Wall Street Journal military wife and Journal writer Kate Bachelder Odell comes up with a novel idea: the military treats all officers, she says, as if they are aspiring generals. Maybe this should change.
Today, assignments and transfers are made as if the officer is a general in the making. But many officers see a fulfilling military career that doesn’t include reaching the rank of general. Why not recognize this and transfer accordingly, asks Odell?
In my years as a Navy wife, my employer has made accommodations for my spouse’s inflexible location. Most don’t have this luxury. Corporations are periodically called on to “do more” for military spouses, but companies that hire military spouses know that there is a high risk they won’t stick around as long as typical employees. Tax credits wouldn’t change that.
The real problem is how the military shuffles service members through various jobs and locations, which can be more of a box-checking exercise than a process that cultivates talent and skills. Spouses are along for the ride, and that means frequently having to build new career networks, which over time erodes earning potential.
Military assignments are managed through a centralized process where large personnel outfits are “just trying to match names against available billets, and almost always not knowing the people individually,” says Tim Kane, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution who served as an Air Force intelligence officer. This top-down process can only minimally incorporate a service member’s personal preferences, never mind a spouse’s career.
Mr. Kane summed up the problem to Congress last year. The military is composed of volunteers who are dealt with more like conscripts, he said. Every young officer is treated as an aspiring general or admiral, and thus is pushed into an “ideal” set of jobs with rigid timing for promotion, without respect to competing priorities, like a wife’s job or kids who don’t want to go to a new high school every year.
Mr. Kane tells me he’s known of people who “will terminate their careers early because the Air Force or the Marines won’t tell them, ‘You know what? if you don’t want to become a general, and you just want to stay at whatever base it is for the next four years, we’ll let you.’ ”
This sounds like it might help the military retain talented officers who don’t necessarily aspire to being generals and have spouses who also want to build careers.