Honoring Military Spouses: Jobs, Training, Camaraderie, and More
When Sue Hoppin first began dating the man who would become her husband, she was a student at University of Denver and he was enrolled at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.
She was studying international relations. He planned to join the U.S. Air Force after graduation.
They fell in love, got married, and Hoppin’s unexpected life as a military spouse began.
It was a companionship of adventure and constant change. The couple lived in cities across the U.S., as well as Germany and Japan. Hoppin saw the world in ways she never imagined.
She also regretfully said goodbye to her career — at least for a long time. She had no luck making headway in jobs even as her husband’s work flourished. Her networks were slim and constantly changing. The moment Hoppin was able to make enough connections in a new city, orders came in to pack bags and move to a new destination.
“I was happy to support my husband’s profession. But I always felt something was missing,” she says.
When Hoppin and her husband moved back to the Washington, D.C. area, 14 years into marriage, Hoppin thought she’d finally find a job she loved. She had grown up in the area and figured her built-in career networks would come alive.
“Eighteen months in, I didn’t find anything. And I knew this was going to be very hard,” she says. The time is about halfway through the typical military assignment.
The experience is far from unusual. Military spouses are among the groups with the highest unemployment numbers. The number was 22% before the pandemic. Today, it’s higher than 30%.
It’s an unemployment crisis that hits women the worst since, according to the Department of Labor, 92% of military spouses are women.
Soon enough, Hoppin gained employment at a military nonprofit. Seeing the inner workings of the nonprofit, coupled with her own experience as a spouse of a service member, she decided to launch her own organization to help fill the gap in employment needs among military spouses.
Instead of competing for jobs with wives of those in the military, she wanted to cultivate friendships and find a way for spouses to help each other’s careers thrive.
Filling the Gap in Employment Needs Among Military Spouses
In 2010, the National Military Spouse Network was born. The group’s mission: serving military spouses — largely women but also a handful of men — who often feel isolated and helpless in not only their job searches but in building community and friendships.
The National Military Spouse Network, which Hoppin runs from the Washington, D.C. area, provides online and in-person networking and training opportunities, including sessions on business ownership and transitioning to and from the itinerant military lifestyle.
“We have a military spouse career summit, happy hours, water cooler-type sessions, entrepreneurial boot camps, you name it,” Hoppin says. “Many spouses are not employment-ready or need just a little help brushing up on skills because they have been away from their professions for some time.”
Hoppin, who also is a consultant on military family employment issues, says she can commiserate. “When we moved back to D.C., I was in my hometown and knew so many people. Yet, even then, that was no help in me finding a job.”
Even when spouses do get jobs, they can get paid less than their counterparts from non-military families because they do not have as much work experience or fewer negotiation skills, Hoppin says. The network she’s formed also helps in that area.
Families Increasingly Need Two Salaries
"A long time ago, it was expected that a family could survive on the income of one person, in our case the person who is enlisted. But that’s no more,” Hoppin says. “Families, especially those with kids, need two salaries.”
An important part of her pitch to the policymakers and military-related associations to whom she regularly speaks is that a dual-income military family is better not only for the family but for the branches themselves.
“Only a small slice of Americans serve in the military,” Hoppin says. “And while it’s a great job with wonderful benefits, it doesn’t escape the same retention issues of other professions. Those issues can often be unrelated to the person serving and instead be related to a spouse’s career desires. So we have to help the military recruit good people and retain them — those serving and those married to them.”