Family Support Center helps military spouses advance in careers

By Darrell Todd Maurina

CANNON AIR FORCE BASE — Military service has its own rewards, but the life is not always easy for the spouses of service members.
While deployments and the risk of death get the most attention, a more routine aspect of military life causes more serious problems for many military families. With few exceptions, those serving in the Armed Forces move frequently, typically about every three years, and that can make life difficult for military spouses who want to have a career outside the home.
That’s where Joanne English comes in.
Prior to becoming Cannon Air Force Base’s family support consultant, English was a military wife for 19 years. Those years taught her many things, one of them being that military spouses need help.
“If mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy,” English joked.
English said one key problem in her own unhappiness with the military could have been solved relatively easily — providing someone to help spouses learn about job opportunities in which a military career is an advantage rather than a burden.
“There was no control to my career at all due to moves,” English said. “If I had known about (job options with) Non-Appropriated Funds, Base Exchange, the commissary, or civil service, I would have had a better chance of keeping up my career.”
In each of those fields, special provisions exist to give hiring preference to job seekers whose spouse is a member of the Armed Forces. In many cases, a person can not only maintain seniority upon transferring to a new base but also be promoted with an organization that values an ability to understand the military life.
Working on base isn’t the only option, English said. The Family Support Center works closely with civilian job placement agencies and helps train military spouses how to interview well for off-base jobs.
That’s not always easy near Cannon. In a handbook provided to spouses seeking employment, Cannon cautions that job-seekers may need to realign their expectations to New Mexico realities.
“Here on the high plains of Eastern New Mexico, job choice is somewhat limited; we don’t have any industrial or production related jobs and ‘high tech’ is imported into this area from other places,” according to the manual. “This area is also a low wage area; there are not many good paying jobs here. Most of the people here are making in the $5-$6 an hour range; anything beyond that is considered good money.”
However, the manual notes that Cannon clients seeking employment have a “jump start” precisely because they are spouses of military personnel due to the support for the military in the Clovis and Portales area. Many local businesses are owned by military retirees and most employers are familiar with the regular job moves that come with being a military spouse.
Another option is self-employment: English said Cannon has a special program training military spouses to be entrepreneurs in businesses they can take with them when they move.
“We are really trying hard to find ways to help spouses,” English said. “We have classes so they can learn to have their own home businesses in their home.”