FORT CARSON — May is Military Appreciation Month in the US, with Friday, May 7 designated as Military Spouse Appreciation Day.
First Lady Jill Biden visited Fort Carson in Colorado Springs Thursday to meet military spouses as part of the USO's Military Spouse Connection program. She's also spearheading a military family-focused support program she and then-first lady Michelle Obama initially led during the Obama administration.
During a brief speech Thursday afternoon, she told the military spouses gathered on Fort Carson that they "are the glue" that holds military families together. She said that providing the resources and services that add to the quality of life for our military families, is a matter of national security, saying it is that important.
Mrs. Biden said that of particular concern in speaking with the women on Fort Carson Thursday was child care. Also expanding employment opportunities, jobs, and educational opportunities that can be more mobile as military families are constantly having to relocate, and providing those mental health services and resources needed. Being an advocate for the emotional needs of families is vitally important, she also said.
That sentiment was echoed by one of the military spouses who spoke with News 5's Rob Quirk, who attended the event Thursday on Fort Carson. Erica Prescott, who is an Army wife, and who is keeping the Defense Department, Fort Carson leadership, and the community accountable for providing those services that are so important told Rob Quirk the need for more funding, access to care and treatment services and facilities have to expand as the need for an emotional support network, in and out of the military, is vital to any community.
The gathering was also attended by some members of the Colorado congressional delegation. Democrat Senators Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper and Republican Congressman Doug Lamborn were on hand and all support the notion that even as Washington is seemingly stuck in gridlock on so many issues, prioritizing the needs of our military families is not a red or blue issue, but a red, white, and blue issue.
Dr. Biden is relaunching the Joining Forces initiative to focus on employment for military families, education for the more than 2 million children with enlisted parents, and the health and well-being of these families, according to the White House. See the released plan from the White House at the bottom of this article.
The harsh reality is military spouses face a very high unemployment rate, even though many are highly educated.
According to the USO, the average military spouse moves 8-12 times during a 20-year military career. That means making new connections for careers, schools, places of worship, medical care, and more.
Earlier this week, News5 spoke with Rebecka O'Neal who says she was turned down for a dozen promotions in her last job, because of her family's military lifestyle. She's just one of the thousands of spouses who have gone through the same thing.
It's important for people like O'Neal and her husband to feel the support and commitment before moving into a new community. "We live now in Colorado Springs, and this is the greatest place and so many opportunities, but where are the opportunities for the military spouses?" said O'Neal.
According to Colonel Nate Springer, Fort Carson Garrison Commander, military spouses are underutilized in the workforce by 20%. "Spouse employment is certainly putting people first. It is an essential part of our quality of life initiatives, but effectively caring for and prioritizing our families takes dedication and commitment," said Matt McFarlane, Commanding General.
Biden plans to have Joining Forces work with employers to create flexible, transferable and remote job opportunities for military spouses. She also will call on civilian mental health service providers to ensure military families, caregivers and veterans have access to the services they need.
The Army Community Service Center, an employment program on the post, helps military spouses to find jobs and develop the skills needed in employment. "When they get here they immediately feel like they are embraced by the community they have support services," said Kristen Kea, Division Chief, Army Community Service.
The Department of Defense has the Spouse Education and Career Opportunities program and a Military Spouse Employment Partnership with dozens of companies that host virtual hiring fairs for careers in retail, logistics, medical, financial, service, and tech firms.
Joining Forces Fact Sheet (Source: WhiteHouse.gov)
What is Joining Forces?
- Joining Forces is a White House initiative to support military families, which includes: families of service members and veterans, caregivers and survivors.
• The mission of Joining Forces is to support those who also serve: military and veteran families, caregivers and survivors.
- Convene and coordinate federal agency partners, advocacy organizations, corporate stakeholders and service providers to develop comprehensive and long-term solutions to address the holistic well-being of military and veteran families, caregivers and survivors.
- Improve access to the resources created to support the economic, social and emotional needs of military and veteran families, caregivers and survivors.
- Call on all Americans to support and harness the special skills, strengths and experiences of military and veteran families, caregivers and survivors.
- Honor the sacrifices and resilience of those who also serve: family members, caregivers and survivors.
Joining Forces’ Focus Areas:
- Employment and Entrepreneurship
- Military Child Education
- Health & Well-Being