COLORADO SPRINGS — They may not always wear a uniform, but they serve and sacrifice alongside their service members and keep our military strong.
May is Military Appreciation Month in the US, with Friday, May 7 designated as Military Spouse Appreciation Day.
The holiday usually falls on the Friday before Mother's Day, but earlier this week President Biden proclaimed May 7 as the official day we honor military spouses.
The challenges they face:
While we take a day to honor military spouses, many of them continue to face challenges ranging from childcare to mental health, to constantly changing jobs.
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.
Among other issues military spouses face, childcare and emotional support services are two areas where many say not enough is being done.
That sentiment was echoed by one of the military spouses who spoke with News 5's Rob Quirk, who was at Fort Carson on Thursday for the First Lady's visit. Erica Prescott, who is an Army wife, told News 5 that access to care and treatment services and facilities have to expand due to the need for an emotional support network, in and out of the military.
According to the most recent complete data from the Department of Defense Annual Suicide Report (2019) & the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (2018): 503 service members died by suicide in 2019. Additionally, 193 family members of military members also died by suicide in 2019.
What's being done:
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.
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.
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.
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.
Ways you can help:
Operation Shower is an organization that hosts baby showers for military families across the nation but this week they’re in the works of hosting these joyful showers for those in Colorado Springs.
The goal of Operation Shower is to allow military spouses to leave the stresses of deployment behind them as they celebrate their future children. What started off as a nice gesture in 2007, has grown to become a busy number of years for Operation Shower. The organization doesn’t just allow expecting military spouses to come together, it gives them gifts to help support their babies.
Operation Shower doesn’t only host group showers. The organization also sends out what they call, “Baby Boxes,” filled with items to help expecting mothers who are alone while their partners are deployed.
Operation Shower has partnered with a number of establishments over the years, including the PGA Tour and Birdies for the Brave. This year the organization is working with PepsiCo to give expecting mothers the shower of their dreams.
To donate your time or money to this organization and help military families, you can visit here.