Back to Transitioning

Secretary of labor visits JBLM

Secretary of Labor Martin Walsh, second from right, and Col. Phil Lamb, right, Joint Base Lewis-McChord commander, listen to the participants of the roundtable discussion in the Hawk Career Center on JBLM, March 23. Photo credit: Talysa Lloyd McCall

Email Article Print Article Share on Facebook Share on Reddit Share on StumbleUpon

JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD - Secretary of Labor Martin Walsh visited Joint Base Lewis-McChord March 23 to learn about the base's Transition Assistance Program partnership with WorkSource. JBLM's TAP program is one of only two located on military installations to embed with the WorkSource program.

While visiting, Walsh was able to tour the Hawk Career Center including the Suits for Service Members, TAP, classrooms, Spouse Ambassador Program and WorkSource. He was also able to hear from spouses, veterans and WorkSource employees.

WorkSource is a statewide agency that provides a wealth of employment and training opportunities for job seekers and employers in the state. JBLM's TAP provides counseling, transition and employment assistance for service members and their families during and when leaving military service.

"The best conversations are the ones that truly define the problems," said Col. Phil Lamb, JBLM commander. "I think that the ‘People First' focus that General (James) McConville, (Army chief of staff), has established is to tackle these problems head-on together. It's our job to fix the resilience of the service member, but we must also fix the resilience of the family dynamic."

Every year, approximately 200,000 men and women leave military service and return to life as civilians, a process known as the military to civilian transition. While there are numerous programs in place for the service member, very few have been created for military spouses.

To learn how JBLM spouses are impacted by military service, 14 people participated in a spouse roundtable discussion with the labor secretary. Most of the panel members were military spouses or married service members getting ready to transition from the military.

Walsh began the roundtable discussion asking everyone to speak frankly and tell the whole truth, no sugar coating, as he described it.

"There's a title in front of my name - don't worry about the title," he said. "If there are issues that you think we can do better on, don't hesitate to say that. Let's be as open as possible."

Many of the panel members expressed the difficulties spouses face with moving every few years.

"I had worked my way up to a GS14 position in the federal government before retiring and it was a struggle," said Christina Vine, a military spouse and assistant director for the U.S. Department of Labor's Veterans Employment and Training Service. "Sometimes I was allowed to telework when we moved; sometimes he had to go geo-bachelor so I could keep my job. Sometimes I was taking a cheap flight and working back and forth. Sometimes I had to take substantial pay cuts in order to stay in the system."

The military lifestyle can make finding and holding a job or career that matches the education and qualifications of military spouses difficult.

"One of the things we've done at the (Department of Defense, State Liaisons Office) is to work with the states to try and smooth a path forward as military spouses transfer from state to state," said Tammie Perreault, northwest regional liaison with the DOD's State Liaisons Office. "Thirty-four percent of our military spouses require an occupational (license) to work in teaching and health care professions. It's difficult when every state requires different types of certifications and licensures."

Even before the COVID-19 crisis, military spouse unemployment was more than seven times the national average, according to James Rodriguez, principal deputy assistant secretary for Policy for Veterans Employment and Training Service with the U.S. Department of Labor.

"We work with the White House, the Women's Bureau and local organizations on this issue," Rodriguez said. "It's one of the top priorities of the federal government and it is a top priority for the first lady (Jill Biden) as well."

Some panel members said they found it better not to mention they are military spouses when filling out applications in fear of being rejected or frowned upon by employers.

"That's a major reason why I am getting out," said CW3 Rafael Fernandez, a transitioning soldier assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion, I Corps. "I don't want my wife to continue to fall into that stigmatism. There is a real stigma around being a military spouse. I've seen firsthand how my spouse has been told she didn't even qualify for an entry level position even though she held a master's in human resources."

For military spouses, finding and growing the right career can be elusive due to frequent location moves, the pressures of being the primary at-home parent and managing a household without a spouse for extended periods of time.

"While I'm out there doing everything I need to do for the Army in the name of readiness, in the back of my mind, I think about what's going on at home," Fernandez said. "I think about my wife having to leave jobs and stay home with the kids, because of what I have going on at the time."

There was a lot of information shared from all parties at the roundtable discussion and even more ideas on a path forward.

"A lot of this information I did not know, but I do know who to talk to in order for the changes to be made," Walsh said. "I want to say thank you to the spouses, because you are the ones who put up with a lot of stuff. Often, I don't feel we put you all high enough on a pedestal, but I am looking forward to us doing some great work to do more for you all."

comments powered by Disqus