November 15, 2007
Military's new plan: educating spouses
Retention initiative focuses on family
By Paul M. Krawzak
COPLEY NEWS SERVICE
In its latest bid to recruit and retain
service members by focusing on their families' needs, the
Pentagon yesterday announced a program to help military
spouses train for high-growth, portable careers.
Almost every base in San Diego is included in the first
round of the project, which will start next month.
Seventeen other military installations in eight states
more information about the Pentagon's new career
advancement program for service members' spouses,
The Pentagon, with help from the U.S. Department of
Labor, will pay up to $6,000 over two years to help each
participant pursue career-oriented education and training.
Targeted fields include teaching, health care, information
technology, financial services and construction.
About 1,100 military spouses in San Diego County might
take advantage of the program, said Reg Javier of the San
Diego Workforce Partnership, a nonprofit organization that
coordinates job training. The group will oversee the local
part of the project.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Labor Secretary
Elaine Chao kicked off the initiative yesterday morning at
a Pentagon ceremony. About 200 military spouses,
government officials and job-training executives were in
Gates said the $35 million, first-of-its-kind project
would “open the door for our military spouses to have more
fulfilling careers. (Education) is often unaffordable for
Several surveys have shown that more than two-thirds of
military spouses want or need to work but can't because of
frequent moves and the high cost of schooling, Chao said.
As the two Cabinet secretaries signed an order to start
the program, San Diego resident Gwen Bates sat between
them to represent other military spouses.
Bates, who has an associate's degree in marketing, said
she has found it difficult to get financial aid for
“A lot of it is for the active-duty (service) member,
not the spouse,” said Bates, a mother of three whose
husband, Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Alexander Bates, is
serving in Bahrain.
Bates wants to earn a bachelor's degree in marketing or
start her studies toward becoming a physician.
To finance the program in California, the federal
government will send $10 million to the state, which will
transfer the money to the San Diego Workforce Partnership.
The government has designated $5 million for the first
phase of the project in San Diego County. Another $5
million will be used during the next round, when more
bases in the region or statewide are expected to take
part. The Pentagon has not announced a start date for the
Camp Pendleton is an inaugural member of the program.
So is the San Diego Metro Complex, the Pentagon's term for
an area that includes the San Diego Naval Medical Center
and the naval bases in Point Loma, on North Island and at
Federal officials didn't say why Miramar Marine Corps
Air Station was left out of the first phase, but the base
tends to have officers who are older and better educated
than personnel at other installations.
“This is a huge deal to the Marine families at Camp
Pendleton,” said Col. Al Ingersoll, who is stationed at
the base and represented Camp Pendleton at yesterday's
The program will help the military recruit and retain
Marines by keeping their families satisfied, Ingersoll
“If they're happy, they'll stay,” he said. “If they're
not happy, there's not a big enough bonus you can give
Eligible spouses can receive up to $3,000 per year to
pay for education and training. The money can be used for
tuition, fees, books and equipment as well as
credentialing and licensing fees.
Federal guidelines provide “a lot of leeway for the
participant to choose their own training,” said Mary Cate
O'Malley, a spokeswoman for the San Diego Workforce
Community colleges are a prime option for military
spouses because they provide the training envisioned by
the program's coordinators at an affordable price, said
Lisa Curtin, executive director of San Diego City College.
Curtin, who attended yesterday's signing ceremony, said
the community colleges' $20-per-credit fee would enable a
student to take a full academic load for a year for much
less than $3,000.
To enroll in the program, military spouses must have a
high school diploma or equivalent certification. In
addition, their active-duty spouses cannot be scheduled
for a transfer within the next year.
Only spouses of junior enlisted service members,
noncommissioned officers and junior commissioned officers
are eligible. In the Navy, this includes seamen recruits
through petty officers second class and ensigns through
lieutenants. For the Marines, it includes privates through
sergeants and second lieutenants through captains.
The program's genesis dates to 2003, when a federal
initiative to improve recruiting, retention and readiness
in the armed forces included a recommendation to reach out
to military spouses.
That suggestion led to the 2004 creation of
milspouse.org, a Web site designed to provide spouses with
information on education, career training and employment,
said Christine Ollis, chief of the adult services division
in the Labor Department's Employment and Training
Ollis said the project launched yesterday is the latest
outgrowth of the 2003 recommendation. The Defense and
Labor departments began forming details of the program in
Yesterday, the initiative drew praise from defense
analysts such as Loren Thompson.
“This will make it easier to recruit and to retain
high-quality war fighters because they will not feel as if
their spouse is making a sacrifice in order for their
careers to go forward,” said Thompson, chief operating
officer of the Lexington Institute, a pro-defense think
tank in Arlington, Va.