Military Connection: Commissary Cuts Postponed 1yr: By Debbie Gregory

CommissaryAs the economy struggles to rebound,  there are many government programs that will need to be trimmed down *****or***** eliminated completely. The defense department’s budget is not exempted from the reductions, and neither are the programs that affect the members of the DOD and their families.

But military families recently dodged a bullet, after the Senate budget panel voted to restore $200 million in cuts from commissaries.

Base commissaries are essentially supermarkets. The program is run by the Defense Commissary Agency (DeCA), which falls under the DOD. Commissaries sell basic food and household goods, most of which can also be found at the Base Exchange (which is more like a Wal-Mart). Commissaries are different from exchanges in that  they try to offer the same products to service members and military families, no matter where they are in the world, at a subsidized price.

While civilians who are unfamiliar with commissaries may see the program as a handout, most military families see commissaries as part of their income, and one of the benefits that caused them to jointhe military. Service members don’t make much in the way of base pay. In order to make ends meet, most military families rely on the other military benefits, including Base Allowance for Housing (BAH), subsidized on-base gas stations, military banking centers, base exchanges and commissaries. The DeCA estimates that the average military family saves more than $4,000 per year by shopping at the commissary.

It takes an estimated $1.4 billion each year to operate 178 commissaries located within the U.S. and the additional 67 commissaries located overseas. Last year, there were talks of eliminating commissaries completely. The Senate budget panel recently voted on whether *****or***** not to cut $200 million from the program, which the DeCA estimates would have cost military families approximately $1,500 per year in higher prices.

The commissary has not been saved for good. The panel only agreed to put off cuts for one year.

Civilians might question why service members don’t just do their shopping in town. But service members and their families sacrifice so much, and in reality, earn so little, that these benefits are not perks, they are necessities. Saving money by shopping at the commissary helps military familiesafford a better life… one that they have truly sacrificed for and deserve.

Military Connection proudly serves those who serve in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard &amp, Reserve, Veterans and their Families. We are the go to site for Veteran Employment and information on Veteran education. Militaryconnection.com provides Veterans with and Directory of Employers, a Job Board, information on the Post-9/11 GI Bill, and a blog that offers Veterans boundless information. Be sure to visit Militaryconnection.com, the go to site.

Military Connection: Commissary Cuts Postponed 1yr: By Debbie Gregory

Military Connection: 11 More Army SHARP Centers: By Debbie Gregory

Sharp_logoBefore 2013, the U.S. Army didn’t have any sexual assault response centers. Soon, there will twelve.

In July, 2013, the Sexual Harassment and Assault Response and Prevention (SHARP) Center opened at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, near Tacoma, Washington. The center was the first of its kind for the Army, *****or***** any branch of the U.S. Military for that matter.

The SHARP Center consolidates legal, medical, mental health, advocacy and education services in one location. Previously, victims would have to go to different offices on base for each of these services, often having to revisit the traumatic experiences while speaking with advocates at each stop.

The one-stop SHARP Center is intended to make it easier for soldiers who have been victims of sexual assault to report misconduct, and seek any assistance that they need. Soldiers can go to the center to report a sexual assault, especially important if they don’t want to go through their units. Since misconduct can often stem from members of their unit’s leadership and involve parties that are familiar with each other, having to go through their own unit makes reporting the misconduct more stressful.

Soldiers and officers in leadership and command positions can also use the SHARP center to better serve their soldiers who have reported a sexual assault. Staff at the center provides them with information regarding the process of a case, and can help them to better understand what their soldier is going through.

The Army has announced plans to replicate the SHARP Center model at 11 other posts.

Military Connection proudly serves those who serve in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard &amp,amp, Reserve, Veterans and their Families. We are the go to site for Veteran Employment and information on Veteran education. Militaryconnection.com provides Veterans with and Directory of Employers, a Job Board, information on the Post-9/11 GI Bill, and a blog that offers Veterans boundless information. Be sure to visit Militaryconnection.com, the go to site.

Military Connection: 11 More Army SHARP Centers: By Debbie Gregory

Military Connection: Lesbian Widow Prevails: By Debbie Gregory

By Debbie Gregory

Staff Sgt. Tracy Dice

Losing a loved one is probably the hardest thing most people will ever experience. Losing a loved one due to their military service is particularly heartbreaking. No matter what your background is, a parent still lost a child, a sibling still lost a sibling, a friend still lost a friend, and a spouse still lost a spouse. Regardless of your ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation… a loss is still a loss, no matter what kind of military family it happens to.

For years, the lesbian widow of a fallen soldier had been denied the same benefits as heterosexual survivors. National Guard Veteran Tracy Dice Johnson is the widow of North Carolina National Guardsman and Operation Iraqi Freedom Veteran Sgt. Donna Johnson, who was killed in Afghanistan in October, 2012. The two were legally married, but because the state of North Carolina does not recognize same sex marriage, the widowed Johnson had been told that she most likely would not receive her survivor benefits from the VA.

The VA never officially denied Johnson’s claim. She had applied for the benefit twice and had been repeatedly told that her request was under review.

On May 17th, at the American Military Partner Association’s National Gala Dinner, Johnson was honored by AMPA. During her address at the gathering, Johnson told the crowd that the VA had recently informed her that they will retroactively recognize her widow status, thereby granting her the survivor benefits she is entitled to. The benefits include access to VA loans, money for schooling, a monthly payment of up to $1,200. The announcement was met with thunderous applause at the gala.

Johnson thanked AMPA, and members of the group who were like family to her in her time of mourning.

Johnson is not the first gay or lesbian widowed spouse to receive survivor benefits. The Pentagon is implementing programs that will attempt to ensure that service members of all creeds, colors, ethnicities and orientations have access to the full benefits they are entitled to under law.

For more information on VA Survivor Benefits, visit www.va.gov.

Military Connection proudly serves those who serve in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard & Reserve, Veterans and their Families. We are the go to site for Veteran Employment and information on Veteran education. Militaryconnection.com provides Veterans with and Directory of Employers, a Job Board, information on the Post-9/11 GI Bill, and a blog that offers Veterans boundless information. Be sure to visit Militaryconnection.com, the go to site.

Military Connection: Lesbian Widow Prevails: By Debbie Gregory

Survey Shows Military Spouses Underemployed: Data could be used to better employment opportunities

Military Spouses Need Work

By Debbie Gregory.

Many members of the military and Veteran communities are familiar with the saying that being a military wife is the “toughest job” in the military. Usually, only fellow members of the community can see just how accurate that statement is. Dealing with deployments, often functioning as a single parent for months at a time, and trying to keep a household together on military wages. Many military spouses find it to be an economic necessity to take on a second job in addition to their “toughest” job.

According to a recent survey conducted by the Military Officers Association of America (MOAA), the current unemployment rate of female military spouses between the ages of 18 and 24 is close to 30%. This statistic is nearly three times higher than the unemployment rate among civilians from the same demographic. Over 55 percent of spouses who took the survey said they “need” to work. The survey also found that 90% of female military spouses who had jobs claim that they are underemployed– meaning that they are working at jobs below their education and/or experience level.

The MOAA conducted the survey last fall. In it, they questioned more than 2,000 military wives. The data from the survey was combined with information from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (ACS) from 2012, in order to see a more holistic view of employment challenges that military spouses face.

The study uncovered surprising findings, including the fact that military wives average $15,000 less annually than their civilian counterparts. This can be attributed to the frequency in which military families are relocated during the service member’s career.

MOAA officials hope that the data will be used by the Defense Department when considering the development of additional programs to assist military spouses.

On January 10th, the Department of Defense (DOD) launched a new web portal known as “My Individual Career Plan” (MyICP). The system that runs through Military OneSource was designed to help military spouses design, develop and follow their own individual career plan, based on their personal goals and objectives.

The MyICP tool is available for all spouses of current active-duty Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps personnel. Interested military spouses should inquire and register at the Spouse Education and Career Opportunities (SECO) Program portal from www.militaryonesource.mil

Changes Announced That Help Military Spouses Gain Federal Employment

Changes Announced That Help Military Spouses Gain Federal Employment

By Debbie Gregory.

Everyone acknowledges the sacrifices that military spouses make in support their loved one’s military service. Today’s military spouses usually endure multiple deployments, with months and years spent away from their husband or wife. Military spouses must pick up the slack in these times, playing both mother and father to their children. They do this while keeping a brave face for everyone else, including their deployed spouse, even though they may be living in fear the entire time.

What a lot of people outside of the military community may not realize is the sacrifices that military spouses make in their professional lives. Military spouses, even trained and experienced ones, often have difficulty finding jobs. A large number of U.S. military installations are located in remote areas of the country, making jobs within a reasonable commuting range rare. And even when military spouses find employment, they are usually forced to relocate every few years when their spouse receives orders to move to another installation. Then the spouse’s job search starts all over again.

Recently, the Obama administration has mandated a hiring preference for military spouses applying for federal jobs. The mandate gives spouses a hiring preference that is similar to the one that the administration ordered for Veterans.

On top of the president’s hiring preference, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) is proposing to change the regulations on credible service for career tenure on federal jobs. The proposal will remove the requirement that credible service be continuous. This change is intended to help military spouses who hold positions with the federal government, and are forced to relocate or start and stop their employment due to their spouse’s deployment schedule.

But the proposed change would not be just for military spouses, but would also affect all federal employees. While many supporters of the proposed change agreed that the change would benefit military families, there is growing concern that the opening of this change to all federal employees could spark controversy. There is the worry that some federal employees could use this change as a means to bounce between federal positions and employment with private firms that hold government contracts. This could potentially create a conflict of interests between the government agencies and private contractors.

For now, the proposed change is supposed to be implemented for military spouses, and will be put on hold for further review for all other employees.

Just like their heroic husbands and wives, military spouses deserve every ounce of gratitude that our nation and its government can muster. The sacrifices made by service members and their families are so great and so frequent, that our gratitude can never compensate them enough for all that they do, and all that they give up in their service.

Spouse Ambassador Network Gets Added to Resources for Military Spouses Seeking Jobs

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By Debbie Gregory.

Many military families require two incomes. Yet, approximately one in four military spouses is unemployed and looking for work. Part of the problem is that military families move significant distances every two to four years, and often live on or near installations in remote locations. A lot of military spouses often find themselves in a new community, unemployed, and not knowing which companies are willing to hire them.

Military spouses who are seeking employment now have another resource at their disposal. With the formation of the Spouse Ambassador Network, the Defense Department’s Spouse Education and Career Opportunities (SECO) program has a new and inventive way to connect military spouses who are looking for jobs to employers, referrals and mentors.

SECO partnered with such organizations as the Military Officers Association of America, the National Military Family Association, Blue Star Families and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to create the network for military spouses by military spouses. The original concept for the network was developed based on guidelines offered by a group of military spouses who were well-established in their local business communities.

The Spouse Ambassador Network’s mission is to educate, empower, and mentor military spouses to encourage career fulfillment. This is done through promoting and sharing resources while facilitating effective relationships with local and national stakeholders.

The network is designed to function by having its members meet with participating employers and other partners every three months. The quarterly meetings will generate new and efficient ways to improve and expand the network, and otherwise assist military spouses in finding employment. The first meeting took place in July. At the meeting, the network developed education and career resource materials that will be made available to military spouses through the network.

But the program doesn’t just benefit the military spouses; it benefits the employers too. The Spouse Ambassador Network will give Military Spouse Employment Partnership companies and organizations the opportunity to expand their networks, to include Spouse Education and Career Opportunities program and partner information and resources. The Military Spouse Employment Partnership already connects military spouses with more than 180 employers who have partnered to recruit, hire, promote and retain military spouses.

Marine Staff Sgt. Jesse Cottle and wife Kelly: a love story

jesse

By Debbie Gregory.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Former Marine Staff Sgt. Jesse Cottle of San Diego lost both legs when and improvised explosive device he was attempting to deactivate went off in 2009. He endured a long and painful recovery.

For most active Marines, this would have been devastating, but soon after Cottle returned home, he met Kelly, a beautiful, vivacious Boise State swimmer, in San Diego.  Jesse, who enjoyed an active lifestyle before the accident, was at a swim meet during his recovery when he was introduced to the woman who would be his wife.  As he learned to live a normal life, it was Kelly who stayed by his side. Jesse and Kelly married and, in a way, the improvised explosive device brought them together. He wore his prosthetics during their first wedding dance.

While the Cottles were visiting family in Boise, Idaho, the owner of ShutterHappy Photography, Sarah Ledford, captured an image that has gone viral.

The family portrait included Kelly Cottle, carrying her husband Jesse on her back, while wading in the creek with her family.

The picture of Kelly hoisting Jesse on her back is a reminder of the power of love. “I actually look at it very much as a symbol for our whole relationship in general,” Jesse Cottle said. “She’s physically carrying me, but there’s times where she’s carrying me emotionally. It’s a perfect representation of who Kelly is.”

Their love story, represented in the photo that has gone viral on the web, shows heroism, sacrifice, and how a couple overcame their challenges with hope and positivity. It’s a love story that instantly warms the heart and renews faith.

21st Century Rosie the Riveter

rosie_the_riveter

By Debbie Gregory.

Military spouses are anything but helpless and dependent. Military spouses are strong, smart, and resourceful, and they can do anything that they put their minds to. They are the foundation of the military family life and the pillar of continuity.

Military spouses run the household, have careers, and still manage to raise their children. They do this while waiting for their servicemember spouse to come home.

According to Department of Defense statistics, 85% of military spouses want or need jobs, 84% have some college, 25% have a bachelor’s degree, and 10% have an advanced degree.

Military spouses are used to relocating. Many have put their active duty spouse’s career before their own. However, technology is creating opportunities for military spouses to establish careers that travel with them.

Portable careers are a growing trend among military spouses. Frequent relocations that once caused career havoc for spouses can now involve little or no career upheaval. Military spouses can now use their talents, skills and abilities to launch viable online companies.

High-speed Internet access opens up jobs online, in real time, on the Web, jobs that can be done from anywhere in the world. From Alaska to Japan, from New York to Florida, spouses can sell products and services to clients around the globe.

Portable careers are especially appealing to military spouses who are self-disciplined, enjoy working alone and are comfortable using technology.

The types of military spouse jobs can include freelance writing, web design, graphics illustration, programming, event planning, secretarial support, virtual assistance, translation, transcription, information research and retrieval, photography, interviewing and more.

At MilitaryConnection.com, we are extremely proud of our Military Spouse section. We know the value of providing resources for military families, especially when a family member has been deployed. These families are facing challenges that the civilian population does not.  Military spouses bring their own value to the table. They make excellent employees. Many companies are realizing that this is an untapped talent pool. We strive to connect these candidates with the top employers on our website.

Vice President Meets With Fallen Warriors’ Children

taps-good-grief

By Debbie Gregory.

Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS ) was founded in 1994. TAPS is a 24/7 resource for anyone who has suffered the loss of a military loved one. TAPS provides immediate and long-term emotional help, hope, and healing to all who are grieving the death of a loved one.

Bonnie Carroll is the founder and president of TAPS.  Bonnie lost her husband in 1992. She channeled her grief into a support organization that provides hope and comfort to the surviving families of servicemembers.

TAPS provides support for both adult survivors and their children. Their “Good Grief Camps” lets children bond with their peers who have also lost a military parent.  Each camper is paired with a mentor from the military. The Good Grief Camp is a place where children can share their experiences and grief.

Vice President Biden and his wife, Dr. Jill Biden, visited with children attending a Good Grief Camp at Palomar Mountain, Marine Corps Air Station Camp Pendleton, California. Their son, Beau Biden, was deployed to Iraq as a member of the National Guard.

Vice President Biden told the children that it is important to share feelings with someone who has experienced a similar loss.  The Good Grief Camps offer this camaraderie, as well as a supportive atmosphere to participate in activities that teach coping skills and establish and identify support systems.  Children and teens meet others their own age to share that they are not alone in the grief of their loved one.

Since 1995, TAPS has welcomed all who are grieving the loss of a loved one. TAPS provides a full weekend of events for adults and children alike.

Carroll says, “Families who come to TAPS gain coping skills. They learn they’re not alone in their grief. They meet other families who truly understand what they’re going through, and they’re going to be there for them. It’s a family. This is America’s family for all those who have served and sacrificed.”

Military Spouse Licensure Portability

Military spouses want to pursue their education and obtain professional career opportunities that are compatible with the military lifestyle. Service members’ deployments and the unpredictable schedule of the service members’ mission and frequent moves can cause interruptions in the education of military spouses and careers of military spouses. This makes for military spouse employment challenges.  Specific state licensing requirements and industry tenure restrict employment opportunities for military spouse licensing. Military spouses want a rewarding career that matches their education and experience.

Joining Forces, started by the First Lady and Dr. Jill Biden is a comprehensive national initiative to mobilize all sectors of society to provide our service members and their families the opportunities and support they have earned. Joining Forces:

  • Supports the academic achievement of military children by helping schools become more responsive to the unique needs of military children and families; and
  • Promotes and supports higher education institutions and programs that expand education opportunities, eases transferability for military-connected students, and expands job training opportunities for military spouses and veterans.

In June 2011, the Defense Department made it easier for military spouses to maintain professional licenses as they move from state to state. In many cases, military spouses move from one community to another when their spouses are assigned to new duty stations.  These transfers can make it very difficult for military spouses and military wives to continue with their careers or to find similar military spouse jobs in new locations without required licensing.

State licensing and certification requirements are intended to ensure that practitioners meet a minimum level of competency. Because each state sets its own licensing requirements, these requirements often vary across state lines. Consequently, the lack of license portability, the transfer of an existing license to a new state with minimal application requirements,  can impose significant administrative and financial burdens on licensed military spouses when they move across state lines. Licensing requirements across states disproportionately affect these families. As a result military spouses licenses are stymied in their efforts.

A Department of Defense report finds that almost 35 percent of military spouses in the labor force require licenses or certification for their profession. Additionally, military spouses are ten times more likely to have moved across state lines in the last year compared to their           civilian counterparts.

Re-licensure may cause many military spouses to decide not to practice in their professions. This is a difficult financial and career choice issue for military members and their military spouses, potentially impacting their desire to stay in the military.

As of June 2012, twenty-three states passed legislation to help military spouses find good jobs. Licensure portability for military spouse licenses will make the transition from one state to another easier. Pro-military spouse license portability measures will help to keep our armed forces strong and military families happy as they change duty stations.