Can a Military Spouse Pursue a Professional Career? (Ask Molly)

Dear Molly,

My boyfriend is currently in an ROTC battalion. He won’t be commissioned until 2013. He has, in the past couple months, begun to talk about getting married. He’s 24 and I’m 20. We currently have a long distance relationship because we go to school about 3 hours apart. With all of my extracurriculers and his work/ROTC we’ve been seeing each other once, maybe twice, a month since we started dating last year. This has forced us to talk a lot more than most couples our age and he is my best friend without a doubt. I love him and agree with him that we will possibly be married in the future. The problem is, I can’t stand the uncertainty of the Army. We are waiting for him to get a waiver so he can go to basic this summer (too many traffic tickets). It’s been over a month since he went to MEPs and they still haven’t contacted him either way. There’s no telling where he will be in 4 years when I graduate from grad school. How do military wives deal with their own careers? After I’m married, I want to live with him. I want to be able to be with him as much as possible and I’m willing to live on base and raise my kids on base. But, are there generally job opportunities for spouses near bases? I plan on getting a Masters of Public Policy and be research oriented, but some of my friends said that the only jobs you could get would be minimum wage type jobs. Eventually, he is going to retire and I will be able to settle into a professorship at a university somewhere. I guess my main problem is the uncertainty the Army brings to MY dreams, plans, and goals. It seems to amplify the normal problem that almost engaged/engaged/newly married couples go through in synthesizing two lives into one. Do you have any advice, other than talking about it because we do, for us?


Dear Reader,

Uncertainty is a fact of military life.

A military spouse may have a career but it may require a certain degree of flexibility and creativity.

Some of the variables that will affect your job prospects are unknowable: where he is posted, at what point he is deployed, and how long it will be before you move again.

There are other considerations that are more under his and your control but may shift over time: what his career goals are in the military, what your short-term and long-term career goals are, and at what point you would like to start a family.

Every post is different. There are some where the job market is abysmal and there are others where there may be opportunities to someone in your field. When I was in Texas, there were many spouses who found various medical and administrative jobs at several nearby hospitals. You might even find a job with the military and will receive some preference in applying for federal jobs as a spouse.

I am not familiar with the types of institutions that hire people to do public policy research. I would imagine most “think tanks” are based out of Washington, DC, but there are probably national charities, public service institutions, school districts, and government offices near most posts. You might not find your ideal job at each location but you can probably find something that makes use of your skill set and education in many places.

Another option is a consulting or freelance position that enables you to telecommute. Although I was able to re-certify as a classroom teacher each time I moved, I decided it made more sense to consult and write curriculum. This way, I had continuity no matter when and where I moved and I had the perfect job for when we started our family. Plus, I maintained my qualifications in my career field and gained experience.

There are career fairs, virtual and face-to-face, online web portals, and state programs in many locations (Texas had a great one) dedicated to helping military spouses further their careers. So, there is help available. I am actually doing some research right now and plan to write a post about some of these resources.  In the meantime, here are some links that may be helpful for military spouses on the job hunt or assessing their career path:

You might also decide if you receive an assignment in an area that makes it difficult to pursue your career that it is a good time to try to publish your own papers, volunteer to keep up your credentials, and/or start your family. In other words, you can pursue a path parallel to your career goals, while fulfilling personal and family goals. Then, once you are in a better position personally and geographically, you are still more or less on-track.

Yes, you can continue to pursue a professional career. However, the path may have a few more twists.

Hope this helped!

“Ask Molly” represents only my opinion and the comments of readers represent their opinions. I draw upon my training as a Family Readiness Group leader, my own experience and that of those I know, and any research I found on the Internet. I am not a trained counselor. Have a question? Send questions to askmolly [at] armywiveslives [dot] com.

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  1. Amanda says:

    Thank you for this post and those links. My fiance is just a few steps away from enlisting with the Army. I am a graduate student in college and we have our concerns about how we will balance my career dreams with his career in the military. I’m pursuing a career in natural resources and environmental education and will be graduating in a year. It gives me hope to know that it is possible for an Army wife to have a career.

  2. Mrs. K says:

    Good topic. Great minds think alike, huh? ;)Yours is significantly more helpful, though! ha

  3. TJ says:

    This is a great question, and it’s good that you are thinking about this in advance. I’ve been married to the Army for 16 years. Army life is hard, and you will have little control over where your Soldier gets stationed. My first advice is do not blame him if you cannot find a job or if you cannot fulfill your dreams right away. His destiny is set. If you decide to get married, it is not his fault if you can’t follow your planned path. He will love you and want the best for you, but the Army has certain needs to ensure the security of our country, and your career is not on the agenda. However, that doesn’t mean that you can’t make the best of Army life and be successful. I spent many years in underpaid jobs as we moved from post to post, but now I have a very successful career and my husband is still on active duty. I took advantage of every lower paying job to gain a new experience in my field. Based on your goals, as he chooses assignments, look for joint assignments or jobs in the beltway. I strongly recommend you find a job as a GS civilian. As a spouse, you will get a hiring preference and there are many, many jobs out there for qualified employees. Once he retires, that experience will put you ahead of the pack and you have great opportunity to make six figures. You just have to hang in there through the hard times. Best of luck!

  4. Sarah says:

    Hi, I’ve stumbled upon this website while looking for an answer which I cannot seem to find. My fiancé has enlisted in the marine corps and wants to get married before he leaves so that I can come with him. I’m graduating college however i want to attend medschool. So my question is if I live on base with him, will I be able to go to medschool ??? Thanks..

  5. Natymarie says:

    Hi, thank you for the information. My boyfriend is in the ARMY, I just got accepted into grad school for my masters and afterwards I am pursuing a PHD. I want to be a Spanish Lit. Professor. We want to get married at a certain point and have a family. My masters will take two years and my phd may vary 4-6 years. I just want to know what my options are, since I want to be with him, but I also want to finish my degree. I don’t want to be a house wife, I want a career, maybe my perspective may change once I have children, but as of now that’s what I want, and he understands. This is all new to me, so any advise helps. When do you think is the best time to have children while in gradschool and husband in the army? Do I have to live on post, or move everytime when I’m in graduate school? If not, does that affect him in any way? Thanks

  6. Gabby says:

    I was a soldier for three years and then an Army wife for 23 years. I did not know of many successful career Army wives. While there are “jobs,” also difficult to find when a large pool of military wives will take whatever they can get for low pay, actual “careers” are a challenge to find. I knew of one successful lawyer, but she remained in one place while her husband moved from duty station to duty station. This isn’t really how I define marriage, but to each his own. I knew a few nurses and teachers who managed to have some sort of career. Often, they would have to retrain or get additional certifications. Some succeeded in Civil Service careers if they were able to get one before they became extremely difficult to find. Some made careers selling Mary Kay and such, but most of us wives avoided them because we felt the friendship was based on sales. Most lost money and time from their families. Some wives made a career at the AAFES retail store too. We found ourselves in cities which weren’t thriving in any industry. Bases were closing overseas and jobs were just going away. I have a BA and a reserve commission. I have taken jobs as a Furniture Store Clerk, Human Resources Assistant (twice), Equal Opportunity Assistant, Day Care Worker, Substitute Teacher, Library Technician, Janitor (with a BA), and a Tax Preparation Clerk. After numerous attempts at starting or even getting something satisfying, I realized I should focus on that which I could control – fitness, travel, our dogs, volunteering. I would still marry my husband, even knowing how difficult it would be in this area. I did feel invisible often. Your soldier will have to focus on his career. If things are unhappy at home, for any reason, that could harm his career. I wish you well. I loved the adventure. I am on a career path now that he is retired from the Army. He is on his second career. It can always happen later in life as well.