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New DoD-funded spouse fellowship program coming in 2023

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NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — Defense officials will launch a program in 2023 to place military spouses into paid fellowship positions with corporations that can keep them employed beyond the next PCS move.

More information will be available later this year as officials continue to work out details, said Eddy Mentzer, the Defense Department’s associate director of Military Community Support Programs, during a Sept. 19 panel discussion at the Air & Space Forces Association’s Air Space Cyber Conference.

Information was not available about how many spouse fellowships will be funded. The program will be open to employers on the national level, local level and “anybody that wants to play,” he said, noting some employers may bring one military spouse on board, and others may bring dozens. These fellowships will be available for career-ready spouses.

The challenges military spouses face in areas such as spouse employment and child care aren’t new; they’ve existed for a long time, Mentzer said. But it’s a new age.

“We know COVID proved that there are opportunities much more than we ever anticipated for remote work,” he said. “Every one of our leaders understands the challenges.”

He noted that other organizations have conducted military spouse fellowship programs successfully, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s Hiring Our Heroes. But now DoD, for the first time, has funding provided by Congress for a spouse fellowship program to build on those efforts.

“We have to find employer partners who will keep them employed,” he said. It doesn’t help, if an employer brings a spouse in for a 12-week fellowship, hires the spouse, and the spouse then has to leave after a year because of a PCS move, he added.

It’s important that the spouse not only transitions into full-time employment, but that the corporation keeps the spouse employed over time as the family makes PCS moves, he said.

Across the board, whether it’s leadership in the Air Force or DoD, “we have a focus on these challenges. There’s so much more to come,” he said. “

Mentzer said officials also want spouses to have more opportunities to share their successes in employment, and how they did it. As spouses continue to advocate and articulate, he said, it helps not only to identify problems, but to identify solutions.

DoD officials are also looking at the many issues spouses have when they move overseas, where employment opportunities are more limited. The issues vary from location to location, and are related to Status of Forces agreements, so it’s also a State Department challenge.

One area where spouses may see greater opportunities is in noncompetitive hiring authority. Some bases overseas are piloting greater use of these hiring authorities, he said.

Another thing officials are keeping tabs on are “digital nomad” laws, which are being picked up in various areas across Europe, he said. These allow nonresidents to work within countries, providing more remote working opportunities.

Mentzer advised spouses who are moving overseas and have questions about continuing to work remotely for their company, operating businesses or other issues, to contact the employment readiness office at the gaining installation, as well as the Judge Advocate General’s Office.

Karen has covered military families, quality of life and consumer issues for Military Times for more than 30 years, and is co-author of a chapter on media coverage of military families in the book “A Battle Plan for Supporting Military Families.” She previously worked for newspapers in Guam, Norfolk, Jacksonville, Fla., and Athens, Ga.

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