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Defense Secretary Robert Gates, left, and Labor Secretary Elaine Chao watch as Gwen Bates, whose husband is a Navy petty officer, co-signs a proclamation funding a new $35.2 million Military Spouse Career Advancement Initiative at the Pentagon.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates, left, and Labor Secretary Elaine Chao watch as Gwen Bates, whose husband is a Navy petty officer, co-signs a proclamation funding a new $35.2 million Military Spouse Career Advancement Initiative at the Pentagon. (Lisa Burgess / S&S)

ARLINGTON, Va. — The Defense and Labor Departments have created a program to help military spouses pursue careers in sectors that are in such high demand that they are immune to frequent household moves.

The three-year, $35.2 million Military Spouse Career Advancement Initiative is a program for military spouses with sponsors in enlisted pay grades E-1 through E-5 and officers O-1 through O-3. Spouses must have at least a high-school diploma or GED.

Participants will get a $3,000 grant — renewable for a second year — that can be used to pay for expenses related to postsecondary education and training, Labor Secretary Elaine Chao said Wednesday during a Pentagon ceremony announcing the program.

Those expenses include tuition, books, equipment, and credentialing and licensing fees in nationally identified, high-growth, “portable” career fields such as education, health care, information technology, construction trades and financial services, Chao said.

Pentagon and Labor officials worked together to come up with the portable career fields as a “win-win” solution for both the nation, which needs people to do these jobs, and the military, which wants more employment opportunities for spouses, she said.

Military spouses experience unemployment rates three times higher than their civilian counterparts, even though 77 percent report that they want or need to work, Chao said.

But the frequent moves required by the military often make it difficult or expensive for spouses to establish long-term careers, or meet state credentialing and licensing requirements, she said.

The program “was created to help spouses overcome some of those financial barriers,” Chao said.

Limiting the program to high-demand occupations means that when a military family picks up and moves, a spouse who is trained to work in such a “portable” career should not only be able to find a new job, but advance up the ladder, “because they’re in a field where they are desperately needed,” Chao said.

Eighteen military installations — all in the United States — are participating in the program. Those installations are: San Diego Metro and Camp Pendleton in California; Fort Carson and Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado; Jacksonville Naval Air Station, Eglin Air Force Base and Hurlburt Field in Florida; Fort Benning, Ga.; Hickam Air Force Base, Naval Base Pearl Harbor, Schofield Barracks and U.S. Marine Base Kaneohe Bay in Hawaii; Naval Air Station, Brunswick, Maine; Fort Bragg and Pope Air Force Base in North Carolina; and Fort Lewis, McChord Air Force Base and Naval Base Kitsap in the state of Washington.

Spouses can apply for the program at the One-Stop Career Centers on or near participating a installations’s Voluntary Education Center.

For more information, visit www.milspouse.org.

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