Career/Education Coast Guard Homefront

Oh, so, you are a Coast Guard Spouse?

Photo Credit: J. Bassett 2011

I have been living in our new location for a year and a half now. I love the Coast and I love the community. What I have some hang-ups about are (1) school curriculum and (2) what seems to be job discrimination.

Last year, when I attended one of the parent meetings at the elementary school I posed a question about bringing curriculum up to speed with other parts of the Nation. I was met with explanations about budget shortfalls and serious lack of funding. I understand that. What I wasn’t prepared for was when someone said to me, “Oh yeah, you are a Coast Guard family, aren’t you?” What does that even mean? Should we not seek to improve our schools and advocate for our children? Because we MIGHT move again in the next few years, we should just deal with it?

I must admit I felt like an outcast. After all, the school receives Title I funding. On a basic level, wouldn’t it make sense to fight for federal support to beef up the core curriculum too? Time and again friends of mine who have been stationed here and in other areas around the country have echoed feelings of concern and unhappiness because of severe disparities in curricula across the Nation, at least in public schools. What the kids in Massachusetts study is vastly different and ahead (for the most part) from what they are learning here in Oregon.

Now, this doesn’t make Oregon a bad place. In fact, this is a terrific state and area for families. The landscape is awesome and it’s one of those vacation stations, if you will. I am thrilled that my family gets to live here. We have even considered what it would be like to retire here. Still, I struggle with the thought that there is a collective settling it’s-okay-attitude in terms of a seriously lacking education system.

On another note, but with the same “Yeah, you are a Coast Guard” sentiment, I have had difficulty finding gainful employment. Unfortunately, military spouses are not in a protected class. Employers can elect not to hire us. It happens all the time and one of the reasons is that our resumes read like a travel book in a way. Thankfully, I can freelance and I am able to do that from home and do to keep myself in my industry and work as I am able and as it comes to me.

Last year, I applied for a position with a great employer. I’ve applied three times with this particular office now, different positions and landed multiple interviews, but still no offer to work with them. My resume reflects an educated professional with a strong legal and administrative background. I had a great first phone interview and even a decent in person interview, but then the time to answer “tough” questions came in the meeting. The office manager recognized the variety of locations on my resume, which actually compared to most military spouses is quite mild. I have been fortunate to have been living in one location during my career life for over 11 years while with my military husband. She said, well it appears that you are Coast Guard and we want to ensure you can be at this job for at least two years. I felt caught off guard because I have never lived in an area where there was too much military. I wasn’t well prepared to answer this with anything but a positive response. She went on to say that Coast Guard families are too transient and they worry that they would spend too much training me and I would leave. That is where they are wrong.

A civilian employee, as you know, could quite honestly just up and quit a position two weeks later or even be fired for incompetence or other reasons while in their probationary period. What this office manger failed to recognize is that military spouses and veterans (which I am) have a dedication to their careers and jobs like no other. We tend to give it our all and assimilate as best we can not only to better ourselves in the work place, but also to establish normalcy and sustain our careers. Not all of us seek to leave. In fact, I personally like to put down roots for at least five years or more and in some cases that is possible, especially with the Coast Guard. There is a strong chance that my husband could stay in this area for the duration of his military career. So, you can understand my aggravation and disappointment with being still on the hunt for gainful employment in my field a year and a half into a new duty station. I will say that the jobs in this area are far and few between, which also poses difficulty. This is a coastal town and not a metropolis by any means. It makes sense that employers seek to hire locals. I get that, whether or not I agree with it is another matter. 

I know so many military spouses feel the same frustrations as I do. What can we do? How can we effectuate change?

Branching off and building our own businesses and finding creative ways to work are often an option. Still, it shouldn’t be this way. After all, I have a friend whose husband isn’t military but they too move every few years. You know what he does? He works on bridges! She found a position right after arriving in this town and is still working there a year and a half later.

I am constantly working on various ways to combat this tough topic, but personally it is draining. If I were a friend giving me advice I would say, “Don’t give up the fight and keep looking because the right employer will hire you” or “Good things come to those who wait”, but giving myself a pep talk isn’t always the ideal conversation. Usually, around that time, my husband walks in and worries that I’ve gone batty, and I expect one day soon he might admit me somewhere, if I keep it up. 😉

For those of you in the same position, hang in there. You are not on the hunt alone. You can do things to fill your time, keep yourself in an industry, and also keep yourself marketable. I am pretty busy with my volunteer work, and I recommend volunteering your time to fill in those job gaps as well. It does help. It can also help you to hone your skills, try new things and even continue to do what drives you. It may not bring in a paycheck, but sometimes it can be rewarding and demonstrate to a potential employer that you have good work ethic and also that a salary is not the only motivator for you.

Remember to support efforts towards positive changes too. I have been working to bring some awareness to these aforementioned issues, but I am only one person. The more the merrier, as they say. So, get involved too, the more fired up you are about things, whether it is for these topics or something else, the more likely things are to change.

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2 thoughts on “Oh, so, you are a Coast Guard Spouse?”

  1. We moved around a lot as a kid (non-military) and it was amazing the differences in the schools depending on the area we lived. I never understood as a kid why this really mattered, but now that I have my own kids and teach 1st grade, it’s frustrating that education can be so different in so many different places. Good for you for supporting efforts to change. We need more people like you to speak out!
    I hope that your job search brings something your way soon – I know it’s hard to stay positive but it sounds like you are doing all the right things!

  2. I wish they’d see the irony…they could have hired you and it would already be close to two years. I know civilians that go through jobs quicker. I haut wish it wasn’t like this. Next time i might be compelled to say, “oh, you’re a computer programer,” or “oh, you’re a garbage man.”. Great article!

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