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When Did I Become the Dinosaur?

 I locked myself in my car and came unglued. When did I become obsolete, worthless, and not viable? When did I become the dinosaur in the room?

I had entered the Job Fair so strong and confident. I wore my best suit, tasteful jewelry and makeup. Armed with countless copies of my updated resume and a huge smile, I was ready to meet my future employer and wow them with my arsenal of skills.

How come I left feeling so defeated, like someone had punched me? How come I was sobbing in my car?

 I’m a 43-year-old Military Spouse, who has served proudly beside her husband for 21 years. I have a four year degree and graduated Cum Laude. I was involved in every academic, social and leadership club available at my university. I can do anything you put in front of me.

I just haven’t been paid in dollars for my work. My work has been summed up as a “collection of volunteer hours.” For years I have been told that when I was able to somewhat settle (since we have moved essentially every two years for the past 20) and ready to convert those hours into a career, that employers would jump at the chance to have a Military Spouse employee because of my “adaptability, diverse set of skills, and years of experience in a variety of areas”.

Not so much. At the Job Fair that day I felt like the dinosaur in the room, maybe the bones of the dinosaur. I was one of those women who I took my role as a Military Spouse extremely seriously. I attended all functions. I baked for the sick, new babies or new neighbors. I packed. I unpacked, making ten different homes from Alaska to Turkey.

I took language classes, joined culture liaison groups, made welcome packets, took spouses to seek legal advice, babysat, substitute taught, led Girl Scout and Boy Scout Troops. I was the overseas buyer for Spouse run gift shops, coordinated and decorated for too many military balls and events to list, spent countless hours doing anything and everything to keep Army families happy and strong so that their Soldier could do his or her job to the best of their ability without worry or distractions from home.

At that job fair, things weren’t going well for senior spouses (those age 40 and over, enlisted or officer) like me. Younger spouses had all the essentials that recruiters were looking for — shiny new degrees, training on computer programs.

The Veterans seemed to be doing pretty well too. After all most have or recently had “real” jobs. They have had recent training. They, too, seemed viable to the recruiters.

When recruiters asked me about recent schooling or training, I would explain that I had lots of experience in many other areas. But I couldn’t rattle off three new computer programs I was proficient in or any recent corporate projects I had managed.

The message for my age group was clear and expensive … time to go back to school. But I’m paying for one child in college now with another going within three years. Where am I going to get the funds for me? I don’t qualify for grants or outreach programs presently offered to spouses because of my husband’s age and rank.

So many senior spouses I know have given up on having a civilian career. I could get a million entry-level jobs paying $10 an hour but that’s not what I’m looking for. I want a job that fits, where I can feel viable and get paid for the quality of work I am able and ready to contribute.

My only reason for writing this is to hopefully let employers gain some insight on this little niche of fabulous people who could run a small country or maybe the world if they could just get a chance to shine and really show what they can do right now.

Our generation of senior spouses (40+ year old military enlisted or officer spouses officer) needs the option of having a little OTJ training, someone willing to give us a chance without sending us back to school.

The reality is that all employers have to train their new employees, no matter what skills/recent education they enter with or whether they are 20 or 40 years old. Each employer will have to teach their new employee how to work their company’s actual computer system, their particular customer service policy, their certain management style and expectations.

Senior military spouses that have been active volunteers and leaders in their community don’t need to go back to school to make them a more qualified employee. Senior spouses just need companies to take a leap of faith, hire them and spend a short amount of time training for the specific job they have been hired to do.

If they are serious about their Joining Forces intentions, corporations will find their most valuable potential employee has been the one they have let pass by at the job fairs due to what they deem as a lack of the proper qualifications or credentials. The qualifications and skills are there tenfold, for those willing to take the chance

The resume of a senior spouse may look a little different than the rest but look a little closer next time. You’ll see we senior spouses have the potential to make your business thrive, not ten years from now when we have “grown up” and become more experienced but right here and now because we have the experience already under our belts.

We are not dinosaurs and obsolete. We are smart, witty, creative, flexible, problem solvers who are worthwhile and viable to the work force.

Heather Applegate is an Army spouse currently stationed in the Washington, DC area.  

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