Mrs. Hollyanne Milley, spouse of Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, discusses her journey as a military spouse, why having a meaningful career is important to her, plus some of the hard decisions that come with military life.
Thank you for the opportunity to share a little bit of the military spouse perspective with you. It is the honor of a lifetime for Mark and I to continue our journey in service of our country. We are inspired every day by the service members, civilians and their families who sacrifice so much for our nation.
I would also like to extend a heartfelt thank you to all military spouses for your service. Our military spouses balance caring for families, supporting their loved one’s military service, and working and volunteering in the community. By building relationships and making connections in the communities in which we live and work, you are incredible ambassadors for our military and a vital support system for our military families.Mrs. Hollyanne Milley
Military Spouse: What advice do you have for today’s military spouses based on your own experiences?
Mrs. Hollyanne Milley: In my experiences as a military spouse and a nurse, I know what it’s like to feel run down because we give and give. The military culture is selfless in nature so it might be challenging to think of putting yourself first. So, something I like to remind spouses of is the need for self-care. Many of our military spouses do so much for others — they support their loved ones who are serving, they care for their families, many work or volunteer in their communities. Given all the attention they place on others, it is important that spouses know it’s not only OK to take care of themselves both physically and mentally, it should be a priority.
Another thing I like to tell spouses is something Mark and I believe in firmly: family first, because family has to come first. Throughout your journey with military life, there will be grand adventures and there will be challenges. It’s always OK to do the things that are right for you and your family no matter what phase of life you’re in. We acknowledge that sometimes doing what is right for your family means making really tough decisions.
We made the decision to live apart from Mark for a year so our son could remain at his school. This was a very difficult decision, but it allowed our son to stay in a great school and continue to play the sport he loved — which led to him receiving a scholarship to play in college. The decision also allowed me to keep my job — something I love and that keeps me fulfilled and better able to provide for our family. At the time, deciding to live apart was not a common practice. But, it was the right decision for our son and for our family, and we made it together. We had to consider what we valued as a family and what ultimately made the most sense for us outside of what the military was calling us to do, which actually leads to my final point — the importance of embracing who you are as an individual and celebrating that.
Military spouses should feel comfortable developing their own identities. While the military may influence many things about your family life, your spouse’s military service does not define you. Embrace what makes you unique and feel fulfilled. For me, that was nursing, volunteering in the community and taking care of my family. Your needs, experiences and strengths are just as important as those of your loved ones who are serving.
You are not important because you are a military spouse. You are important because of who you are. I have had to remind myself of that at times, especially when our military journey was challenging or it felt like the military was leading our family life instead of us. Hopefully by sharing some of our story, we can help remind other military spouses of the same thing.
Finally, I want spouses to know it is possible to support your service member and have a career, if that is what you desire. There will be challenges, and it can be frustrating, time consuming and stressful at times. Thankfully, there are many resources available to help you along the way and networks of support available to you at your installations. Part of my mission is to help you learn about and access those resources. It will be challenging, sure, but you can have a fulfilling career as a military spouse, and we are here to help you make it happen.
Military Spouse: Why did you choose to go into nursing? And, how have you maintained your career throughout your military life?
Mrs. Hollyanne Milley: When I was younger, my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer when she was only 35. After she survived that first bout with cancer she set a long-term goal for herself and decided to go to nursing school. She wanted to make a difference.
I admired my mother and how she cared for her family and pursued her dream even after surviving cancer. Her kindness, strength, caring nature and her desire to give back were traits I wanted to emulate. And, after witnessing the skilled medical teams that cared for her I decided I, too, wanted to become a nurse.
Years later, when my mother was 49, she had a recurrence of the cancer and passed away at age 50. As you go through life, you will face many challenges and you will have to make decisions that are right for you and your family at that time. Mark and I decided the right decision for our family was for the kids and me to move to Atlanta temporarily so I could be the hospice nurse for my mother. This was another incredibly difficult decision, but it was the right one for our family.
We take this concept into all our family decisions. Mark has always supported my desire to have and maintain a career.
Finding and sustaining a career as a military spouse can be particularly difficult. I have heard many spouses tell me they feel they are caught between their own careers and their loved one’s service. This sort of situation can increase stress in the family, can have a negative impact on finances and can affect the spouse’s happiness and the family’s willingness to remain in the military. When I started, there weren’t many resources out there for spouses.
I transported my career each time we moved, and in some cases, I had to get creative to make it work. We have moved 20 times, I have had 14 different jobs and I have transferred my nursing license to nine different states. It took a significant amount of time, effort and money, especially before the internet, to transfer my licenses. Being stationed abroad presented another set of challenges. I was not allowed to work, per the Status of Forces Agreement with Korea. So, I volunteered to teach basic trauma life support classes to soldiers. And, to keep my skills current, the kids and I went back to Georgia over the summer so I could work in the hospital.
It certainly took a lot of grit and tenacity to maintain my career, but these broad experiences have actually made me a better nurse. I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to work in the local community hospitals where we lived. The varied experiences improved my skillsets and also allowed me to tell the military story for 35 years.
Furthermore, I’m so glad military spouse employment is finally getting more attention. For a long time I felt like spouse employment wasn’t discussed or emphasized. Today, that is no longer the case—not only are we talking about spouse employment, we are taking action. There are so many resources available for spouses now such as the Military Spouse Employment Partnership and Hiring our Heroes.
Additionally, we have made great progress in reducing the burden on spouses of transporting their careers. Many states have passed legislation or an executive order to better support military spouses in professions with a state license or certification requirement. Many states are now expediting licensure for certain professions through endorsement and temporary or provisional licensing. And, the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act allows each service branch to reimburse spouses up to $500 for relicensure and certification costs resulting from relocations or PCS moves that cross U.S. state lines. This is a tremendous step in the right direction for our military spouses. Spouses can learn more about the specific license transfer programs available and access many other resources on the Department of Defense’s Spouse Education & Career Opportunities (MySECO) website.
Now, military spouses do not have to feel like they must choose between having a career of their own and their loved one’s military service. It is becoming easier to do both.
“I see spouse employment as a vital element of military retention. Military spouses are highly educated, resourceful and resilient. They are absolutely instrumental in helping build community and connection, and when they feel empowered to do what fulfills them, our service members will have better stability and satisfaction. Additionally, military spouses who choose to work, serve as ambassadors for our armed forces to segments of the community that may have no prior experience with the military.
Military spouse employment challenges affect the health and stability of the entire family. And, as Hollyanne and I always say, family comes first. If a military family feels there’s a disconnect between his or her spouse’s ability to have a meaningful career and military life, that family is going to make the decision that is right for them. And, that might mean not continuing military life. Ensuring our military spouses have the resources and support they need to have meaningful careers, if they choose, directly impacts our ability to recruit and retain members of our all-volunteer force. That is why it is so important for us both that we continue to talk about military spouse employment and help connect families to resources and programs that can support them. We should always remember that we may recruit an individual but we reenlist our families.”Gen. Mark A. Milley 20th Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
Here’s more of our interview with Mrs. Hollyanne Milley:
Military Spouse: Why was maintaining your career as a nurse important to you? And, what advice can you give to other military spouses who wonder if they can have a career as a military spouse?
Mrs. Hollyanne Milley: My career has been very important to me. I enjoy being part of Mark’s military service and doing what I can to support him and all the good our military does. The military has given our family many opportunities, which I am grateful for. But, it is also very important to me that I have my own identity. I love nursing and caring for patients.
The key for me is I have been able to do both. And, there are more opportunities, programs, resources and support for spouse employment now than ever before. It’s an exciting time.
Military OneSource is a great place to start. They have a page dedicated to spouse benefits that outlines programs, scholarships and other available opportunities for spouses. The site even has direct links to most of the programs it references. Whether you are looking to maintain your current career, go back to school for a new one or something else, Military OneSource has a resource to assist.
The MySECO portal is another helpful resource. The site has information on hiring events, education, networking and much more. One of the most notable programs they offer is their Military Spouse Employment Partnership program. MSEP connects military spouses with hundreds of partner employers who have committed to recruit, hire, promote and retain military spouses. And, that’s just one small sample of the resources and tools they offer on their website.
These are just a few of the Department of Defense programs available. I encourage military spouses to check them out and see what works for them.
In addition to accessing those resources, I would tell military spouses who would like to sustain a career to focus on why they want to work and what they are passionate about. When I hit road bumps I focused on the why behind my desire to continue nursing, and that kept me going. I encourage other military spouses to do the same. There will be challenges and frustrations. But, if you stay focused and know what you value and what you’re trying to achieve, you may be surprised at the creative ways you discover to keep doing what you love in the midst of this unpredictable military journey.
Military Spouse: Volunteering is a big part of the lives of many military spouses. Why do you feel volunteering is important within the military community?
Mrs. Hollyanne Milley: Volunteering is a fantastic way to support a cause you are passionate about and to be an active part of your community. Also, volunteering is a great way for a spouse to fill in gaps on his or her resume.
Volunteering can be especially useful in times when working may not be an option or when you are in transition. I have personally used volunteering opportunities to maintain my professional skills and keep my resume competitive.
Lastly, don’t feel like you are constrained to volunteering for only military organizations. Find an organization that makes you feel happy and fulfilled. Volunteering, to me, is about contributing; it’s about being part of something you’re passionate about. If those are military-related causes, great. Do whatever meets your needs, whether it is professional, personal, spiritual, or some combination of all of those.
Military Spouse: What helps keep you strong through all the moves, deployments, and challenges you’ve faced as a military spouse?
Mrs. Hollyanne Milley: One of the things I love about our relationship is Mark and I are a team, and we make decisions as a team. When we’ve gone through deployments and separations, we did our best to maintain that sense of teamwork. Approaching difficult situations as a team helped us work through the obstacles we faced. We have found that setting clear expectations regarding communication is also very important. Early in our marriage, we stayed connected through snail mail and recorded cassette tapes and later, as technology advanced, through email. Today’s families have even more ways to stay connected — messaging applications, social media, video chats, and more.
I encourage spouses who have a loved one deployed or who is geographically separated to find creative ways to stay connected with their loved one and to involve him or her in everyday activities. This worked for our family — we shared the daily challenges and struggles, not just the good stuff. This allowed Mark to feel involved and provided him a chance to help out. This was especially helpful when it came to the kids and keeping them connected. It’s hard to be apart both for the military member and the family members. So, we tried to find ways to give Mark a sense of home, normalcy and involvement and he strove to help us feel connected to him even though he was far away.
Staying connected with your deployed loved one is important, and so is staying connected in your community. We have to support each other. The ability to lean on organizations like our kids’ sports teams, youth groups, and other community organizations was so helpful for our family in coping with deployments and geographic separations. And, the resources available through your unit and installations have expanded over the years. There are programs run by the family support organization, resilience programs and many more. And, there are resources available in your community, as well, from spouse pages on social media, support groups, and youth groups, to the military support organizations and veteran support organizations that directly support military families. These programs are there to help you and your family. They were helpful for us; we hope you find them helpful, too. Please don’t hesitate to use them.
Military Spouse: Many military spouses worry how all the moves and deployments will impact their military kids. What would your children say about their time as military kids? And, how do you feel it impacted them?
Mrs. Hollyanne Milley: Military children didn’t volunteer for this life — we must thank them and recognize the unique challenges they face as military-connected kids.
Military kids are resilient; they have coping and interpersonal skills. They are adaptable, tolerant and very accepting because they are forced to quickly adapt to new situations. They often develop these skills early, and learn to embrace new places and cultures, which can serve them throughout their life.
As adults, our own children reflect on their military journey and they now appreciate the multiple moves within the U.S. and overseas and how they were exposed to different cultures and people and gained experiences they will have forever. At the same time, military life hasn’t been easy for them. Frequent deployments, long work hours and constant worry about their parents’ safety remains a challenge for many military kids.
Nearly 20 years in combat has taken its toll on our military families, including and especially, military children. As we have started to see the effects of this high operations tempo, we have developed better ways to care for and support them. There are more resources available today to support military children than ever before. We are now embedding Military Family Life Counselors in schools, military children have better access to behavioral health providers and there are myriad resources available through Military OneSource. There are also non-profit organizations with programs designed to specifically support all military-connected children, even those who are no longer dependents, and we look forward to continuing to grow the support network.
Thank you for this opportunity to share some of our story with you today. I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to live and work in so many communities and help share the story of our military families for almost 35 years. But, our story is not unique. Our military spouses are resourceful and resilient. In fact, our military spouses are one of the most underutilized talents in the job market. On average, military spouses have higher levels of education than the public at large, and their unique experiences as part of military families make them flexible and adaptive. Companies can directly impact military retention, and by extension readiness, by supporting and hiring our military spouses. And, businesses that offer flexible, portable career models stand to see great benefits from attracting more military spouses.
To our military spouses, it is possible to support your service member and have a fulfilling career, if that is what you choose. Thank you for continuing to serve.