Military service and political leadership have been intertwined since the birth of the nation, beginning with George Washington, and a tradition that continues today. It’s understandable for people to entrust the country in the hands of people willing to die for their country.
Military families are often touted as the “backbone of the military,” and yet, unlike service members who have a rich history in American politics—military spouses elected to public office are few and far between. When examining the curriculum vitae of military spouses, they exceed the experience and knowledge to be an invaluable public servant.
They are an under represented population in American politics. Despite the contributions of millions of military spouses that is woven into the American tapestry, they are largely unnoticed in the political sphere.
The famous recruitment posters of Uncle Sam and Rosie the Riveter have taken on lives of their own since their creation during WWII. The captions, “I Want You” and “We Can Do It” are as American as apple pie. They initially were meant to speak to the duplexity of recruitment for the war effort. Rosie the Riveter was geared towards supporting the war effort from the home front. It took more than a group of Rosie the Riveters to keep the factories operating at full speed. Military families were traditionally responsible with filling the gap in keeping the country running while their loved ones were at war.
The memorable catchphrases should be refashioned to recruit the backbones of the military into public service. Military spouses are desperately needed for their experience, sense of patriotism, grit and powerful voices.
It seems everything today is saturated with politics. Social media began as a place for family and friends to stay connected. It has largely morphed into a venue for soapbox political diatribes, fracturing friendships and family relationships. Media outlets, including social media have been tainted with the worst of politics.
Lost in all the pettiness and bickering is the true purpose of the honor to be elected to serve in office. The ugliness can dissuade the most well intended. Spouses who may consider running for office shouldn’t fret. There are numerous admirable people in politics.
For those contemplating public service or involvement in politics, “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” a classic film by Director Frank Capra, is a testament to the sincerity and honor of being elected to serve. There are good people in politics, and they should be used as a compass for political leadership.
What makes military spouses ideal candidates for public office?
Military spouses are no strangers to Murphy’s Law: It always seems Murphy’s Law has a habit of rearing its ugly head the moment service members leave the area code. Military spouses are excellent at thinking on their feet, resourceful, creative problem solvers and always willing to support others in their community. One of the most important attributes people seek in public servants, is their ability to be effective problem solvers.
They recognize the importance and vitality of a budget: Voters want to be assured their tax dollars are being spent wisely. Military spouses know how to prioritize necessary expenses, and they strive to build rainy day funds. In short, lower taxes equal happy voters.
Experts on the job market: They familiarize themselves with local job markets and trends. Many of them have diverse job experiences due to having to reinvent themselves to be more competitive in new markets. Jobs are their business.
No stranger to how the government operates: They are engrained with the importance of documentation. They know accountability is expected and demanded when something goes wrong. They assume most things are subject to an approval processes through a chain of command. They recognize the fine line between patience, and addressing excessive and unnecessary delays. They know what it takes to get things done.
A broad perspective of the country: They have likely moved several times throughout the country. They understand the country isn’t a one-size fits all when it comes to important issues; such as, employment, economics, environment, education, crime, health and transportation. On the flipside, they can identify universal problems plaguing the country.
Strong knowledge of the military: They know the responsibility and purpose of each branch of the military. They know the difference between ranks. They know what it takes to maintain the strongest military in the world. They know, “boots on the ground” isn’t as simple as it sounds.
A vested interest in local and geopolitical issues: What happens around the country and the world impacts their lives.
Understands the true meaning of service and sacrifice: Loving and supporting someone who voluntarily signs up to potentially give their life for their country; is a dutiful acceptance of that sacrifice. They know the realities of country before self. It means missed births, birthdays, anniversaries, holidays and graduations.
If military spouses are perfect for the job, why aren’t more serving in public office?
Always on the move: For much of their spouses’ military careers, military families are nomads. Home is dictated by orders. Moving every two to three years is challenging for military spouses in establishing and maintaining careers, let alone pursuing a political career.
Afraid it could hurt their spouses’ careers: Many may be reluctant to get involved in politics out of fear it could negatively affect their spouses’ career. Military spouses are private citizens and therefore, no need to stay politically neutral.
Turn those negatives into positives.
Moving every two to three years isn’t a negative. Various moves help gauge states and communities to settle down in, and help decide where it’s easiest to break into local politics. Treat each move, new job, challenge, sacrifice and hardship as a new perspective. It builds character, and is helpful creating personal connections.
Military families are faced with many challenges; such as, housing, employment, finances, childcare, education, healthcare and multiple deployments. Most Americans can identify with at least one of those issues. Military spouses can use those issues to their advantage, and offer to utilize their voices to spur change, and get results.
Where to start, and how to get involved.
Get involved in the community: Become a familiar face at community events. Join clubs and organizations. Attend town halls, city council or county board meetings. Ask questions, and offer solutions.
Volunteer: Volunteer for local non-profits, schools or places of worship. Get involved with local campaigns, and volunteer to canvas door-to-door and walk in parades.
Start with local politics: Begin by running for a local office. Establish a proven record as a leader who can get things done.
Utilize media outlets: Write editorials, participate in podcasts, create a blog and “public figure” social media pages.
Look for inspiration:
Look to fellow military spouses who have been, or currently involved in politics. Here’s a few well-known examples to immolate:
Nikki Haley, former Ambassador to the United Nations, and former Governor of South Carolina
Gabby Giffords, former Arizona Congresswoman
Tammy Duckworth, U.S. Senator for Illinois, she is also a veteran and Purple Heart recipient
Thomas Rooney, former Florida Congressman, and a veteran
Honorable mention: Elizabeth Dole, former U.S. Senator from North Carolina and founder of the Elizabeth Dole Foundation; and wife of Bob Dole, WWII veteran, former U.S. Senator from Kansas and former Republican Presidential Nominee. Even though Elizabeth Dole wasn’t married to her husband during his military service, she is a committed advocate for military spouses and families who are primary caretakers for injured veterans. Although she isn’t a traditional military spouse, she has been affected by the wounds of war through her husband’s injuries sustained during WWII. She continues to use her influence to support military spouses and their families.
You can do it!
Politics isn’t for the faint of heart. It requires dedication, hard work, determination, acceptance of criticism and rejection, honor, passion, principle, love of community and country, and sacrifice. Seasoned military spouses, espouse the qualities it takes to be an impactful leader. Life as a military spouse isn’t a liability in the world of politics, it’s an advantage. It’s not the travel, pomp and circumstance, homecomings, balls or shopping discounts that make a military spouse an inspirational leader. It’s the missed vacations, lonely holidays, missed milestones, last minute PCS changes, struggles to make ends meet, subpar housing, deployments, worries and sacrifices that make great and inspirational leaders. Be the voice of change for fellow spouses yearning for support.