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NEWS | March 28, 2024

Program guarantees military spouse jobs after PCS, builds readiness

By Mark R. W. Orders-Woempner U.S. Army Financial Management Command

Military families face numerous challenges during relocations, and a recent U.S. Army Financial Management Command policy to help them is paying big dividends in the areas of readiness, family support, and employee relations. 

Promising continuity in career paths, the recent initiative ensures Army Military Pay Office employees who relocate with their service member spouses during permanent changes of station will maintain their positions within the command. 

“Military spouses face unique challenges in obtaining and maintaining employment due to the PCS cycle, and must relocate regularly, sometimes with little-to-no notice,” said Brig. Gen. Paige M. Jennings, USAFMCOM commanding general, who originally signed the policy in November 2022. “As a large employer of military spouses, USAFMCOM recognizes these challenges and their sacrifices.”

Under this policy, AMPO employees who are moving with their military spouse to a new installation with a USAFMCOM presence are guaranteed employment with a like-position and at the same grade at the new location’s AMPO. 

If the PCS move is to a location without a USAFMCOM presence, the employee will be placed in a leave without pay status, so they keep their employment status within the command. 

The only stipulation to these guarantees is that the AMPO employee must be currently rated as “fully successful” in their duties and be without any pending disciplinary actions. 

“When we hire people ‘off the street,’ they often don’t know anything about the military, but the military spouses have an understanding of what our Soldiers face, which increases their value to the AMPO team,” said Susan Gillison, USAFMCOM Military Pay Operations director. “They don’t have to learn it; they live it. They’ve experienced issues with pay, so they are more conscientious about their work and taking care of our military.”

“After one PCS, my husband’s pay was so messed up that we only got a $200 paycheck, and for a family of four, that was not going to cut it,” said Whitney Hartwell, Redstone Arsenal AMPO military pay technician, who is married to U.S. Army Capt. Joshua Hartwell, assistant project manager for acquisitions at the Army Program Executive Office Missiles and Space. “Knowing that I can help Soldiers correct their pay, making sure they are getting their entitlements, and seeing that I can affect what’s happening and get things fixed, that makes me happy.”

Adding to readiness, the employment guarantee policy increased the number of military pay technicians available to support military pay, which allows them to resolve any issues and get back to the mission faster than ever. 

According to USAFMCOM data, prior to the policy’s enactment, an average of 15 percent of the AMPO’s positions were vacant. Since its enactment, that number shrank to three percent. 

“When the AMPOs came back to the Army from DFAS in 2020, the number of military spouses was relatively low with maybe 40 employees,” recalled Gillison. “Now, we have 144 spouses in the program, and with them, we know we will lose less people. 

“We have loyalty to them, and likewise they have loyalty to us,” she added. 

On top of their increased institutional knowledge and commitment, the program is also increasing military pay expertise. As the Army moves its Soldiers from position to position to increase their experience and understanding, their AMPO employee spouses are receiving the same benefit. 

“We go wherever our spouses go, and we use the knowledge from our previous locations, taking it forward,” said Hartwell. “I’ve learned so much from both [Joint Base Lewis McChord] and Redstone; I feel like I’m a well-rounded technician.”

“With the old way, the Soldier would move five times and the spouse would have as many jobs – at the Exchange, the child development center, the AMPO and so forth,” added Gennaro Penn, retired Army Finance Corps regimental sergeant major and AMPO branch manager. “Now, they develop their skills, staying in our AMPO network, and we can use those skills for 20 years or more.” 

While increased readiness and employee satisfaction are huge measures of success for military organizations, perhaps the biggest impact of the policy is the support it provides to military families, which Army Secretary Christine Wormuth described as “the force behind the force.” 

“Military spouses are the rock upon which their families and military community depend,” agreed Jennings, who spearheaded the policy. “Though they do not wear a uniform, they serve and strengthen our nation everyday by supporting our Soldiers and allowing them to focus on their mission.”

While military spouses have been long lauded for their efforts on the home front, many also want to contribute to their community, military, families and personal career goals outside of the home. 

“I left the military to start a family in 2014, had a baby and realized I wasn’t cut out to be a stay-at-home mom,” said Erin Wiegers, Fort Leavenworth AMPO military pay technician, who is married to Maj. Trevor Wiegers, a Mission Command Training Program observer coach/trainer at Fort Leavenworth. 

Wiegers holds two degrees in criminal justice and homeland security, and she has military experience as a prior enlisted administrative specialist and former commissioned military police officer, which helped her quickly get her first civilian job at the on-base credit union at U.S. Army Garrison Bavaria, Germany.  

In the years immediately following, her family PCS moved three times, and she had to find work in various fields including dental assisting, banking, veterinary services and early childhood education. 

“I actually had to get a second part-time job at the child development center, so I could make the list for childcare in order to work my main position at the veterinary clinic,” Wiegers recalled. “That’s often the life of an Army spouse. 

“Being prior service, I just love the military; it’s where I’m most comfortable,” said the mother of two boys, 6 and 7. “I’d been out of the military for five years before someone recommended the military pay office, which was under [the Defense Finance and Accounting Service] at the time. I applied and was hired.”

While Wiegers was able to find employment relatively quickly, many of the military spouses talked to say they struggle to find employment that is congruent with their unique circumstances. 

“I always wanted a job, but it never fit in with what my husband’s job would require and what fit in with the kids,” recalled Hartwell, adding that she ran into struggles with the young age of her children, being able to afford childcare, and then, finding something that would match her kids’ schedules. 

“After my husband decided to commission, and I was able to find a part-time job with a [Department of Defense Education Activity] school, so I could work during school hours, which worked with the kids,” she continued. 

Both Wiegers and Hartwell said they kept searching for the right fit and both found that the military pay offices on base balanced both the needs of their families and their employment. 

“When we got to JBLM, it just fit,” said Hartwell, who started off as a part-time AMPO employee and has now transitioned to full time. “They were willing to work with me and be a little more flexible with me, which is what I needed.” 

If finding the right employment fit for a military spouse is hard, keeping that employment with the numerous moves military families make throughout a career can be next to impossible. That was until USAFMCOM started its military spouse employment guarantee policy. 

“When I worked other jobs, I was never guaranteed they were going to have a job for me when we moved,” explained Hartwell. “With USAFMCOM, they said we are going to pay you what you were making with a job in line with what you were doing; not just shove me in a corner.” 

For many of USAFMCOM’s military spouse employees, the idea of continuing their career progression on top of just having a job makes them work even harder for the Army and Soldiers they serve.  

“When I move, I’m not starting at the bottom of the barrel again – I’m not going backwards, I’m always going forward from here,” said Wiegers. “That’s very motivating, and the stability and the longevity that you find is really reassuring.” 

“It makes me want to push, because if I become a lead technician here, they will make me a lead technician there,” agreed Hartwell. “I’m not going to have to restart at ground zero.” 

Additionally, the policy cuts red tape and makes it easy to transfer employment from one AMPO to the next. 

“I let my Fort Campbell leadership know we were moving to Fort Leavenworth, and when we received the hard orders, they were able to get the ball rolling,” Wiegers explained about her experience with the program. “The worst part was I had to fill out two documents. 

“Without blowing smoke, it was great,” she added. “I had nothing to stress about, and the losing and gaining directors really took care of me.”

Resoundingly, those who’ve used the new program over the last 16 months agreed it provided a tremendous amount of stress relief. 

“You’ve got a bazillion things going through your head with getting the family situated,” explained Wiegers. “Are the kids going to be happy, are we going to have a house, am I going to find a job in the civilian sector?

“But, one thing I knew when we moved this time is that I was going to have a job and my husband was going to have a job,” she continued. “That peace of mind was absolutely fantastic.”

That peace often transfers to the military member as well. 

“My husband realizes it because we aren’t stressing about saving more money because we are going to PCS, and it could take months for me to find a job after we move,” said Hartwell. “And, for me, I want a job that’s something I enjoy and not be miserable, and I have that now.” 

“It takes a huge load off my husband,” confirmed Wiegers. “He’s got enough to worry about being gone every couple months, and he knows now that if he does choose to continue in his career, I will be taken care of and that I’m very happy.”

The spouses and command leaders that were interviewed all said they hope other organizations around the Army and Department of Defense take note of this program and use it as a template. 

“It’s long overdue,” concluded Hartwell. “So many military spouses are smart, amazing and talented, and they would benefit from the same thing I have.” 

“That’s what the Army is about – taking care of families,” added Wiegers. “Making sure families are taken care of so the service member can take care of the mission.”

USAFMCOM delivers precision enterprise-wide financial operations to integrate, synchronize and sustain the battlefield through the Joint Strategic Support Area and directly supports the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Financial Management and Comptroller in their role as the principal advisor on all matters related to financial management and comptrollership.

USAFMCOM’s Military Pay Operations directorate performs the installation-level military support for the Army across the United States and Japan. The MPO headquarters in Indianapolis manages 35 AMPOs and 14 satellite offices at 49 locations.

The AMPOs perform the full range of military pay services to include in and out-processing, input of transactions generated by orders and forms from Army units and activities, and separations.