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Airman & Family Readiness Centers: one stop, career shops for spouses

RANDOLPH AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- When Trish Kuettel and her husband, Tech. Sgt. Michael Kuettel, arrived at Grand Forks Air Force Base, N.D., last summer, her "to do" list was long and daunting. One thing the mother of two didn't have to worry about was where to look for career and employment assistance.

"Since I was unfamiliar with the local area, the base's Airman and Family Readiness Center proved to be a great jumping off point for me," said Ms. Kuettel. "It was comforting to have one centralized area I could go to find the resources I needed."

All 82 Airman and Family Readiness Centers at the Air Force's 82 bases are poised to help spouses, like Trish, meet the challenges they face in career planning and searching for employment. Those services include career planning classes (resume writing, interviewing, etc), computer lab access, career counseling, job placement assistance, job bank referrals, educational grants, career fairs and resource referrals to programs such as Spouses to Teachers.

"Air Force leaders at all levels know how vital it is for spouses to have opportunities to develop careers," said Lorraine Neuser, deputy chief of Airman and Family Readiness Policy at the Pentagon. "Not only are our employment services important for personal fulfillment but, in many cases, spouses are major contributors to the financial stability of the family."

These factors translate into increased retention and readiness, added Ms. Neuser.

"It's important for deployed members not to have to worry about whether their spouse can make ends meet back home," she said. "Financial assurance is essential for the long-term success of the family."

Although the centers are equipped to assist spouses of all educational backgrounds - whether they're armed with high school diplomas or masters' degrees - their community readiness consultants also want to help Air Force spouses develop careers they can take with them from place to place.

"Career development and employment assistance is a key issue at Air Force Services and at the secretary of defense level," added Ms. Neuser.

In fact, the Department of Defense, in partnership with the Department of Labor, recently introduced a pilot program called Career Advancement Accounts at 20 military installations, including eight Air Force bases. The program is designed to help spouses with grants for training, education and certifications in easily transportable career fields, such as education, information technology, health care, human resources, business management, hospitality management and homeland security. Spouses can find more information at their Airman and Family Readiness Center or base education center.

Regardless of their experience level, Saundra Nichols, at AFPC's Airman, Family and Community Operations Branch, says most employers are becoming increasingly aware that military spouses possess many of the same positive attributes that military members do.

"They are effective team members, possess good values, have a strong work ethic and are comfortable with diversity," she said. "They definitely have a lot to offer."

To help them reach their employment goals, military spouses are eligible to receive employment preferences overseas and in the United States, which gives them priority in the employment selection process if their military spouse changes duty stations. This preference applies worldwide to most DOD appropriated fund positions as well as to some nonappropriated fund positions. And, if needed, the centers' consultants can assist them with the federal application process.

Susan Gideon, of Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., knows of this fact firsthand. With help from her base's Airman and Family Readiness Center, she was able to successfully land a GS-5 position at Eglin's child development center after she learned that her nonappropriated fund position there was going away.

"They went out of their way to assist me with my resume and to help me successfully navigate USAJOBS," said Ms. Gideon, whose husband serves as a senior master sergeant at Eglin's 33rd Maintenance Squadron. "They took the time to help me do those necessary little things, so I could put my best foot forward. I never felt rushed."

In addition to helping spouses like Susan with employment assistance, the Air Force's centers offer career counseling and employment assistance to members of the Total Force. The centers' services also include personal and family readiness, relocation and transition assistance programs, personal financial management, Air Force Aid, personal and family life education and more. Bottom line: They exist to support the mission and take care of people.

"Their helpful attitude and one-on-one resume counseling made the difference," said Ms. Kuettel, who now works as a purchasing agent on Grand Forks AFB. "They knew it was important for us to have a second income, but the opportunities were limited for me in the local economy. With their help, I was able to land a NAF position. My husband and I can't thank them enough for their support."

For more information, call or stop by your base Airman and Family Readiness Center.