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Calls to Duty Put Careers on Hold : Armed forces: Frequent transfers make it difficult for spouses to build careers. The Military Spouse Career Network offers support.


Two months ago, Becky Crusoe enrolled in a graduate program in Los Angeles, planning to pursue a long hoped-for degree in clinical psychology.

Last week, her husband, a lieutenant colonel in the Air Force, announced some unwelcome news: He is due to be reassigned to another city sometime next year.

After 18 years as a military spouse, Crusoe says, she should be used to this sort of disruption. But the experience is still jolting.

"It's not a real good time to get orders," the Torrance resident said somberly as she broke the news to members of the Los Angeles/Long Beach chapter of the Military Spouse Career Network, a group she helped found and now heads.

In fact, the group had gathered for the evening at the Ft. MacArthur Community Center in San Pedro to talk about exactly that--the effects of military life on spouses struggling to maintain careers.

They talked about the problems they face building their careers. Spouses who need to get state licenses--as psychotherapists, for example--might gather the needed credentials and then have their husbands reassigned to another state with new requirements. Some employers are reluctant to hire military spouses, fearing they will learn the job and then leave. And on some more conservative military bases, wives who manage to piece together careers can find themselves without a support structure.

"The traditional military wife, the idea of her working--you just wouldn't hear of it," Crusoe said. "Her job was, first, to get him promoted, and two, to raise her family."

The kind of disruption military spouses face is reflected in the turnover among officers of the fledgling career network.

Crusoe, 39, is the second president of the one-year-old chapter. Its first president, Audrey Cleary Bailey, was whisked off to San Francisco in August when her husband, a Navy captain, was reassigned. And the network's treasurer is due to leave with her husband this winter.

During the last two decades, the feminist movement and economic necessity have propelled large numbers of women into the work force. For military spouses--who remain predominantly women--that transition has been particularly difficult because their lives are punctuated by "new orders" that mandate frequent cross-country moves.

These are the people that the Military Spouse Career Network seeks to serve. Its founders describe it as a forum where military spouses from all branches of service can exchange information, support one another and develop contacts with others who share their career goals.

This kind of support system could soften the impact of moving, said Bailey, who has moved 14 times with her husband.

"Keeping two careers going is one thing," she said. "Trying to take it on the road every two years is something else."

The Los Angeles/Long Beach network, founded in November, 1989, now has about 100 members, predominantly Air Force and Navy spouses. They pay $20 annual dues and attend general meetings every two months.

The local network is only the fourth of its kind in the country, members say. Groups also are operating in Washington, D.C., San Diego and Hawaii, all areas with large military populations. The San Diego network, formed in late 1988, has nearly 200 members, primarily Navy spouses.

The concept is spreading. Bailey, the former Los Angeles president, plans to form a Bay Area group. She said another group is organizing in Charleston, S.C. And there is talk of a chapter in Japan. Organizers hope that in time, a truly national organization will develop so that spouses moving around the country--or even the world--will be able to plug in to the network in their new cities.

As last week's meeting began, Crusoe asked the 20 women and one man to stand and introduce themselves.

A young woman said she has two daughters. "Right now, they're my career. Beyond that, I'm undecided. That's one of the reasons I'm here tonight."

Another woman complained: "Every time I move, I change careers." The women around her laughed knowingly.

About 75% of military wives now work, Crusoe said.

Most of those who spoke are working outside the home, but few have jobs in their chosen fields.

A former teacher said she is now working as a secretary.

Peggy Shaver, 42, a military spouse who moved to Los Angeles in July, has worked in politics and marketing. Now she is busy with her three children, ages 16 months, 2 1/2 and 4. She said that her MBA degree, matted in pink, hangs over her kitchen sink. "I have no idea what I'm going to do," she said. She has thought of trying to develop a free-lance business as an events planner. One speaker at the network meeting urged women to bring in their business cards for other women in the network.

Shaver leaned over and offered the woman sitting next to her a blank index card. She said wryly: "Here. Here's my card."

Rick Metzer is also a military spouse, but one with a different perspective.

His wife is Patricia A. Tracey, the Navy captain who this summer took command of the Long Beach Naval Station.

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