For Service Spouses, Flexibility is Essential
By PETER ATKINSON, Deputy Editor
NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — The “meat and potatoes military family issues” faced by sea services spouses were outlined by the wives of current and former sea service leaders during a first-time Sea-Air-Space Exposition panel April 10.
Fran DeNinno Zukunft, wife of outgoing Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Paul F. Zukunft; Gina Buzby, wife of Maritime Administrator Mark Buzby, who had retired after a 34-year career in the Navy three years ago; and Elka Giordano, wife of Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Steven S. Giordano, shared their experiences as military spouses and the impact of service life on their families and careers. They also offered practical advice and lessons learned based on those experiences.
The panel was moderated by Navy veteran and Navy spouse Dr. Vivian Greentree, head of global corporate citizenship at First Data Corp. She set the tone for the discussion by noting that “your position as a military spouse becomes a part of the brand, but it is not your only brand.”
The panelist spoke of the need for spouses to be flexible, especially when it comes to career matters because of the frequent moves that come with military service, and to “embrace the lifestyle.”
“You career is not one linear path,” said Giordano, who as a trained nurse was unable to find work in her field after several of her husband’s moves. On those occasions, she turned to volunteer work. As a Navy ombudsman-at-large, she said she tells young spouses to “seek every opportunity that comes your way, find other talents in yourself.”
Buzby’s career in higher education was similarly disrupted by her husband’s duty assignments with the Navy.
“When you move every 17 months, it’s a challenge,” she said, especially if you are not with a company that has offices or opportunities at your spouse’s next duty station. “Be open to a lot of possibilities. If you can, prepare to reinvent yourself.”
Working in sales with a large pharmaceutical company did provide DeNinno Zukunft the opportunity to maintain her career path. Still, like the other panelists, she said spouses have to be flexible. At the same time, she added, many companies are willing to be flexible as well, and have become more accommodating of military spouses.
DeNinno Zukunft serves as a Coast Guard ombudsman-at-large, and in that role has been able to affect change that will directly benefit service families through her efforts to ensure more funding for Coast Guard child care centers. That funding was included as part of the recently approved federal budget.
“It’s hard to do a good job when you are worried about your kids,” she said, echoing the familiar refrain that family readiness is the key to combat readiness.
With Buzby a retired Navy wife and DeNinno Zukunft soon to become a retired Coast Guard wife, the panelists also spoke of preparing for a spouse’s separation from the service and the dramatic lifestyle changes that are bound to occur.
“Have a plan B, C and D,” said Buzby, who speaks for experience as she finds herself in the role of a service spouse once again after her husband became Maritime Administrator last year. “You can never be too prepared.”
Following the discussion, the panelists were presented with tokens of appreciation by Sheila M. McNeill, the first and still only woman national president of the Navy League.