In a world where dual-income households are the norm, leaving a civilian career behind every few years thanks to a military PCS move creates a host of challenges. Even if you can easily find a role in your profession, how are you supposed to grow a career when you keep hopping jobs?
A series of programs offered by the Defense Department seeks to help with that problem. In this episode of “PCS with Military.com,” director Eddy Mentzer walks us through what those programs are, where to find them and how to get the most out of the assistance available. Listen now.
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The following is an edited transcript of this episode of PCS with Military.com
Amy Bushatz: Welcome to PCS With Military.com. I'm your host, Amy Bushatz, Military.com's executive editor. On this podcast, we talk about everything you need to know to make this military move season your best yet. PCS With Military.com is brought to you by Navy Federal Credit Union. Proudly serving all branches of the armed forces, veterans and their families. No matter where you are in your military career, Navy Federal Credit Union has the products and resources to help you navigate your finances. Learn more at NavyFederal.org. Our members are the mission.
Now, let's get this PCS started.
It's one of the biggest challenges of military life for spouses: pursuing a civilian career while holding down the home front through the uncertainty of deployments, training, and other stressors. Doing so with a family makes it even more complicated. Throw frequent military moves in the mix and things can get extremely difficult.
If remote work isn't an option, how do you find a career path with roles available anywhere you might end up? And what happens if you enter this life with many degrees and plenty of accolades and the college debt to match it, only to realize that your profession isn't exactly hiring at your new duty station in the middle of nowhere?
These are challenges military spouses know well, and that includes today's guest, Eddy Mentzer. Eddy has been a military family member his entire life. Born into a military family, married to an airman and father to a military kid. And it's that expertise and empathy he brings to his role at the Defense Department where he is in charge of an array of programs aimed at helping his fellow military spouses build and keep civilian careers. That is no small task.
But what are these programs and how do you use them? Today, Eddy is gonna give us an overview of what's out there, share some important program updates you should know about, and give us some tips for getting the most out of what's offered. Eddy, welcome to PCS With Military.com.
Eddy Mentzer: Amy, thanks so much. I'm really excited to be here.
Amy Bushatz: Well, I am so excited to have you, and I know you have been, you've been through some military moves, so why don't you tell us how many times you have moved with, or even without the military.
Eddy Mentzer: Oh my gosh. You mentioned it since I was, I was born into the military. I was born, my dad was in Vietnam. And uh, so over my life I think I made about 24 moves, give or take. Um, Some of 'em I probably don't remember, but I've moved quite often. And those have been OCONUS, those have been uh, while I was a civilian before I met my wife. And then of course as I became a military spouse.
Amy Bushatz: Yeah. So you have seen this movie, you know how it goes.
Eddy Mentzer: Absolutely. And, every aspect of military life, no matter where we find ourselves there's challenges. Many of those same challenges are faced by our civilian counterparts, but the military just makes them all that much more challenging.
Amy Bushatz: Yeah, really it really amps it up cuz you're dealing with so many different stresses at the same time. At least that's kind of what I find, that it's like I can handle one thing at a time, but it's when you have deployment, meets PCS, meets this, meets that meets the other thing that stuff really gets real in the stress department.
Eddy Mentzer: Yeah, meets job, meets kids, meets pets, meets household goods. I'll tell you, we just PCS about six months ago, and of all the moves that I've had, this was the shortest, it was about two and a half hours. And when it just came to household goods, it was the most challenging that we've experienced in our career. So, you know, no matter how often you do it, you're always gonna find new challenges when you PCS.
Amy Bushatz: So in addition to being the head of DODs spouse employment programs right now, and a military spouse yourself, as we mentioned, you have even taken your own role remote as part of a PCS. What was that like? What did that show you?
Eddy Mentzer: You know, It's a great example of what can be done being in a senior role within the department. Pretty much now it's working on three years that I've been fully remote. And what it has done is it's proven that even in the federal service remote can work. It's got its challenges, there's no doubt whatsoever. But uh, you know, I feel very lucky to be able not only to promote remote opportunities, but to demonstrate remote opportunities. And I hope that doesn't just rub off on our civilian employers, but that our DoD, our federal government employers, are looking at these opportunities as well. Because we know a job is one thing, a career is something completely different. And being able to maintain a career over time is what our military spouse community wants.
Amy Bushatz: Absolutely. That is, that's such an important thing, I think to note and to say, because it's easier to find a job. You could have a bunch of jobs and they could have nothing to do with each other. It's hard to build those jobs into a career trajectory or even better stay somewhere over time.
Eddy Mentzer: Absolutely. You know, we, We learned so much from what others are doing and you know, remote work is not new. People have been working remotely for a long time and we've all said, one of the silver linings of the pandemic for military spouses, was that more people were working from home and were able to demonstrate that.
I think we always have to remember that not all jobs are conducive to working remote. Not all career trajectories are conducive to working remotely, and frankly, not all people are conducive to working remotely. We've all seen that challenge, so we have to recognize that and look for opportunities.
Amy Bushatz: Okay, so I wanna talk about the DODs Military Spouse Employment Assistance Program it's known as MySECO and it's constantly growing and changing. So maybe you can just sort of give us like a big picture if you will.
Eddy Mentzer: So I think one of the most important aspects of the SECO program, and it really is an umbrella of a whole bunch of different initiatives- spouse employment support starts at the installation with the military services in the employment readiness offices. The SECO program is designed to augment those employment readiness offices. And we do that through what is pretty much a 99.9% virtual program. And kind of got five tent poles that we look at when it comes to the initiatives. There's a lot going. We've got those five big initiatives.
The first off is the spouse career center. So this is a, call center where military spouses are able to access career coaches. Many of those career coaches are military spouses themselves. All of them possess a master's degree and our certified career counselors, and this is a DoD program. And I think that's really important because, it's a service that the department is providing to military spouses.
And what I encourage any military spouse to do is to call in and engage with a career coach and experiment a little bit to learn what they can do. I could go on for hours about what our career coaches do, but you're gonna really find the best product when you're talking with a career coach and saying, my name's Eddy Mentzer and I'm getting ready to relocate to this new location, or I'm looking for an opportunity in this field. Then the coach is gonna be able to personalize everything to you.
And those coaches are your coaches. You're gonna interact with them over time. And it's always the same coach you're assigned to that coach. They're amazing. And I tell you, I don't get excited when I have to call a call center. It's not the high point of my day. Last year, fiscal year FY22, we conducted 150,000 career coaching sessions in the SECO Career center, and we have a 98% satisfaction rate.
In fact, for a Department of Defense federal program, the SECO Career Center last year was named the best mid-size call center by the International Customer Management Institute, which sets the standards for call center operations.
Amy Bushatz: Eddy, you know, I am nothing but a skeptic. Okay. Like you and I know this, we've worked together for a long time with with you at the DoD and me covering it as a reporter, so you can confirm I am a skeptic.
Eddy Mentzer: Yes you are.
Amy Bushatz: Yes, I am. Okay. But I wanna say for the record, I have heard nothing but great things about the career coaching program uh, a a source who I trust that she'll remain unnamed has used the coaching program is also a skeptic and just saying its praises. So what you're highlighting is something that. People should absolutely check out. I'm not gonna say I endorse it cuz I don't endorse anything, but I've heard great things about it and I have nothing skeptical to report at this time.
How do people find that?
Eddy Mentzer: It's awesome. It's awesome. Awesome. I love it. Here's the fun thing. So, as a federal employee, I'm never allowed to endorse anything, but I can endorse my own program, so I endorse it.
One, one thing I'll tell a spouse is you call in, first off you call into Military OneSource. That's where everything starts. When you call Military one Source, you're gonna start there and they're gonna transfer you over to the SECO program. There's gonna be times when you may not get the right coach. They're not right for you. They're, you know, personalities make a big difference in success. So if the coach isn't right, get another one.
Amy Bushatz: It's like finding a therapist. You aren't gonna find the right therapist necessarily the first time whether you're calling military one source or not like you're it, it may take a couple of tries.
Eddy Mentzer: Yes, so, so try another one. We've got lots of them and they are amazing. So the next tent pole, the second one is the MySECO website. This website has been around for about 10 years and we have made incremental changes over the last decade.
The SECO website has a lot of tools and resources for military spouses, but the key to utilizing and get the biggest bang for your buck outta that website is to create a profile. Much like LinkedIn, you create a profile that includes your background, your history, your education, your employment history, all of those things.
And what's really cool about that is once you create a profile, you're able to go in and search through employment opportunities from our military spouse, employment partnership partners. We'll talk about that one in a second, but here's what's really awesome. Our partners can search for you. And what that means is that if you have a fully built out profile that we have employers, recruiting staff, HR staff that are going through looking for military spouses, and we've literally seen where a spouse has gotten an employment offer for a job they didn't even know existed until the recruiter reached out to them. There's resume builders, there's all kinds of tools to research occupations, if you're just getting started in, you know, a field, or you're interested in a field, tons of resources.
Another key is taking advantage of it yourself, but working with your coach because our coaches are experts on all of those tools, so kind of they go hand in hand with each other.
So the MySECO website is an amazing resource for military spouses to be able to take advantage of.
The third one is uh, the Military Spouse Employment Partnership. And you know, I mentioned it a second ago, but this is 600- plus employer partners that represent large corporations, small businesses, federal agencies, and nonprofits. And they've all made a commitment to recruit and hire military spouses.
Now, that doesn't mean that they only hire military spouses exclusively. But they're looking for ways to support the military spouse community. They understand the challenges that military spouses go through. Many of those companies have put into place policies that are specifically designed to support military spouses, like leave policies around deployments or PCS. Relocation policies where if it's a larger entity, you're able to transfer your job from location to location.
Many of them offer are remote employment opportunities. And what's really great about it is there's entry level, first time in the workforce, opportunities through senior kind of C-suite opportunities. And I'll hear a lot from themselves. Well, it's only for young spouses. Not true. Uh, This morning I went in there and I looked for medical doctor positions that were advertised through the portal. And, we had more than 8,000 medical doctor positions. Yeah. So, it's amazing how much is there.
Amy Bushatz: Well, and I will say again, as skeptic that, and again, you can confirm I have been skeptical about this in the past but that it has gotten better over time.
Eddy Mentzer: Absolutely. And you know, when you think about an organization and doesn't matter what the organization, every organization is a pyramid. So when you have so many partners, there are going to be more entry level opportunities, but we can't count that out. Everything is included within these large employers, so we have to start thinking about 'em that way.
Amy Bushatz: Yeah. So what's your fourth tent pole?
Eddy Mentzer: So the fourth one is the My Career Advancement Account, and this is our $4,000 financial assistance scholarship for eligible military spouses. Eligibility has recently changed, which is really awesome. We did a expansion to include more military spouses, so the eligibility is that the service member has to be on active duty, and I will say this is the only program we have that is specific to the active duty population.
Everything else supports all of the five services- Army Air Force, Navy, Marines, and Space Force. In addition, Reserve, Guard and active component. So MyCAA $4,000 financial assistance scholarship. Eligibility active duty for spouses of service members that are in the pay grades of E-1 to E-6 recently expanding from E-5 to E-6. O-1 to O-3, with the O-3 population recently expanding from O-2 to O-3; and W-1s and W-2s.
You can utilize the MyCAA scholarship for the pursuit of licensure, certification, an associate degree. You can also utilize it for testing for college credit. And you can utilize it for continuing education units if you have that requirement. It's a one-time um, up to $4,000 benefit but you don't have to use it all at one time, so you know you have a three year period to be able to use that benefit.
The one thing I will tell military spouses is to please research the organization that you're considering going to school with. And the reason for that is that there are schools out there, there are training institutions out there that may not have the best outcomes that that they say they do. Now, we try to inform military spouses about the risks of different types of programs, but it really comes down to the military spouse making the best decision.
So use your Google -fu and go out there and say, is this school legit? And it's amazing, especially in the spouse community, how much you will find where it says, maybe that's not the best opportunity. And I'll give you an example. If maybe there's a school that has a program that costs exactly $4,000, that may be a little ironic that we offer $4,000 and their program costs $4,000.
So you want to look at, are there other schools and maybe that school is, is perfect and the program is awesome but are there other schools that may offer the same opportunity for $2,000? Because that means you've got $2,000 to utilize someplace else.
Amy Bushatz: Yeah. Yeah. Being aware of predatory programs is just part of using military benefits. And I think it's a good skill to develop early in your military journey to be wary of that, because I'll tell you what, it's not gonna be a skill you leave behind. Okay. Tent pole number five hit us.
Eddy Mentzer: Tent pole number five, and that's my step, or the Military Spouse Transition Program. So this is another initiative that is housed under the SECO umbrella and it's actually accessed to MySECO website. And what it is really is, you know, military spouses have the ability to attend all of the transition assistance programs with their service members. But service members will tell you that it's a lot of information. And for a military spouse, if you have kids, what do you do with the kids for a week? If you are working now, what do you do? And you know, an employer's not gonna say, oh sure, take a week off. So while we have a lot of military spouses that take advantage of it, we wanted to provide some resources for military spouses that are unable to.
And that's where MySTeP comes in. And it really is about steps. We've designed it around uh, three steps in a spouse's life. The first area is stepping in and that's for our new military spouses. The one known in military life is you will leave the military at some point. Everything else is kind of up in the air, but everybody leaves the military and just like with our new service members, we want spouses to start thinking about that, whether it happens in a year, four years, 34 years, whenever it happens, start early, you know, and start thinking about that. So that's stepping in.
Then we have stepping through. If stepping in is kind of planting the seeds, stepping through is taking action. You know, we talk about these different aspects and stepping in, now here are the resources to take advantage of, whether it's around building a network, finding education or employment, financial security, all those things you can start doing early. Here's the resources to do it.
And then we have stepping beyond. And stepping beyond is really about that spouse that's within a year of leaving the and that's where the joy is. So how is it built? Everything is micro-learning. No more than three and a half minute videos because we're busy and uh, we've now gotten more than a hundred videos that are in the my step enclave. But if I need a video on transitioning healthcare, or I need a resource. We've got a video for that, three minutes and 37 seconds long. It talks about what's the resource, why is it important to you as a spouse, and where do you go to find more information?
Cuz all the resources are out there, but being able to grab what you need when you need it, is the key to my step. And we've seen a great deal of success. The videos are engaging. They're a little different than typical what I will call talking head videos. So we're excited about where it is. The feedback we've gotten from spouses that are utilizing it, they absolutely love the content. It's easy to understand. The resources are easy to access, and that's the focus of MySTeP.
Amy Bushatz: Just a quick pit stop here to thank our sponsor. PCS With Military.com is brought to you by Navy Federal Credit Union.. They may be called Navy Federal, but they don't exclusively serve sailors. Serving all members of the armed forces, they have the products and resources to help you navigate your finances through every phase of life. So even if you can't tell port from starboard, Navy Federal Credit Union will help you earn and save with great rates and exclusive discounts. Learn more at NavyFederal.org. Navy Federal Credit Union, our members are the mission, an equal housing lender.
So the program set has really grown and changed over time, and we have talked about some of those changes already. What are some other recent updates that people should know about?
Eddy Mentzer: I'll tell you about one of the coolest things we're doing, and it's the Military Spouse Career Accelerator Pilot. Um, Over time we have had spouses that are are participating in different internships. But unlike the service member, we're not able to compensate a military spouse for time spent in programs. And the 2022 National Defense Authorization Act, Congress gave us the authority to compensate military spouses in fellowships.
So MSCAP we call it the Military Spouse Career Accelerator Pilot is a competitive program where career-ready spouses can be matched to employer hosts in a 12 week compensated opportunity. With the goal being at the end of those 12 weeks, there's been a great match there and the employer is able to offer that uh, military spouse employment.
So we moved from fellow to employed. We launched the program in late December of 22 last year. And uh, so we've only been going for about three and a half months. And let me tell you how some of the numbers on how exciting it's been .Uh, we've got more than uh, 2000 spouses that shown interest. More than 350 spouses that have completed the entire process. And remember, this is for career-ready spouses. This is not a career entry opportunity. So they've gone through the whole process. They've built a strong resume, they've been presented to potential employer hosts, and we've gotten more than 80 spouses that have been placed in these 12 week fellowships.
We've got four spouses that have moved from fellow to fully employed, and we've only started this in December. So it's an ongoing initiative. It's a three year pilot. Our goal, if you really see the results we think we're gonna see at the end of the three years, is to change that P at the end of MSCAP from pilot to program because we really think that this will continue to be a great opportunity for spouses.
Amy Bushatz: And I did a little bit of reporting on this as you know, but , I found the interest application to be very easy to use. You can dock your interested applicants down by one cuz I was just testing it but, but uh.
Eddy Mentzer: Me too. Yeah, me too.
Amy Bushatz: Okay, that's two, okay. So, but I was, you know, I was interested in seeing it. I thought the workflow was pretty, pretty straightforward. Honestly, the hardest part of the whole thing using the DS login, which is an entirely different problem. And it does, it solves this, one of these huge problems, which is that it's easy to say, well, you have an opportunity to try this thing, but you can't make any money while you do it. And I don't know about anyone else listening to this, but at the beginning of my career when I was young and so much more spry than I am today, I worked for free as an intern. And that's all I guess well and good when you're 19 years old and have no responsibilities other than to feed yourself. But that doesn't work if you're trying to feed your family and keep keep the show running at home a as a military spouse, it's just, it's not feasible for many or even most people. So it's wonderful to be able to have the opportunity to just make some money in the process.
Eddy Mentzer: Yeah we're really excited about the potential for this. We've got more than a hundred employers that have already signed on to be employer hosts. We continue to grow that uh, military spouses continue to show interest. I think the biggest challenge that we've heard so far is, again, this really is uh, for career-ready spouses and. When we started to look at this we really realized through a lot of feedback, through different active duty spouse surveys and others, that even a military spouse who has experience and may even have an advanced degree, they're still challenged in being able to find opportunities for careers. And that's why the, my Career Advancement account designed for that younger spouse to get started. This is something for that spouse that may still be experiencing challenges, even though they have the educational experience. And we'll continue to see it grow. We do have some uh, we're, we're collecting a lot of data. Um, you know, top areas of spouses are interested in things like uh, or being placed in. Human resources, information technology, business manage. Um, So, so these are real positions, real careers. We've got uh, employers from across the U.S., even a few remote opportunities. That's something we continue to grow. One of the things we're asking our employers, even if they're not remote when they start, is, think about 18 months down the road, two years down the road, when that spouse does PCS, are you able to transition from a brick and mortar opportunity to a remote opportunity?
Amy Bushatz: So we know that programs and assistance are only useful if you actually use them. And you know, you've laid out all the ways that we can find out about them. Even though that still, somehow finding out about them remains mysteriously difficult. Even though it can be, it's right there and it's like pushing rocks, a pill to get information out sometimes. So maybe you can offer three or four. To making the most of these spouse employment assistance programs. Just from, I mean, from your inside baseball, if you will, view of this. What are people need to do to make the most of it?
Eddy Mentzer: Yeah. I think, I think the first one is you gotta give it a try. And it's amazing how many spouses I get the opportunity to speak to, they say, yeah, I've heard about it. I just didn't think it would work. I didn't think it would work. Well, but you don't know. It won't work. So you gotta give it a try. So that's number one is, give it a try. And there is plenty of need. I want you to use the SECO program, but we've got amazing partners out there in the military serving organization and veterans serving organization world, the nonprofit world that have great programs. Give it a try because if you don't try it, you'll never know if you like it.
The second one I would say is call a career coach. They are experts and I see anecdotes and testimonials on a monthly basis coming from spouses, and it's amazing the results that we're seeing and how that relationship is built between that coach and that spouse. We've got spouses that have been working with their coaches for more than two years. Now the spouses have found employment. They're moving forward in the employment space, but they continue to work with their coach because they're looking for what is the next opportunity. So I think that's important.
Uh, The third one I would say is bring a friend. You know, we have an amazing community of military spouses. I often say my most trusted resource for information is another military spouse. So when you have an experience, when you see an opportunity, bring a friend because we know our biggest challenge is getting the word out that these programs exist and getting people to take advantage of it. There's a great deal of investment here on behalf of the Department of Defense. When you think about $4,000 scholarships, when you think about call centers. The DoD invests a great deal because this matters. You know, taking care of our families is critical and we've seen over the last six months, the Secretary of Defense releasing the taking care of people memos. Most of that is focused on our family members, and in turn, we're taking care of our family members, we're taking care of our service members. Um, And that's a critical, critical aspect of what we do.
Amy Bushatz: Eddy, thank you so much for offering us these tips, tricks, and inside view of the programs that you run. And thanks so much for joining us on PCS With Military.com. I sure appreciate your time and expertise.
Eddy Mentzer: Amy. Thank you. And you know, standing by, always happy to answer some questions and maybe I'll come back on again in the future.
Amy Bushatz: Thanks so much for listening to PCS With Military.com. Want more PCS advice? Check out the rest of PCS With Military.com wherever you get your podcasts. A special thanks to our sponsor, Navy Federal Credit Union, proudly serving all branches of the armed forces, veterans and their families. No matter where you are in your military career, Navy Federal Credit Union has the products and resources to help you navigate your finances. Learn more at NavyFederal.org. Our members are the mission.
And until next time, happy moving.