Here’s how the federal hiring freeze has hit an overseas milspouse
(Photo: DVIDS)

By Courtney Woodruff

My stomach turned over as I opened the urgent email from Kaiserslautern Child and Youth Services (CYS) regarding our son’s child development center. Before I’d even read the opening paragraph, I knew what it was going to say; it was the same memo our sister communities of Wiesbaden, Germany and Fort Knox, Kentucky had received a short time before. The federal hiring freeze is forcing CYS to reduce its program offerings to military families.

Since my husband and I are considered a dual-working couple, we learned we would not be affected by the initial cutbacks but plenty of our friends would be. My heart hurt for each and every one of them because I knew how much these programs mean to families.

The federal hiring freeze sends a mixed message to military families.

The official order signed into action on January 22 states it “does not include or apply to military personnel.”While that may be true, more than one-third of the federal workforce is made up of Defense Department civilian personnel  who provide support to service members, veterans, and their families. It’s simply impossible to have an across-the-board federal hiring freeze without it–directly or indirectly–impacting our nation’s service members.

And then there’s this: In the midst of the hiring freeze, the Commander-in-Chief is now pledging to expand our military with a $54 billion increase in government spending for the sake of national security. The financial backing for this plan is said to be covered by the defunding of other unnamed organizations.

As a result, our new president’s first hundred days in office have left many military families questioning. . .

Will our military be able to sustain more troops with less support? Where do we fit into the Commander-in-Chief’s plans and priorities?

Some speculate the move is a symbolic show of power, but many military families have already begun to feel aftershocks in the form of CYS program reductions and projected Army and Air Force Exchange (AAFES) and Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR) cutbacks.

What about the exemptions?

Yes, a certain number of exemptions for mission essential employees, including installation childcare workers, have been granted in recent weeks, but that is only a small part of the overall hiring process. During the freeze, requests to fill open positions must go through an approval process before human resources can move forward. Once an exemption is approved, it takes between 80 and 120 days to complete the normal hiring process due to the extensive background checks that are required.

But what does “mission essential” really mean? The morale and welfare of military families is considered to be an integral part of maintaining overall mission readiness. Service members and their families–especially those stationed overseas–rely heavily on support organizations like CYS, AAFES and MWR to overcome the challenges of military life.

As a new military spouse, hourly care providers were a lifeline to me. My husband shipped out for a 12-month deployment three months after we arrived at our first duty station. Alone in an unfamiliar area with an infant, it was a relief to know I could leave my child with a high-quality caregiver for a short amount of time so I could attend doctor’s appointments, exercise, and maintain my mental and emotional wellness. AAFES’ commissaries and Exchange services have helped us feel connected to home when we feel out of sorts at our overseas duty station, and MWR programs have helped keep us strong, focused, and encouraged in the midst of difficult separations and transitions.

Soon, the PCS season will be in full-swing and waves of families will be moving in and out of military communities around the world in a handful of months. If the federal hiring freeze does not end after 90 days, qualified military spouses leaving jobs behind will be unable to fill vacant support program positions at new installations. In turn, both the military family and organization will suffer and a double-blow will be dealt to service members in need.

What can we do?

In these days of uncertainty, there are a few things we can do take an active part in the changes going on our military communities.

We can prepare ourselves for the possibility of having fewer support organizations to rely on. Know your family’s needs and create a back-up plan for filling them in the event certain programs are no longer available. For example, where would you find childcare if CYS cut a service you were counting on? How would it affect your budget if the commissaries in your community closed?

We can stand up for what we believe in by making our voices heard on appropriate platforms.

We can make it a priority to remain aware of current events and check the facts to make sure the information we have been given is accurate before sharing it with others.

We can look to the example military families of generations past have set for us, and support one another–our service members, our neighbors and our communities–no matter what.