In celebration of National Military Spouse Appreciation Month, this story is brought to you by Defense Credit Union Council
Most military spouses embark on their journeys with their own, personal ideas of what a life dedicated in service to their country will look like. Few of these men and women are mentored in advance, and even fewer have a true understanding of the fascinating, challenging, and chaotic world they are about to enter. Most will find themselves quickly wishing that military life had come with a handbook; advice and guidance on how to overcome the various struggles they could have never anticipated. But like all circumstances, each is unique. From deployments and ‘motherhood on the move’ to employment seeking and loss, there is one thing that all military spouses eventually come to realize - They are not alone.
Champions for military spouses, like Suzie Schwartz, have worked diligently to ensure that military spouses are able to come to this self-realization sooner rather than later. You are not alone. It doesn’t sound too complicated, does it? You would be surprised. Imagine leaving the only home you’ve ever known, saying goodbye to your family, your friends, a job that you love. You pack everything that defines your life into boxes and move across the country or across the world, to be with the person you love. Eventually, that person is forced to kiss you goodbye and board a plane for a distant land. It could be weeks or months before they return. In that moment, how does a military spouse know that she/he is not alone?
Many military spouses believe Suzie to be a pioneer. For more than four decades, Suzie has been building a community for military spouses by providing a safe space for them to seek out support, direction, mentorship and friendship. For someone far away from family and embracing independence for the first time, this support can often mean the difference between living life to the fullest or succumbing to situational depression.
Raised as a child in the military, Suzie always believed that she understood what becoming a military spouse would entail. And though her husband, a dedicated service member, proved to be the perfect man for her, she found the beginnings of her life as a military spouse to be very lonely. “I had left my home and teaching job to relocate with my husband to another state. I knew no one. He went to work at 5:00am each day and I was home alone.” Suzie was not interested in joining any clubs. She had always viewed the Officer’s Wives Club (OWC) as more for her mother’s generation. However, once she was able to look beyond her preconceived notions and visited one of the OWC events, she met Honey Jennings who remains a dear friend to this day. “If I could offer all military spouses one piece of advice, it would be to never rule out any opportunities to make connections.” It is that message that has made Suzie one of the most respected members of the military spouse community.
Armed with determination and an influential platform, the possibilities to support the military spouse community seemed endless. But it was Suzie’s love of building meaningful relationships and encouraging others to do the same that led her to discovering her true mission: providing military spouses with opportunities to gather, tell stories, support one another, network and, of course, make connections. Through her own experiences and the stories of others, Suzie developed an understanding of the needs of military spouses that led her to host her very first event. What should have been a simple lunch sparked a tradition that would go on to become one of the most coveted events of each season.
“I started my lunches when my husband was a three-star General. He was often too busy to host dinners, so I decided I still loved to entertain and bring spouses together. I started planning a lunch for each holiday; Valentine’s Day, Easter, Independence Day, Halloween. I also host a Christmas Candy Cane Tea Party for about fifty people.” -Suzie Schwartz
Over the years, Suzie has not only embraced her life as a military spouse by traveling the world and meeting new people, but also made it a point to spend as much time and energy as possible in supporting military spouses who have joined the ranks behind her.
Suzie was proud to dedicate her life to military spouses, and not only through her lunches. In 31 years, with fifteen moves under their belts, Suzie and her husband were offered the opportunity of a lifetime. General Norton Schwartz would become the next Air Force Chief of Staff. “It was an honor and it was honestly the best experience of my husband’s many years of service.” Suzie would now have the connections and ability to reach more military spouses with her message and to make real changes that would help their families. “We never dreamt he would be selected for the position, but we came in and did our very best for four years. As a Service Chief spouse, you truly have the connections and ability to affect change… if you choose that role. I believed it was an obligation to help families and be their advocate.”
One of the causes that Suzie has given voice to over the years is military spouse employment. “Employment remains a huge issue for military spouses. It is not that they cannot find a job, but it is difficult to maintain a real career with upward mobility and real leadership opportunities,” she explains. A recent Department of Defense survey (released prior to the COVID-19 pandemic) found that a quarter of military spouses were unemployed. It’s a statistic that has fluctuated over the years, but the simple fact remains that military spouses are in need of more support, opportunities and understanding from potential employers. Suzie points out that “in today’s highly mobile society, it is ridiculous to use moving as an excuse to not offer a military spouse a job. Everyone is mobile these days, whether they move from the area or just move to a different job.” She believes that members of the local community can help alleviate some of these employment struggles by simply reaching out to connect with the military spouse community. Suzie also urges companies that are hiring to look into the Department of Defense’s Military Spouse Employment Partnership Program (MSEP), which allows them to commit to hiring military spouses. Hiring our Heroes (HOH) is another great option.
After a distinguished and successful career, General Schwartz retired from the military in 2012 but Suzie continued to advocate for military spouses and their families. She became a passionate supporter of the Military Child Education Coalition. She sits on the boards of the Fisher House Foundation and the Air Force Enlisted Village Board of Directors. She has performed key roles on the Air Force Charity Ball Committee, actively participated in the White House Joining Forces Initiative and continues to support Sesame Workshop for military families, Operation Homefront, the Armed Services YMCA and the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors.
With so many new connections of her own, Suzie would continue to host her famous lunches in an effort to bring more military spouses together with the people who could help them most. “After my husband retired, I did think long and hard about what I wanted to do with my new life. What could I do that would not take away from the new Chief of Staff and his spouse. I love to entertain and I thought I could continue with my lunches!”
In 2013, shortly after settling into her new home and hosting her first Halloween-themed lunch, Suzie was contacted by Military Spouse Magazine. They invited Suzie to write a monthly column and become a representative for their publication and the Military Spouse of the Year program in the DC area.
Now Armed Forces Insurance manages the Military Spouse of the Year (MSOY) Awards program, which honors military spouses from each service branch, and Suzie is still a representative and out there facilitating new connections between military spouses.
“I am honored to be a mentor to this great spouse community. MSOY gives military spouses a platform to let their passions shine and to meet others who are also engaged and working to make life better for the military community. It has been fun and amazing to watch them shine and to grow and blossom.” Suzie professes that these individuals make her proud every single day.
"Suzie is a kind soul who saw the potential in me and provided me with an opportunity to learn from her. She shared her life experiences as a military spouse with me and inspired me to pursue goals that I never thought were possible to achieve. I will forever be grateful for her guidance and kindness and I'm forever grateful for her mentorship." - Brittany Boocher, Military Spouse
Suzie’s work with Military Spouse Magazine and the Armed Forces Insurance Military Spouse of the Year program has allowed her to use her dining room table to provide networking and social opportunities for the spouses affiliated with them. “I enjoy bringing these young spouses together with representatives of the national military and veteran service organizations I have met along my way. We send out invites and usually host ten people. Sometimes the spouses all know each other, while other times no one knows anyone else. I always tell them that this is a ‘working lunch,’ so be ready to tell your story.” In addition to the connections that have been made in her home, Suzie’s events also provide opportunities for military spouse entrepreneurs. “The lunch itself is always catered by a military spouse. The e-vites are designed and sent by a military spouse. A military spouse facilitates the lunch on the day of the event. Favors are made by a military spouse.” Through her many activities in support of military spouses, Suzie epitomizes the leadership adage, ‘practice what you preach’.
When asked if she could have a re-do, Suzie does not hesitate to tell anyone and everyone who will listen that she would live this life all over again in a heartbeat.
“I am amazed at how lucky I have been to have traveled the world and made friends around the globe. My life has been exciting and while it has been nothing like I had ever imagined, it has been and continues to be an exhilarating journey. I feel like I have made a difference in this world. What more can a person ask for?” -Suzie Schwartz
Suzie currently serves as the Military Spouse of the Year Consultant for Armed Forces Insurance. To read more from Suzie in Military Spouse Magazine, visit www.militaryspouse.com/author/suzieschwartz/
"Employment remains a huge issue for military spouses." -Suzie Schwartz
HIRE MILITARY SPOUSES AT
A NOTE FROM TONY HERNANDEZ, CEO, DEFENSE CREDIT UNION COUNCIL
When I think about Military Spouse Appreciation, there is no one who deserves more appreciation than our own individual spouses. I am very thankful for my wife, Jennifer, and all she has done (and continues to do) to make our family succeed over my 25-year Air Force career and in my current CEO role!
Throughout our 14 moves, 3 command assignments, and various MAJCOM roles, Jennifer is the hero in my book! Plus, I am even more proud of the fact that even today, Jennifer continues to mentor and lead many spouses through difficult transitions; finding them an affordable home, getting them financial advice, and making a number of essential job connections to help their families succeed.