By Capt. Troy Peterson, U.S. Army
Best Defense guest husband
I'm at my 5-year point (initial commissioning obligation complete) and although I've signed up for ~3 more years, my desire for an Army career is being seriously challenged by the Army's career progression model and the inherent difficulty in supporting my wife's career. The lack of self-determination needed to coordinate our careers is a major problem for us, and this concern seems to be growing in the younger generation in the Army.
Like the Marine's wife in your most recent post on this topic, my wife is a true professional and a career woman. She's worked on Capitol Hill, worked abroad for the U.S. government, and now she's getting her master's degree from an Ivy League school (while we live apart for a couple years) -- all so she can continue to work in the public sector and we can both stay true to the ideals that mean so much to us.
Many of my peers face this situation; married to an educated, professional spouse who can't just pick up every 2 or 3 years to relocate to wherever the Army decides we should be, and continue their own meaningful professional career. It's a fact of life that opportunities vary with location -- Fayetteville, NC, and Columbus, GA, don't have the same job prospects as DC or New York. We don't expect the Army or anyone else to change that. I want nothing more than to continue my Army career, but if I have to, I'll find another way to continue serving my country and my ideals while allowing my wife to do something she finds professionally significant.
From the Army's perspective, this issue is a major part of the larger concerns about career satisfaction, retaining talented and strong performers, and competing with other professions for talent. My question is this: If the Army can have a great program for dual-Army career couples, why can't we also be more accommodating of dual-career couples who happen not to both wear ACUs?
My wife's "civilian" status doesn't mean her desire for a career of service is any less valid. Instead, the rigid career progression and lack of self-determination are forcing me to consider leaving the military entirely in order to preserve my marriage. However, the Army can adjust to prevent this stark decision from being a reality for many families. I've seen many couples get good results from the Married Army Couples Program. The answer for the rest of us isn't another, bigger Army program, but instead to reform the rigid career tracks and allow greater personal autonomy in job selection and relocation. Enabling individual initiative and greater personal control would facilitate dual-career couples achieving greater satisfaction, prevent us from facing a decision to leave the force just to preserve our families, and allow the Army to better retain what we so often say is our most precious resource -- our people.
CPT Troy Peterson is an infantry officer stationed at Ft. Benning. He served previously in the Second Cavalry Regiment in Vilseck, Germany and Zabul Province, Afghanistan. This article represents his own personal views and not those of Infantry Branch, the U.S. Army, the Department of Defense, the U.S. government, nor even the pitching staff of the Florida Marlins.
Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.