Logo featuring from left to right: Left center is a  military family, upper left “We asked, you answered, Spouses Speak”, bottom left, Stars and Stripes logo. Upper right, german shepherd, below german shepherd, airplane, below airplane is people working around a table and bottom right corner is kids in a classroom

Spouses Speak logo (Tamala Malerk)

No matter how long you have been in, the military lifestyle can be fun, exciting and adventurous, as well as difficult, challenging and even scary at times. Some things get easier over time, and some things are always tough; deployments are never on the top of anyone’s “must experience” list.

Stars and Stripes Europe reached out to military spouses to get their thoughts about several topics impacting military life. We received 100 responses from the spouses of six military branches, active duty and reserve, who have been dependents from just a few months to more than 20 years.

These spouses are currently stationed at locations all over the world, with 40 percent being OCONUS (outside the continental U.S.). Over the next eight months, we will share with you the results of this survey. This month we are talking about volunteering and going to school. Many spouses find themselves unable to find or commit to a job because of their location or personal responsibilities, and many find school or volunteering becomes a good alternative.


61 percent of spouses surveyed volunteer. Whether it is tradition, connection to a new community, developing and maintaining skills and/or networking, there are a multitude of reasons for people to volunteer. Volunteers had both positive and negative things to say about their experiences.

Some spouses love the networking and community-forming opportunities associated with volunteering. Space Force Spouse, Lorraine M. stated, “Because we move all the time, volunteering has been a huge way to network and get social time when I cannot find it otherwise.” Other spouses appreciated the flexibility that volunteering offers. Volunteering allows you to learn and hone skills on your schedule. Army Spouse Sarah G. elaborated, “It’s nice to have the flexibility to dip into things and help while also being able to choose when and where.”

Some spouses, while enjoying volunteering, had some less-than-positive experiences. Space Force Spouse Sheila R. shared that “while I enjoy volunteering, I’m also disappointed that often I’m treated like [it’s] my job, with little respect for my own time or work.” Marine spouse, Meg. F brought up the argument that the military community is too reliant on spouse labor: “The military relies on unpaid spouse labor to operate vital programs and services. These [positions] should be paid.”

Many spouses have also served in the military as well and treat volunteering as their way to continue to give back to their community. Navy Spouse, Tom H. described his volunteer service beautifully: “I volunteer personally as a way to continue my service as a veteran. Many get lost in the idea that the only form of service to your country is through the military, but volunteering with any nonprofit is also a form of service that can have an impact nationally and more importantly at the local community level. Volunteering provides a great sense of purpose and can help expand your skillset by allowing you to do things you may not have normally done. When you find an organization that also aligns with your passions that sense of purpose is heightened even further and has been great for my mental health as well.”


Roughly 1 in 4 spouses surveyed are currently in school. There are many resources and opportunities for military spouses to pursue secondary and post-secondary education: G.I. Bill transfers, scholarships, grants, tuition reimbursement and more.

Army Reserves Spouse, Julie E. had a positive experience using her spouse’s G.I. Bill: “….Using my husband’s GI benefits not only made finishing my degree possible it also made it affordable and accessible to me. Without those benefits, I wouldn’t have been able to afford to finish my degree for another 10 years.”

Air Force Spouse, J.A. cannot currently start a career, so they are focusing on their education instead: “I can’t establish a career while moving so frequently. Using the remainder of my partner’s time in the military, I’m racking up as many advanced degrees [as] I can. When I finally start my career, I can provide for us financially and my advanced degrees will help with seeking dual citizenship to a country in the EU with social safety nets, universal healthcare and worker rights.”

However, sometimes military life gets in the way of schooling. According to Army spouse, Michelle G., “I have not continued my education to get my master’s or Ph.D. because we wouldn’t be in a place long enough to complete it. Also, I have to be the parent that is solely responsible for the kids. Finding time to study amongst all the school programs, doctor visits, sick kids and sports is pretty much impossible.” Many times, spouses are left handling the finer details of a PCS move or deployment while their jobs and schooling take a back seat. Navy spouse, Tiffany H. “paused school this semester to be able to organize our HHG (household goods)!”

Education Resources for Military Spouses

28 percent of spouses surveyed were not aware, or only “sort-of” aware, of educational resources available to them. While there are plenty out there, we wanted to highlight a few for you.

We have compiled 12 scholarships available for military families. This list includes information for spouses, children, transitioning soldiers/veterans and military families as a whole.

 My Career Advancement Account (MyCAA): Open to spouses of active-duty service members between the ranks of E-1 to E-6, W-1 to W-2 and O-1 to O-3 pursuing or maintaining a license, certification or an associate degree. In March 2023, E-6 and O-3 spouses were added to the list of qualified spouses, so if you did not qualify before, you may now. The scholarship is worth up to $4,000 with a cap of $2,000 per fiscal year.

If the service member has had all the schooling that they want, there are ways for them to transfer their G.I. Bill benefits to a dependent. Learn more about this option here.

This month we talked about volunteering and schooling, two things that many spouses do in lieu of full-time work for a myriad of reasons. Come back next month as the spouses talk about one of the hottest topics in the military community: military spouse employment.

The opinions and views expressed in the above article are not necessarily the views of Stars and Stripes and its employees.

author picture
Tamala Malerk is a writer and editor with Stars and Stripes Europe. She has been with SSE since April 2022 writing articles all about travel, lifestyle, community news, military life and more. In May 2022, she earned her Ph.D. in History and promises it is much more relevant to this job than one might think.

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