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Annual Conference Tackles Issues Plaguing Today’s Military Community

bianca-strzalkowskiAt the 2013 Association of the United States Army (AUSA) Annual Meeting and Exposition, Retired Army Colonel David Sutherland told an audience of military families: “The American people know what we are, but they don’t know us.”

Col. Sutherland stressed to the AUSA attendees that our nation’s military and nonmilitary communities need to unite in support of veterans and their families transitioning from military to civilian life. Throughout the conference, military leaders, military family members, and representatives from military- and veteran-friendly organizations presented on topics including force reduction, budget cuts, and increased mental health challenges.

A Year of Firsts

2013’s symposium addressed themes that have dominated recent military discussion, from the changing roles of military spouses to same-sex military families receiving equal benefits. A new initiative unveiled at the gathering, the Military Spouse CEO Experience, which invited 13 military spouse entrepreneurs to help grow their nonprofits, marketing firms, and merchandising companies. These elite executives demonstrate how the role and perception of military spouses has evolved.

Lori Volkman, Communications Director of the Military Spouse JD Network and co-founder of the Military Spouse CEO Experience program, said she believes there are two factors driving entrepreneurship among females. First, the number of women-owned businesses has increased exponentially in the U.S. and abroad. According to a report by the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, more than 126 million women led or launched new businesses across 67 world economies in 2012, and those numbers are projected to be even higher in the 2013 report. Second, in 2012 media attention on women’s entrepreneurship increased. According to Harvard Business Review, this media popularity has reached a “tipping point.” When women see their peers succeeding, it motivates them to pursue careers in arenas traditionally dominated by men. This rise in female entrepreneurship is reflected in the female-dominated military spouse community.

Stephanie Brown, CEO and founder of The Rosie Network, said there is no better portable career for military life than entrepreneurship. Currently, there are more than 50,000 military spouse-owned businesses. The Rosie Network, a nonprofit that manages an online directory similar to Craigslist, aggregates a list of businesses owned by veterans and spouses.

Representatives from the American Military Partner Association joined the conference for the first time, representing the same-sex military family communities around the globe who may have received DoD-sponsored benefits yet still face inequality in many states. The organization, founded by Marine veteran Stephen Peters, has been a driving force in the fight to recognize all military families equally for their vital contribution to the readiness of our force.

Uncertain Times

The pressing topic on everyone’s minds during AUSA was the government shutdown, which had major implications for veterans and military families. Panelists spoke about the array of private sector resources for military families. For example, nonprofit Operation Homefront has helped more than 700,000 military families since 2002 with emergency assistance, housing, holiday toys, and school supplies.

The dominant message at AUSA’s conference was that, despite the unpredictable political environment, military families are stronger than ever because we are committed to those who sacrifice. We understand exactly how much our service members and their families have given after years of multiple combat deployments. While others may fail in doing their jobs, we will stand together to ensure that those warriors who have answered the call to serve our country feel supported.

During Col. Sutherland’s closing remarks, he emphasized his pride in nearly three decades of military service, and the need for all Americans to support the military community. His closing words were delivered to a standing ovation: “I am an American soldier. I have fought for you. I have fought with you. And I would die for you.”

For a complete listing of the military spouse CEOs, go to: http://militaryspouseceo.com/

For information on AUSA, along with updates on its upcoming events, go to: http://ausameetings.org/

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