Duty Station: Fort-Belvoir
Number of Deployments: 2
Number of PCS's: 5
About the nominee: I can easily tell you I love God, my family, and friends, a long sweaty run, taking my time and laughing until no sound comes out. Before I became a military spouse, I served 5 years active duty in the Army. I joined on very short notice, about two weeks after talking to my first recruiter! I knew immediately upon hearing the opportunity, this is what I wanted to do - be a part of something bigger than myself. After year-long training, our battalion ramped up for deployment to Iraq. We were sent for a 15-month tour just outside of Baghdad. I truly believe that experience would have been a lot different had I not met my greatest battle buddy. It was about six months after our deployment that he proposed while skydiving in Las Vegas. We said "I do" with all of our family surrounding us on a breezy day on Monastery Beach, California. From there we packed up and moved to our first duty station together, Fort Meade. It was there that I first discovered the difficulty of transitioning from the military structure to the civilian workspace. It wasn't easy and most days uncomfortable. But as I immersed myself in learning how to translate my experiences, military education, and training, it became easier. After contracting for the Department of Defense for a few years, I decided to go back to school to get my Masters. In the beginning of the program, I was working full-time, going to school three nights a week while my husband was deployed. And oh by the way, I had newborn twins and our 19-month old daughter was not slowing down! It was a crazy time, but with the support of our families and a whole lot of determination, I graduated with honors in 18 short months. Immediately, I was able to land a great position at a nonprofit. I was in the middle of the growth of my career when we received orders to PCS. I wasn't worried - I had a few degrees, experience, and veterans preference. I should be able to get a job easily, if I applied my efforts, right? Wrong. I was unemployed for thirteen long months and felt the sting of rejection at every "no." That season of my life became a turning point. Through some serious networking, I came upon a fellowship program through Dog Tag Bakery and Georgetown University. I applied and started the program about four months later. It was during those four months in transition that I realized I didn't want other military spouses to feel the same way - lost. My hope was to connect them with the resources available and create a space where we could network and encourage one another. So I did the first thing I could do. I started a base-wide "Girls Night Out" group that is now nearly 500 women strong. The group is filled with a mix of military spouses, professionals, and "mompreneurs." My goal in starting this group was very simple - network with women, connect with small businesses and hold events within the community. I enjoy seeing lives and businesses positively impacted by the group. One of my goals while at Dog Tag is to figure out how to make this type of group into a larger, more networked, and better-connected group to enable even greater outcomes for military spouses. I started it here, at Ft. Belvoir, and this could be something to positively support military spouses everywhere as they move from one duty station to the next. I am developing this idea while at Dog Tag and I can't wait to see where I am with this plan at the end of the fellowship program.
Hobbies: Does drinking coffee count? ...Laugh, but it's a serious hobby when you have a family of eight (5 girls and one boy)! There's never a dull moment! I love spending time together, watching the newest movie, hiking at the local state parks, or watching them fish (I can't handle baiting the hook, yuck). In my spare time, I enjoy serving as the Fort Belvoir Service Unit Welcome Specialist and leading a Girl Scout Troop. I really like pouring a foundation of core skills into new leaders and being the bridge between military leaders and the greater community. For me, it’s just as important to connect our military children with their local community no matter where they live and likewise, with other children who can relate to their experiences. Girl Scouts allows me to do this as a leader and teach our young girls to be confident, have courage, and give back to their community. They are our future leaders.
Interesting Facts: My first job was at age 13 as a caregiver for an elderly woman.
What is something you’ve learned from being a military spouse? The struggle is part of our story. Sacrificing for our spouses is a daily activity. It's not easy to have a relationship long distance. It's not easy to selflessly set aside some of our dreams so we can support our spouse. It's not easy to move, again and again (especially with children). It's not easy to make new friends or even feel like we want to when we know we'll be leaving again. But you can get through it - and we do! I’ve learned to push past the exhaustion and overwhelming emotions because success is sweaty. And it’s important for us all to remember that the moment he (or she) scoops you up, after a long TDY or deployment, it's all worth it. Because you're a team. Because you're a family. Because we never lose hope.
In your opinion, what is one of the most important issues facing military families? Spouse unemployment is one of the top stressors on military families. Over half of active duty military spouses are unemployed - more than half of them want to be employed. There is this widespread uncertainty about job security and employment opportunities for military spouses. I've experienced it and I personally know others who share the same concern. We face multiple costly moves during the tenure of our spouse's service, making it difficult to work for civilian companies. When spouses are employed they are likely to have greater financial security, better mental health and higher satisfaction with the military lifestyle. Furthermore, it makes it even more difficult for active duty military to transition out of the military with an unemployed spouse. We need better opportunities to address the unemployment of military spouses. In my experience, this a complicated problem with a complex solution.
What is one of the best aspects of being in a military family? Military friendships are incredible! Once we're able to get out and make the time to build them - there is a shared experience that bonds us together. In the military community, friends are often synonymous with family.
What is one thing you want to accomplish with the Military Spouse of the Year title? One of my heart-strings belongs to military spouses and the associated unemployment rate. I have felt deeply impacted by the employment challenges imposed by the military lifestyle and when I discovered the outrageous percentage of unemployed and underemployed military spouses, I formed a local women's networking group that holds monthly meetings. But that's just the beginning of my vision. With the title of Military Spouse of the Year, I would like to address the issue of spouse unemployment and underemployment. There needs to be a mechanism in place that prepares the military spouse's career, especially for multiple moves. My goal this year is to offer a solution to that problem.
Reasons for nominating:
Cassaundra is a beautiful person inside and out. Along with being an Army spouse, She is a mom 6 children! I met Cassaundra through my daughters Girl Scout troop. She is a Girl Scout troop leader. She is also an active member of her church and she recently started a networking group for women in the local area. She is very involved in the community and finds joy in empowering and uplifting others. -- Lacey Johnson , Colleague