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03-25-08, 07:50 AM
REGIONAL: Military spouses offered career grants

By: GARY WARTH - Staff Writer

CAMP PENDLETON -- An age-old problem for military spouses who often have to leave jobs behind when their husbands or wives are transferred is being addressed in a new program that provides grants to learn in-demand careers.

Eligible spouses can receive $3,000 a year for up to two years to study health care, education, financial services, information technology or construction.

The U.S. Departments of Labor and Defense, which jointly funded the grants, have identified those industries as having high demand and portable jobs, meaning employees in those fields are likely to find work in many cities.

Linda Hoffman, an education specialist at Camp Pendleton who works in the Joint Education and Lifelong Learning Center, said portable jobs are valuable for workers with a military spouse who may be transferred at any time.

Learning a career as opposed to working in temporary jobs has been an appealing alternative for many spouses, said Hoffman, who estimated that about 100 people have applied for the grants since they were made available in January.

"This is the first program I've heard of that has made a concerted effort to teach the spouses," she said. "There are tons of scholarships and grants out there for family members, but none of them are run through the service."

The Military Spouse Career Advancement Account, set up by the two federal departments, funds the pilot program. The fund is offered in eight states during its first year, and in California the grants are available only to military personnel stationed at Camp Pendleton or Naval Base San Diego.

Grants are available for spouses of enlisted personnel in paygrades E-1 through E-5 and for spouses of officers in paygrades of O-1 through O-3.

In the Marines Corps, an E-5 is a sergeant and O-3 a captain. In the Navy, an E-5 is a second class petty officer and an O-3 is a lieutenant, but the pay designations cover many other ranks.

Applicants also must be married to a spouse with at least one year remaining on their assignment at Camp Pendleton or Naval Base San Diego.

Application forms are available at the Defense Activity for Nontraditional Education Support's Web site, www.dantes.doded.mil. Look for the red box that reads, "Military Spouse Career Advancement Account Information."

For Camp Pendleton spouses, completed forms should be taken to Building 13150, the Marine and Family Services Building, at 9 a.m. any Friday morning.

The grants can be used at any school offering certification programs, including Palomar College and Cal State San Marcos.

Wendy Evers, senior director of program development for the College of Extended Studies at San Diego State University, said about six people already have enrolled in certification classes through the grants.

"We received countless e-mails and phone calls," she said.

About 80 percent of the inquiries have been from Camp Pendleton spouses interested in taking the school's online courses, she said.

For more information on the program, call Sunita Alwerdt at (760) 725-6414.

-- Contact staff writer Gary Warth at (760) 740-5410 or gwarth@nctimes.com.


04-06-08, 06:37 AM
CAMP PENDLETON: Grant program gives military spouses road to new careers

By GARY WARTH - Staff Writer

CAMP PENDLETON ---- Patrice Clepper was thrilled with her new job, a promising position at a furniture store in Alabama where she planned to work her way up from the sales floor.

And then her husband, a Marine lance corporal, was ordered to Camp Pendleton. The couple and their 7-month-old son arrived in February and are living on base, and Clepper is still looking for work.

"It's definitely hard when you have to pick up and move," she said. "It was a very promising job. I thought I'd work there and eventually be a manager."

While there's little she can do about her husband's orders, a new federal job-training program may help Clepper and other military spouses land on their feet when they land in a new city.

With so many military spouses at war in Iraq or Afghanistan, the program is one more way that military and civilian leaders are trying to address growing complaints about frequent deployments and the economic hardship faced by many of the families left behind.

Overseas deployments aren't the only challenges for military spouses. Frequent transfers to new cities can mean a series of low-paying, entry-level positions.

Factors such as those helped lead Clepper, her sister-in-law Aundrea Clepper, and more than a dozen other women to Camp Pendleton's Marine Family Services Building recently to learn how to apply for grants from the Military Spouse Career Advancement Account, which provides up to $3,000 a year for up to two years.

Qualifying applicants walk away from the meetings with vouchers to pay for programs at most colleges and universities.

The programs, which may be taught in traditional classrooms or online, must be in health care, education, financial services, informational technology or construction, all fields where job growth is forecast as steady.

Camp Pendleton and Naval Station San Diego are among only 18 military bases in the nation offering the program. Camp Pendleton employment specialist Corrina Brennan said eligible spouses must be married to a service person who will be at either base for at least one more year.

The service members also must be within the lower-end pay scale that commonly represents the younger families the program targets, Brennan said. In military terms, the range is E-5 and below for enlisted members (beginning at $23,000 a year) and O-3 and below for officers (beginning at $54,550 a year).

About 250 spouses have applied for the program since its January start, and Brennan said no limit has been set on the number of program vouchers available to Camp Pendleton spouses.

Use it or lose it

The future of the program depends on the success of the spouses using it now.

"Consider yourself lucky," education service specialist Sunita Allwerdt of Camp Pendleton's Joint Education Center told a group who recently met at the base to learn more. "There are military spouses all over the country hoping you will succeed. This demonstration program will not succeed if you don't complete your programs, and if you don't complete your programs, the government will nix it."

The spouses seemed undaunted. Young mothers who brought restless toddlers with them said the program could be their ticket out of low-paying jobs that left them unable to afford child care.

"We couldn't pay for day care on a military salary, so I stay home and work at night, and my husband stays home at night with him," Alicia Kozik, 19, said about caring for her year-old son Ryan.

Kozik and her husband, Lance Cpl. Jozef Kozik, have lived on Camp Pendleton since moving from Michigan in June 2006. She recently found a job at Wal-Mart and said she plans to continue to work weekends and attend classes Monday through Thursday at Maric College. She's working to complete a nine-month certification program that could lead to a $16-an-hour job as a medical assistant at the Navy Hospital.

Her friend, Carrie Ringwolski, a fellow Marine spouse hoping to attend the same Maric College program, also attended the orientation meeting.

"I put in an application, but it's kind of hard with the schedule and day care," said Ringwolski, who lives on the base with her daughter Brianna, 1, and her husband, Cpl. Jeramy Ringwolski.

Even with the grant program, Ringwolski and Kozik said they will have to get loans to pay for their education.

Overdue recognition

Spouses did not always rank high among the military's concerns. In the past, a deployment could mean an eviction notice for a family living on base, and the idea of funding career programs specifically for spouses was unheard-of.

Allwerdt said the $35 million demonstration program, jointly funded by the U.S. Departments of Labor and Defense, is a sign that the government has renewed respect for spouses whose mates have been subject to frequent deployments since the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan.

Citing a statistic that showed 70 percent of military spouses are unemployed, Allwerdt said many people married to service members are frustrated, which can lead to problems in their marriages.

"An unhappy military spouse makes for an unhappy military member, which leads to a service member who doesn't want to stay in the service," she said.

Babette Maxwell, who co-founded Military Spouse magazine five years ago, agreed that spouses are getting more respect these days.

"One of the things we have seen is a huge paradigm shift, where corporate America has recognized military spouses as a viable work force," Maxwell said in a telephone interview from Pennsylvania.

The magazine publishes an annual list of employers who are friendly to military spouses, she said. To make the list, businesses must produce $1 billion in revenue annually and dedicate funds specifically to hire military spouses, she said.

Businesses don't hire military spouses simply because it is a nice thing to do, Maxwell said. Instead, it's because corporations have recognized them as loyal, trustworthy and hard-working, she said.

"They have a very strong work ethic. It directly mirrors those attributes corporate Americans find valuable in its veterans as well."

Maxwell lauded the Department of Defense and Department of Labor for the grant program.

"The needs have always been there, but they really came to the forefront with the war in Iraq," she said. "There's been many more deployments, much longer deployments. Gone are the days when you had one six-month deployment at a duty station. You're not given the at-home time you used to have, and the ramification of that is so much greater than before."


Mindy Blasingame, 27, lives in Fallbrook with her husband, Marine 1st Lt. Casey Blasingame, and said she hopes to use the grant to pay for a distance-learning program.

"I've been in school the entire time, and it's been really hard because the credits don't always transfer," Blasingame said about a problem military spouses often face when trying to earn degrees. She has lived in Louisiana, Florida and Virginia during the last four years.

By taking online classes, Blasingame said, she can complete her education next year and finally become a teacher.

Carlsbad resident Laura Cooper, 24, also hopes to find a job in health care. With a 17-month-old daughter and a husband in Iraq, she is making ends meet by working part time as a nanny and already has picked out a program to become a certified nursing assistant.

"My ultimate goal is to be a nurse practitioner," she said. "I want to climb up the ladder."

Hearing Cooper's plan, Allwerdt, the education program specialist, asked her to consider using the grant to study for a better-paying job in health care.

Although Cooper first said she didn't have the time for a longer program, her future suddenly looked brighter when Allwerdt told her about distance-learning courses.

"Did you say the school is online?" she asked hopefully.

Patrice and Aundrea Clepper also received some good news at the end of the session. Both qualified for the program and left with vouchers to pay for job training in health care.

For application forms and other program information, visit the Web site www.DANTES.doded.mil. For specifics about applying at Camp Pendleton, contact Allwerdt at (760) 725-6414.

Contact staff writer Gary Warth at (760) 740-5410 or gwarth@nctimes.com.


08-27-08, 06:38 PM
I left behind a four year scholarship (completely paid tuition) to move out to Camp Pendleton with my husband. I've been jobless for the whole 3 months, and was ready to join the military myself. To see this brings me hope! Thank god for these programs. Now, instead of researching recruit info, I'll be researching these grants.