As a successful New Zealand diplomat of 14 years, David was a well-traveled and established professional. He’d been through several overseas tours to places like Indonesia, Chile, and finally, Hawaii, where he met his future spouse, John, an Army Chief Warrant Officer 2.
“My career as a diplomat was promising and on an upward trajectory,” David shares. “However, I decided to leave my career behind to pursue my personal happiness with my husband. It was an extremely hard decision for me because my identity was wrapped up in my profession.”
Leaving the comforts of familiarity behind, he embarked on a journey of uncertainty. In David’s first few months as a military spouse, he would fight to navigate his career and cultivate a sense of belonging in his new home—the National Capital Region, all amidst a global pandemic.
If this story sounds familiar, it should.
We know from the 2021 Military Family Lifestyle Survey (MFLS) that relocation (26%) and employment (47%) are top-five concerns for active-duty military spouses. And it didn’t take long for these concerns to become David’s, too.
“I was struggling to understand my new identity as a military spouse,” he explains. “Additionally, moving to a new city in a relatively new country to me, navigating a global pandemic, and trying to understand my next career move—all while being a foreign-born spouse, which holds its own specific complications—was a heavy burden.”
It goes without saying that this transition can be difficult, and most military families struggle to find their place with each move. Only 29% of 2021 MFLS respondents agreed they felt a sense of belonging in their community. Therefore, there appears to be a correlation between belonging and relocation, given that a third of active-duty spouse respondents (37%) reported they had lived in their local community for less than 12 months.
For those identifying as LGBTQ+ and/or foreign-born, there are more challenges to cultivating a sense of belonging. They must navigate stereotypes, cultural barriers, and more. David falls into both categories and says he often wondered:
“[As a] male spouse, how do I fit and [with a] same sex partner?”
To get his footing, he did the first thing that came natural: he took to social media to find a way to connect to his new environment and embark on a new career.
“I reached out to every single resource I could—the local Arlington and Alexandria career offices, LinkedIn, etc.—to understand how my skillset as a diplomat could translate into a new career,” David explains. “And I also posted on Facebook expressing my desire to find a new career path, as well as simply wanting to make friends in the area.”
In the responses to one of his Facebook posts, there was a recurring suggestion that would set into motion a significant change in his journey. “I had about 10 people comment on my post that I needed to get in touch with Tonya Murphy,” David shares. “We immediately started talking through Facebook, ultimately leading to grabbing coffee together.”
Tonya, Blue Star Families’ National Capital Region DEPLOY Fellow, was building a diverse network of support in the area, helping to provide representative programming. To many, she had become an important figure because of her work within the military community.
David stumbled upon a program Blue Star Families employees, like Tonya, and a network of national volunteers host each month: Coffee Connect, in partnership with Starbucks. It’s an opportunity to connect military families to the communities in which they live, with events organized at Starbucks stores across the country. David reflects on his experience, saying, “At these meetings, I was able to meet other military spouses similarly going through my struggle, and I quickly learned that military spouses are a tight-knit group dedicated to lifting up one another […] Knowing I really wasn’t alone made a difference.”
As a result of networking through Coffee Connect events, David found a new job opportunity with the National Military Family Association. His story is one of success in finding a new community and sense of belonging as an LGBTQ+, foreign-born spouse.
“There is space at the table for all of us,” David adds.
For Blue Star Families, David represents our mission to empower all families to thrive as they serve. We invite you to join us as we welcome your family during Blue Star Welcome Week 2022, from September 24th – October 2nd. Find messages of welcome, local and virtual events, and more at www.bluestarwelcomeweek.org.