Military Spouse Magazine

OCT 2018

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Page 20 of 35

It's useful, reading passages like this, to reflect on how far military spouses have come in such a short amount of time. The episode here took place 32 years ago. In one generation, we've leapt from those attitudes to the Military Spouse Employment Act, which aims to help unemployed and under- employed military spouses; country-wide acceptance of military spouses' state-issued professional licenses; a wide variety of educa- tion assistance and employment training programs; military spouses' eligibility for non-competitive appointments in the federal government; and fellowships (like the pres- tigious Tillman Scholar Program) that are open to spouses as well as service members. For the record, Norty told Suzie that he wasn't about to dictate whether or not she could work, and that he was never going to mention it again. She didn't quit, and in his own look back at that period he credits her with "demonstrat[ing] to everybody what was possible for a modern military spouse." Squeaky wheel Suzie, he writes, loosened the gears of convention: "She outperformed everyone's wildest expec- tations, and in many ways I believe we became the model for the modern military leadership team. Word spread, and slowly we started to see this same thing happen at other bases. The Air Force culture evolved, and today's commanders' spouses are afforded a lot more opportunities, due in no small part to Suzie's courage and chutzpah." Suzie Schwartz's contribution in the new memoir, "JOURNEY: MEMOIRS OF AN AIR FORCE CHIEF OF STAFF," co-written by her and her husband, retired Air Force Gen. Norty Schwartz (with another co-writer, Ronald Levinson) grants that gift to today's generation of military spouses. In the direct, get-'er-done style she's known for, Suzie describes her path to advocacy on behalf of military families, culminating in what she describes as her proudest accomplishments: revamping the way Dover Air Force Base takes care of grieving relatives of the fallen, and her ongoing participation as a trustee of Fisher House. (She is currently president for Military Spouse Programs for VIQTORY, which publishes Military Spouse magazine). How did she go from schoolteacher in Arkansas to the fiancé of a young officer to the wife of the Chief of Staff of the Air Force and member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the posi- tion Gen. Schwartz held from 2008 until his retirement in 2012? The story of her marriage, at least in its early years, will remind many military spouses of their own experience. After a friend set them up, she quickly glimpsed a sensitivity and strength of character that won her over. After each date, for example, "I found it strange that we'd often have to stop at Albertsons on the way home…I started to wonder if he had some kind of shopping fetish. Thing is, each time we'd stop to pick up whatever tiny thing he said he needed, we wound up leav- ing with an entire basket of groceries—for me! Later it hit me that this was his way to help me make ends meet by stocking up my fridge for the next week. I had never met anyone like him." As she fell for him, though, his other great love posed increasingly more annoy- ing obstacles. See if this sounds familiar: "I was teaching school and he was fly- ing. Fine at first, then more and more things started popping up that really got me irri- tated. We would lock in a time for a Saturday night date, then on Friday he'd call to cancel… Besides being irritated, I was also worried. I knew that most of his missions involved night flights and that scared me. Scared and ir- ritated—not a great combination for young love. I suppose it wouldn't have been so bad if he made up for it with awesome dates, but the truth is that when we finally did get to- gether, "Mr. Thrill Ride" was so exhausted, he had very little, if anything, left for me." After Norty (I refer to him and Suzie by their first names, as they do throughout "Journey") moved to Washington, D.C., for an early career staff position, he invited Suzie to spend the summer with him. A proposal unlike any she'd imagined came a few months later: "I bought a diamond, so you need to go pick out a setting," he tells her on the phone. With that, their military adventure began. It took them to Florida, Alaska, back to Washington, D.C., Hawaii, and many other duty stations. As Norty assumed positions of greater responsibility, Suzie grappled with how to keep busy and remain fulfilled. In 1986, when she was 30 years old and her husband became squadron commander of the 36 th Tactical Airlift Squadron at McChord Air Force Base in Washington, "You did not see me doing cartwheels in celebration," she writes. "I was not happy to be moving to Seattle, and I was far too young to be a squadron commander's wife. I wanted to be one of the girls, like I always had been." Without a social group, and with no young children to look after, she was bored. She never imagined that getting a food and beverage job at a local hotel would be anyone's business but her own. After all, she never missed a squadron function and she volunteered at every event. But this was the last gasp of the "two-for-one" era, when officers' wives were expected to devote themselves to the military community. A wife's wayward conduct could negatively affect her husband's career advancement. The hammer of tradition came down hard. A colonel warned Norty that "Either she gives up the job, or we may have to find another squadron commander." A senior- level spouse confronted Suzie with zingers like, "Is your job worth risking your hus- band's career?" and, "You are going to have to think very seriously about quitting because that's the unwritten rule." Suzie tried to defend herself, but it was hopeless: "I might as well have been talking to a mannequin." Photo of Suzie Schwartz by Erin J Photogrpahy Photo of former First Lady Michelle Obama and Second Lady Dr. Jill Biden by Stephen Voss JOINING FORCES , A NATIONWIDE INITIATIVE LAUNCHED IN 2011 BY THEN FIRST LADY MICHELLE OBAMA AND SECOND LADY DR. JILL BIDEN, WAS CREATED TO ADVOCATE FOR MILITARY FAMILIES AND WAS THE DRIVING FORCE BEHIND MANY OF THE INITIATIVES THAT BENEFIT TODAY'S MILITARY SPOUSES . >> OCTOBER 2018 / MILITARYSPOUSE.COM 21

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