(Katherine Driessen is guest-blogging for Rosenwald, Md., while Michael Rosenwald takes a short break.)
At a coffee shop in California, Md., a group of military wives swaps their own brand of war stories over bagels and mochas. There are the ever-changing Zip codes, the weeks and months without contact from
husbands, and the pitfalls of grocery shopping at a Commissary.
The women in Patuxent River Officer Spouses Club also share the good stuff: the pride they take in their husbands’ service, the excitement of traveling to new places and the sense of community they get from military life. Friday morning coffee hour is a cathartic weekly ritual for the women.
Kimberly Pepper-Hoctor, hard to miss with her waist-length red hair, sits at the end of the table at The Coffee Quarter. She’s newer to the military lifestyle than most of the other women, though she has just been nominated for 2012 Military Spouse of the Year, an award that offers a national platform to promote military advocacy issues.
Six years ago she met her future husband, a Navy officer, at a Western dancing club in Seattle. After a year-long bicoastal romance, she left her public relations job at a Fortune 100 company in Washington to marry him and begin six years of base-hopping, coupon clipping and what she calls “serial entrepreneuring” on the East Coast.
“It’s a much different lifestyle in many ways than what I’d been used to as a professional, pretty successful woman,” Pepper-Hoctor said. “All of a sudden, you haven’t got a job. You marry the man, you marry the military, they say. That’s about right.”
She says some businesses simply told her they did not hire military spouses because they move too often. So Pepper- Hoctor, 43, has turned to volunteer and start-up work . She has served as a military speech writer and written a military spouse column for a base newspaper.
And then there’s the coupon clipping. Pepper-Hoctor landed on the front page of The Washington Post this summer for her ability to slash prices with a stack of coupons. She offers free local classes about couponing -- she’s known as the “The Coupon Lady.”
But at Friday coffee hour, she’s just another military spouse.
Teresa Datka turns to Pepper-Hoctor and shares her own difficulties finding work. After Datka married her military husband, she found she moved too often to finish college. It’s been more than 20 years since she put her hair-cutting license to use.
“There just isn’t that stability,” Datka said. “Your life gets totally moved every six, every nine months and then what are you supposed to do?”
For Pepper-Hoctor, the answer has been rooted in military spouse advocacy. She is particularly concerned with educating other spouses about the 2011 Military Spouses Act and Military Spouse Employment preference, both intended to offer military spouses more job opportunities and flexibility.
Perhaps most familiar to Pepper-Hoctor are the difficulties some military families face when looking to adopt a child. She tears up as she describes her struggle to find a domestic adoption agency willing to work with military families.
“It’s just heart-wrenching,” said Pepper-Hoctor, who has faced fertility issues, “when you want a child but are limited because you’re a family that serves, that moves around. It is incredibly difficult.”
Pepper-Hoctor said she will continue to try adopting, a process that may become easier once her husband retires next year.
When husband Thomas, a lieutenant, stops by the coffee shop just a few minutes later, he speaks fondly of his wife’s commitment to both their marriage and the military. He has served for nearly 29 years, but says his wife has made the past six years the most rewarding. He nominated her for the award.
“She just has this incredible, awesome personality,” Hoctor said. “She never lets anything stop her and she just gives back so generously.”
Voting for Military Spouse of the Year closes Friday at midnight.