Remarks Prepared for Delivery by U.S. Secretary of Labor Elaine L. Chao For DOL/DOD Military Spouse Career Advancement Initiative Announcement

November 14, 2007

Thank you, Secretary Gates, for that introduction.

It’s great to be here at the Pentagon. Thank you for hosting this wonderful event.

Over the years, the Defense and Labor Departments have partnered on numerous issues and programs. And, today, we are pleased to be collaborating again on such a meaningful initiative.

Thank you also to Dr. Chu for serving as Master of Ceremonies.

Let me also recognize Becky Gates.

We are also pleased to have Congressman Robin Hayes (R-NC) and Congressman Rick Larsen (D-WA) here with us today.

Let me also acknowledge the Department of Labor’s Assistant Secretary for Employment and Training, Emily Stover DeRocco and the Assistant Secretary for Veterans’ Employment and Training Services, Chick Ciccolella.

And, finally, let me give a special welcome to Gwen Bates and all of the military spouses that are here with us this afternoon.

Today, the United States’ military is the finest and most capable in the world. And its greatest assets are its people. More than 43 million Americans have answered the call to defend our freedom during our nation’s history. And currently, more than 180,000 are fighting the War on Terror in Iraq and Afghanistan.

As President Bush said during his visit in September to the al Asad airfield in Iraq’s Anbar Province, we are making real progress in the region. And, the brave men and women of our military deserve much of the credit for this success.

But, also deserving of a great deal of credit are the families and friends of our military members. Their support back home means so much to our men and women in uniform. Knowing that they’re there—and that they’re keeping things together at home—alleviates stress. It allows our servicemen and women to focus on their jobs and on the important mission at hand. And, that saves lives!

Certainly, it’s not an easy job—particularly during war time—to be a military spouse. You are behind the scenes—juggling work, your households, and the responsibilities of caring for children. And, you worry about your husbands and wives while they’re in harm’s way. But, make no mistake—our military could not do its job without your support. As they say in the military, you are mission essential!

And, that’s what this initiative is all about—we recognize the many personal sacrifices you make in support of your spouse’s military career. Today, the vast majority of these spouses—nearly 77 percent—report that they want or need to work. Unfortunately, the frequent moves required by the military often make it difficult or even cost-prohibitive for spouses to complete education and training, meet state credentialing and licensing requirements, and establish long-term careers.

So, the Military Spouse Career Advancement Initiative was created to help spouses overcome some of these barriers. The Initiative will make it possible for eligible candidates to receive Career Advancement Accounts. These Accounts can be used to pay for a variety of expenses directly related to post-secondary education and training. These include tuition, books, necessary equipment, and credentialing and licensing fees. Military Installation Family Support Centers, Voluntary Education Centers, and One-Stop Career Centers are also important local partners in this Initiative.

And, we targeted careers in the high-growth, high-demand industry sectors, including health care, education, financial services, and information technology, because they offer the greatest opportunity for portability. So, spouses can repeatedly pick up and move with their military member—and still be able to advance in their own careers.

Today’s economy offers America’s workers great opportunities. But, as the U.S. continues to transition to a knowledge-based economy, more and more of these jobs are requiring increased skills and higher education. In fact, two-thirds of the new jobs created over the decade ending in 2014 will require some kind of post-secondary education or training. So, if our country is to remain competitive, we must ensure that all workers have access to the education and training needed to take advantage of these opportunities.

Therefore, on behalf of the Department of Labor, I am pleased to join Secretary Gates and the Department of Defense in committing over $35 million in joint funding to eight states towards the Military Spouse Career Advancement Initiative.

Here in the U.S., we owe a tremendous amount of gratitude to the wives and husbands who stand beside our men and women in uniform. Military spouses endure long deployments, field exercises, missed anniversaries and birthdays, and frequent moves. They graciously and courageously accept the sacrifices required of them. And now, it’s our turn to be there for them by providing the financial assistance and services that can help them achieve their career goals and dreams.

On behalf of my colleagues at the U.S. Department of Labor, again let me say how pleased I am to be a part of this joint initiative with the Department of Defense.

And, to Secretary Gates and all of the men and women in our U.S. Armed Forces—let me take this opportunity to thank you for your hard work and your continued, selfless dedication to the cause of peace.

May God bless you all.
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