Married to the Military: How Being the Spouse of a Service-member Changed a Career

Nestlé’s Barbara Sanchez explains how she went from traveling mother-of-six to successful lawyer

What happens to a Military Spouse when their partner finally hangs up their uniform?

While many of us are aware of the difficulty that veterans face when transitioning to the civilian workplace, many conversations overlook the experience of military spouses. Being married to a service-member alters a life in many ways. For those who have had to forego a typical career path, getting back to a steady professional routine can be hard.

Barbara Sanchez knows this issue well — she’ll be sharing her experiences and introducing our new veteran hiring partnership with Hiring our Heroes in 2017. She was kind enough to sit down with me and explain her journey as a military wife, mother, and legal counsel with Nestlé USA.

When your husband joined the military, what effect did that have on your life?

Bill was in the U.S. Air Force for more than 20 years. It meant a lot of moving around — we used to move every couple of years. We’re from Chicago, but we’ve lived in Nevada, Alaska, Alabama. All over the country. We had children during this time, at different bases. We had five children while travelling as a military family, and one more when Bill retired!

Barbara and her husband Bill, who served in the U.S. Air Force for 20 years.

It meant that I didn’t have the usual path that people take in life: study, get a job, get married, have kids. Instead, I started college, got married, had kids, took some college classes, had more kids, took more classes…all while moving from place to place.

That sounds like an extremely challenging path towards a career; do you think that experience has helped you?

You do what you’ve got to do. It’s just how life turned out, and, really, we were very lucky to have the stability of a military income. It made us a strong family and gave us real insight into ourselves and how we work.

My kids became resilient — they’ll go to new places, they’ll do new things, meet new people. The travel helped them. There will still be normal anxiety when something is new, but they’ll take the leap to get out there and do it.

Would you describe yourself in similar terms?

Absolutely. After years of travelling, I got my bachelor’s degree in Alabama and finished law school in Ohio in 2005. I worked with a law firm for 6 years before joining Nestlé, and people have told me “not much bothers you, not much overwhelms you.”

It’s definitely resilience that I've learned — really growing in the mindset that every challenge is an opportunity to get better, to overcome something.

Was it hard for you, transitioning from travelling military bases, studying, and raising kids to entering a career?

My husband and I were so used to constant change. It’s hard to settle in and not be anticipating the next move. It was hard, and it is hard now because we were so used to the excitement and the stress of it.

We still get that urge every few years, like we should be going somewhere new.

And then there are strange things too. We always used military healthcare, so if there was a problem we’d just go to the hospital clinic at the military base. When Bill retired, all of a sudden we had to get used to health insurance…I had no idea how that worked! So there are lots of logistical things that you don’t think of until they’re happening.

Do you think veterans make good civilian employees after their service?

When you’re in the military, you have to be on time, you have to get the job done, you can’t take a day off because you’re sick. You learn common sense, and problem solving, and you have to lead by example. I think people from the military make great employees because they’ve been taught to be diligent, dedicated and have been held to high values.

Before he started his own new career, I always used to tell my husband “whoever gets you will be lucky!”

What work are you doing with Nestlé USA to support veterans?

I recently joined a group working in partnership with the American Bar Association to help attorneys transitioning into civilian life.

Through Project Opportunity, Nestlé in the United States is supporting veterans as they move into the civilian workplace, with employment and training opportunities which build upon their already great skills.


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