FORT DRUM, N.Y. (Oct. 14, 2020) -- There’s a saying among military families, “Home is where the Army sends you.” So if the Army makes Fort Drum your home, then we in the North Country are lucky and grateful to have you.
Fort Drum and the North Country have maintained a mutually beneficial relationship for decades. The diversity that Fort Drum brings is not just in the Soldiers, but also in the spouses and family members who accompany their Soldiers. Spouses and family members are a critical component to ensuring our Soldiers meet their mission. The military family is a critical component to the Army’s success. It is said that the Army retains families, not just Soldiers.
Beyond the beauty of the North Country, which is evident in every change of season, opportunities here are plentiful. The opportunity to become a member of a strong, growing community; the opportunity to continue your education, and the opportunity to contribute to the economic viability of the region are all available within this community.
To assess these opportunities, how they are understood and perceived, Soldier for Life – Transition Assistance Program (SFL-TAP) and the Employee Readiness Program (ERP) conducted a survey of the spouse and family member community living on Fort Drum and in the surrounding community. The survey was conducted in the spring of 2020, just as the COVID-19 pandemic began to impact the North Country.
What we found is a capable and diverse population of educated and experienced members of our community who possess abilities and talents that span the full spectrum of needs. These potential employees bring a myriad of skills and experiences from across the nation and around the globe. Along with these skills, our spouses and family members display a level of resiliency not commonly found outside the military community. The North Country is fortunate to have the opportunity to engage, employ, and collaborate with such a diverse group of people and professionals.
Let’s get to our findings. The study is not limited to the data discussed below; however, these are the areas that most directly impact and demonstrate the diversity and rich experience respondents bring to the community.
The survey consisted of 294 respondents representing a statistically relevant sample size. The age distribution of the survey respondents followed expected patterns, with 18 percent in the 18-24 age bracket and 33 percent in the 35-50 age bracket. The majority of respondents, 51 percent, were in the 25-34 age bracket. Many in this age group have obtained a college degree or a certificate and have worked in a professional environment before arriving at Fort Drum. The data also indicates the 18-24 age bracket may be good candidates for educational and/or vocational learning opportunities.
The study showed that 95 percent of respondents had some education beyond high school, with 36 percent having a bachelor’s degree and 20 percent having a masters or advanced degree. Additionally, five percent reported having a certificate or license in a professional field. This makes our efforts to obtain licensure reciprocity in New York state that much more significant.
The vast majority of our respondents, 67 percent, have lived on Fort Drum or in the Fort Drum area for greater than 12 months. This provides an increased level of validity to the study, as these respondents are familiar with our community and have had sufficient time to understand and assess the local job market. Fort Drum was the first duty station for 38 percent of the respondents, with the remainder reporting two to five duty stations before coming to Fort Drum. This means that the majority have experienced other military communities and have a strong baseline from which to formulate their opinions.
The survey asked respondents to rank their expectations of the economy and job prospects in the area as compared to their previous duty stations or hometowns. About a third of those surveyed found that the area is on par with their previous communities, while 62 percent felt that their economic and employment opportunities were worse than the communities they left.
Seventy-one percent of respondents sought either full- or part-time employment within the community; 12 percent brought a work-from-home or remote job with them and 58 percent of those seeking employment were able to find jobs by the time they completed the survey. Thirty-two percent reported it takes three months or less, while 15 percent reported it took six months or more to find employment. Child care, and finding work in a desired field, remain the greatest concerns for spouses and family members. Finally, 49 percent of respondents reported that they started their job search process before arriving at Fort Drum, which means it is critical to advertise and recruit outside the local area or through national job sites.
The survey covered a wide range of topics and observations among our spouse and family member community, but it is not all-inclusive. While the sample population is statistically relevant, the study does not show trends and obstacles over time. It is the intent of SFL-TAP and ERP to run this survey annually and to compile and analyze the data to establish short-term and long-term trends.
Many spouses are looking for remote opportunities, and while we have seen this trend accelerated over the last few months, this could be considered a by-product of the COVID-19 pandemic. This trend will likely remain constant as the opportunity to work remotely lessens the need for child care and broadens opportunities outside the local community. This further allows spouses and family members to better align their employment with their education and experience. We look forward to measuring and analyzing these trends in the future.
There are several organizations on and off post that are interested in improving quality of life and economic opportunities our spouse and military families can enjoy while assigned to Fort Drum. These collaborative efforts hold great potential in assisting the Fort Drum military community by improving quality of life and making the North Country a friendly and welcoming community and a viable place to settle permanently. Fort Drum truly is a great Army community and a great place to live and serve.
(McNamara serves as transition services manager for Soldier for Life - Transition Assistance Program.)