FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. — Fort Leonard Wood’s Spouses Employment Lounge has been the one-stop resource since its grand opening on April 23 for incoming and outgoing service members and their spouses as they look for information on employment and education opportunities, financial readiness assistance, veterans benefits, or just a space to grab a cup of coffee, get access to a laptop or have a conversation.
The lounge was organized through a partnership between the United Service Organizations’ Transitions Pathfinder Program and the Transition Assistance Program office here, said Casey Thompson, the USO transition specialist who oversees the lounge.
She said the feedback over the past few months has been great.
“There are a lot of great resources on the installation, but sometimes it’s hard to navigate them all,” Thompson said. “Being able to get personalized, one-on-one service is really helpful for a lot of people. We connect them to the resources on and off post and help them to find what they need to meet their goals.”
The lounge is located on the second floor of Bldg. 470 — rooms 2226 and 2226A — across the hall from the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System, or DEERS, ID Card office. Thompson said having the lounge in a high-traffic location has been very helpful.
“Sometimes for spouses, it’s a little intimidating going into installation buildings,” said Thompson, who’s a military spouse herself. “So, this is a place they can come to and feel comfortable, and being near the ID card office has really helped us get the word out.”
Crystal Bryant-Kearns, the USO’s senior transitions manager, said Fort Leonard Wood’s Spouses Employment Lounge is fairly unique — only four installations have one.
“It’s really exciting being part of this initiative,” she said. “Our first priority is making service members and their spouses aware of the wealth of information and resources available to them. Sometimes even seasoned spouses aren’t aware of the plethora of opportunities available right on their installation, so Casey gets to sit down with them and share all of the wonderful things they can do right in their community on Fort Leonard Wood.”
Bryant-Kearns stressed that the USO program augments services provided by TAP, and that 100 percent of clients are referred back to the installation first.
“Whether that’s referring clients back to the TAP program or referring them to (Army Community Service) financial readiness, our clients are referred back to installation programs first,” she said. “We really want spouses, as well as service members, to know about what installations provide, with regard to resources.”
Thompson added that the relationships being built with Army programs on Fort Leonard Wood have been reciprocal as well.
“A lot of TAP counselors refer their clients here,” she said. “When someone needs assistance with building a resume, for example, we have a lot we can offer.”
One big help for many transitioning military families, Thompson said, is she can refer their case to another USO transition specialist at the next duty station. There are currently 19 locations across the US and virtual support for those locations without a brick and mortar site.
“So, if someone were to go up to Fort Riley, Kansas, or down to Texas, we can connect them with a USO transition specialist in that area to facilitate their move,” she said.
Bryant-Kearns said it’s critical to “resource map” a new location.
“We can help them find housing — help them with information about enrolling their kids in schools — so that they can be successful when they get there, as opposed to feeling completely overwhelmed and not knowing where to start,” she said. “For spouses, I think that’s a really critical piece because you have to recreate yourself every time you move. It’s really nice to have someone there supporting you and helping you navigate all of those pieces of a move. When spouses are happy, service members can then focus more easily on their mission.”
Hannah Hooven, from Sikeston, Missouri, has been a military spouse for about a year. She and her husband are moving to Fort Richardson, Alaska, next year and she’s been visiting the lounge to speak with Thompson.
“I wanted to get help finding a job where we’re going,” Hooven said. “Casey gave me some great resources to help with my resume, and it’s nice because she’s been stationed in Alaska, so I’ve been able to ask her questions about living up there.”
Hooven said she likes that there’s a place she can go to get information tailored specifically to her.
“There are so many resources available that it’s overwhelming,” she said. “To be able to come in and speak with someone who knows what they’re talking about, and for them to say, ‘Hey, here’s some great resources personalized for you’ — I think it’s a pretty great opportunity.”
Thompson said she’s seeing about 20 to 25 people stopping by the lounge each week, and she currently has 72 people she’s actively in the process of helping — Thompson said she works with clients until they are satisfied they have all the resources they need.
“We are keeping pretty busy,” she said.
In the near future, Bryant-Kearns said she’d like to see the partnerships with installation resources grow through “wrap-around services” that include hosting workshops.
“We would love to partner with financial readiness on the installation, for example, to offer financial workshops because we know there is a need,” she said. “Or partner with TAP to support employment readiness workshops. So, that’s an opportunity we’re looking forward to.”
The Spouses Employment Lounge is open from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday. For more information on the services they offer, call 785.492.9207, or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Walk-ins are welcome, but Thompson said appointments for one-on-one consultations may also be made by registering with the USO Transitions Pathfinder Program at www.uso.org/transition.