ALEXANDRIA, Va. (Army News Service, Nov. 5, 2009) -- Eight more organizations, including Walmart, joined forces last month with the Army Spouse Employment Partnership.

About 57,600 spouses of Soldiers have been hired so far at one of the 39 Fortune 500 corporations, federal agencies and other firms that participate in ASEP. This includes more than 15,645 spouses hired this year.

Dr. Lillie Cannon, who now serves as the program manager for ASEP - has been a tireless advocate for the Army spouse.

"As an Army spouse myself, I see the sacrifices that Army families undergo while their Soldier is deployed," Cannon said. "I also see those Army spouses that give up their careers to keep their families together and support their service member."

"I have moved four times with my Soldier and each time I was able to move with one of the ASEP partners and continue my career. I think the ASEP program is much-need right now with the economy the way it is. We have long moved from one-salary families; both adults need meaningful employment.

ASEP was unveiled in 2003 by the chief of staff of the Army to create career opportunities for military spouses. The program began with 13 partner companies, Cannon said, including CSC and Eurpack, a company that stocks military commissaries. Last year the number of ASEP partners grew to 31.

"Our partners realize that age/background is strength when it comes to hiring military spouses," Cannon said. Our military spouses bring to the job a tool box full of experience and talent. They are extremely dedicated, they work hard and most importantly they want to work."

During the first week of October, at the annual meeting of the Association of the U.S. Army, eight more firms were inducted into ASEP, including:

Aca,!Ac American Hospital Service Group
Aca,!Ac Association of Military Banks of America
Aca,!Ac INOVA Medical Centers
Aca,!Ac Jackson-Hewitt Tax Service
Aca,!Ac Kgb
Aca,!Ac National Military Family Association
Aca,!Ac Strategic Resources Inc.
Aca,!Ac Walmart

The induction ceremony featured Walmart Executive Vice President Susan Chambers and Secretary of the Army John McHugh.

"From Walmart's founder, Sam Walton, to many of our current executives and associates, our company has greatly benefited from the experiences our veterans and their families have brought to Walmart from their time in the military," said Chambers. "Walmart's relationship with ASEP is a natural extension of our company's efforts to be an employer of choice for military veterans and other important communities."

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. has more than 8,000 retail units under 53 different banners in 15 countries. With fiscal year 2009 sales of $401 billion, Walmart employs more than 2.1 million associates worldwide.

"The Army recruits Soldiers, but retaining families is part of the commitment ASEP and its partners have made toward helping our spouses establish and maintain careers," Secretary McHugh said at the induction ceremony. "It is important to Army leadership, and I thank Walmart and all the ASEP partners for their commitment."

Of a total of more than 510,000 Army spouses, 340,000 are aged 32 years or younger with 80 percent of them married to enlisted Soldiers. About 55 percent of Army spouses are in the labor force and contribute from 20 to 40 percent of their families' income.

The perception of a spouse's quality of life - including financial well-being and the ability to realize personal and professional goals - is a major factor in the retention of high-quality military personnel, officials said.

"My focus and passion for ensuring that Army spouses have careers and meaningful employment is driven my respect and admiration for their service to this great country I love," Cannon said.

"Although, they do not wear a uniform and physically go off to war. It is their love, dedication, and love for our country that enables them to kiss their love one off without knowing if he/she will return. It is our duty to make sure they too have every opportunity to have a career and work."

(Rob McIlvaine serves with FMWRC Public Affairs.)