Second Lady of the United States, Karen Pence spoke to more than 350 Navy and Marine Corps spouses, calling them the “backbone of military families” during a visit to Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, Jan. 30.

Pence’s visit highlighted the hardships military spouses face, specifically employment and occupational licensure - a topic that inspired her to launch an awareness campaign in the fall of 2018 to promote and encourage military spouses. The Second Lady has since been traveling throughout the country and world, addressing military spouse employment challenges.

“We know our military members are not the only ones who serve,” Pence said. “You do so much for our nation, you make so many sacrifices, without asking for much in return … I admire your selfless support.”

According to Pence, she’s in position to understand some of the hardships and challenges of military spouses. Her son, Michael Pence Jr., is a Marine pilot stationed at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, and her daughter, Charlotte, married a naval aviator last month.

“Hearing little things like ‘we don’t know when we’re going to get our orders’, or ‘when we can get married’ or ‘if we’re going to live on base’ … some of the struggles that people don’t realize are unique to our military families.”

As part of her awareness campaign, Pence has conducted listening sessions with military spouses across the nation who have repeatedly brought up unemployment and occupational licensure challenges. According to Pence, approximately 34 percent of military spouses work in fields that require a state license in order to practice, adding to the obstacle of finding employment after permanent change of station moves.

“Military spouses are disproportionately affected by occupational licensing requirements,” Pence said. “We are encouraging states and territories to take immediate action to ensure military spouses who accompany their spouse on a permanent change of station are not adversely affected by occupational licensing regulations.”

Pence stated over the last few months, a handful of state Governors have proposed occupational licensing reform for their states, but she is insistent on better aligned state and federal regulations when it comes to military spouses.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper is now authorized to help fund the creation of interstate compacts to improve license portability adding to the progress of military spouse employment, she said.

“We’re asking you to move, so the least we can do is come alongside and help you find the employment you want,” Pence said.

Pence personally handed out customized bracelets to each spouse in recognition of their sacrifice and to remind them that they are appreciated.

“It’s our priority to stand with you and with your children, so service members can stay focused on their mission and remain ready to fight and protect our freedoms. From the bottom of my heart, I can never thank you enough, but I want you to know that we appreciate you.”

During the visit, Pence also toured Naval Medical Center Camp Lejeune’s Intrepid Spirit Concussion Recovery Center. While at the center, Pence focused on the Creative Forces Art Therapy Program and spoke with NMCCL Art Therapists about the importance of the program in helping service members heal from mild brain injuries. Art therapy is part of the center's health care goals to treat mild concussion, combat stress, post traumatic stress, and other psychological health issues.

Pence has a strong background in education. In 2017, she launched her art therapy initiative, Healing with the HeArt, to bring attention to art therapy as a mental health profession. Pence also dedicates her time to spreading awareness of the importance of art therapy to military members and their families.