Military spouse super power: making everywhere home

In honor of Military Spouse Appreciation Day on May 10, four Starbucks partners who have adapted to the unique challenges of life as military spouses offer their best advice for making relocation as painless as possible.

Moving is hard – so hard, it regularly makes the short list of life’s most stressful moments. But packing tape, bubble wrap, boxes and waking up in a strange, new place called home is all part of the drill for military spouses.

Lenae Harris knows that well. Harris, a Starbucks store manager in Crestview, Florida, has moved four times with her husband, who is in the Air Force, since the two were married in 2012.

Washington. Alaska. Ohio. Florida. Harris said the couple doesn’t always know a move is coming, but she always has her guard up.

“My husband will call me and say, ‘Guess what, we’re moving.’ And I will say, ‘Seriously? We just got here!’” Harris said.

Fortunately, her career has moved with her. Starbucks offers military spouses the opportunity to transfer to a new location when a couple or family receive orders to relocate, which means despite navigating four moves in seven years, Harris has been able to transfer to six different stores to keep her career on track, advancing from barista to store manager.

“I have a company that supports me in a way that means I can support my husband and I can grow as well. I find that so great,” Harris said. “You can go anywhere in the world and you have this support. It might be a different store or a different manager, but you still have that home away from home everywhere you go. This is your baseline. You don’t have to start from zero.”

Ashley Mackey, an assistant store manager in Allen, Texas, served in the Navy for four years and is also a military spouse; her husband is a Marine.

“Transitioning out of the military and back into the civilian world was really hard,” Mackey said. “Most companies don’t want to hire you knowing you’re a military spouse. They kind of pass you over.”

When she was getting ready to leave the Navy in 2017, Mackey attended a class for veterans and military personnel transitioning out of the Armed Services. That’s where she learned that, in addition to regular Starbucks benefits like access to health coverage, stock and savings and the opportunity to earn a tuition-free online bachelor’s degree from Arizona State University (ASU), the company also offers veteran and military spouse partners expanded benefits like Military Leave Pay, the ability to transfer stores when relocated and the opportunity to extend the ASU tuition reimbursement benefit to a spouse or child. Later, she attended a military spouse hiring fair at Camp Pendleton and decided to apply at Starbucks. Recruiters encouraged her to apply for a leadership position, based on her experience in the military, and a few weeks later she was hired as an assistant store manager.

In 2013, Starbucks committed to hiring 10,000 veterans and military spouses over the next five years. The company has now hired nearly 25,000 veterans and military spouses, many of whom wear a small, embroidered American flag on the right side of their green aprons to represent their service and commitment.

In addition to its commitment to hire veterans and military spouses, Starbucks has opened 55 Military Family Stores, which are located near major military bases and act as places of connection and support, and has plans to open hundreds more over the next few years. Each store also partners with nonprofit organizations to provide services for local veterans and their families.

“It just really stuck with me how much Starbucks appreciates every single employee to the point they don’t even say employee, they say partner,” Mackey said. “I really liked that, because the military is a huge family. We have each other’s backs. I thought that was really important. Working for Starbucks made transitioning out of the Navy a little easier. It was kind of the same environment.”

In honor of Military Spouse Appreciation Day on May 10, Harris and three other Starbucks military spouses who have developed keen moving super powers over the years offer their best advice to make relocation as painless as possible.

Do some digital reconnaissance on your new hometown.

As soon as she finds out she’s moving, Harris turns to social media to investigate potential neighborhoods and their proximity to the military base, schools, dog parks, gyms, child care, researching crime rates and more, asking for recommendations and advice. “Social media is an amazing tool to get to know an area. People more likely to be honest than a chamber of commerce.” Harris said Facebook groups in particular have been immensely helpful in learning about a new place. Pro-tip for military spouses: Search for the base name plus the word spouses. “There’s never not been a spouses Facebook group in any placed we’ve moved to,” she said.

Make the move an adventure.

Harris said each time her husband gets orders to move, they have sat with their daughter, now 8, and had a conversation. “We don't want her to be blindsided. We tell her where we’re moving and show her a map of where we are and where we're going to be.” The next time they move their son, 4, will be old enough to join.

For the actual move, the family uses the drive as a mini vacation. “Make adventure before you have to unpack. It’s good to give yourselves a couple of days in the car to decompress from exhausting goodbyes. We plan fun hotel stops, swim in the pool and enjoy the journey. Almost like you can make it a little vacation.”

Rachael Bialcak, a store manager in Ridgecrest, California, has transferred to four stores in three different states in the five years she’s been married to her husband, who is in the Air Force. When they move, she makes two goodie baskets with favorite snacks and travel foods like Starburst, beef jerky and sunflower seeds – one for her car, and one for her husband’s car. Since they have two cars, they have to drive separately but together to their new home.

“Food can be an emotional support. And I always bring my walkie talkies,” Bialcak said. “You could always use your phones, but we like to just randomly talk on our walkie talkies, usually something silly or a boost of encouragement. We usually drive eight or nine hours a day, and I don’t have cruise control in my car, so around the six-hour mark I will hear my husband’s voice on the walkie talkie saying, ‘How’s your foot doing?’ and I’ll answer, ‘Greeeeeat.’ It definitely helps.”

Buy the movers Gatorade and pizza. Because happy movers.

The military offers the option of having movers pack, move and unpack families who are relocating. “We always buy them pizza and Gatorade,” Harris said. “They always tell us no, but they always eat it. Be nice to them. Don't hover. Leave them alone. You want the packers and movers to be happy.”

Have loose timelines.

“You are never as packed as you think,” said Taylor Weisbecker, a store manager in Lumberton, North Carolina, whose husband is in the Army. For one move, they were supposed to leave at 9 a.m., but with packing and loose ends didn’t end up leaving until 5 p.m. “He had an appointment to make in our new place the next morning, so we drove through the night in separate vehicles. I had my puppy, Merle, in the front seat. I called my husband at one point, at about four in the morning, and said, ‘What are we doing?’ You can’t do anything but laugh. You need to have loose timelines. Everything needs to be loose.”

Attitude is everything.

“Don't look at it as packing just to unpack and do it all over again. It sounds super cliché, but just embrace it,” Harris said. “You have this opportunity to go somewhere and experience a new place. The average person doesn't get to do this. Wherever you're going is where you're meant to be. Well … for a little bit.”

It’s never too soon to declutter.

As soon as her family gets orders to relocate, Harris goes on a cleaning and decluttering spree to prepare her house for a move. “I clean everything. I rotate out clothes we don’t wear. I get rid of everything we don’t use – all those small things you accumulate without even thinking about. If it has dust on it, don’t bring it. The less you have to move, the easier it's going to be.”

Relationships matter.

Weisbecker said by the time you love where you’re living, your spouse is going to get orders. “Without a doubt, it always happens. You take a few years, meet people, get a groove, and then it’s time to go again,” she said. “But to put it in perspective. Now I have friends all over the United States. Friends are what makes a place great, so keep those relationships going.”

Work for a company that will move with you.

“Transitioning out of the military and back into the civilian world was really hard,” Mackey said. “And then most companies don’t want to hire you, knowing you’re a military spouse. They kind of pass you over. I was concerned it could have been a struggle, knowing both the veteran side and the military spouse side, but I am 100 percent happy with Starbucks. They have supported me in every way. They’ve let me be proud of serving. I get to have an apron that shows what I’ve done and wear it every day. Everyone is so welcoming.”

Bialcak agrees. “One thing I absolutely love is with our mission and values, I know wherever I go I will have the same kind of camaraderie I’ve had in every store. As military spouses, we can get complacent and think we have to put ourselves on hold. I love that Starbucks has given me an opportunity to invest in myself. I love my husband and will always be right by his side. He’s sacrificing so much, but it’s still so good that I can do something for myself, too. Wherever we move I know I have a little piece of home in every Starbucks, and it’s nice to have that consistent place to call home.”

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