Peterson AFB mom founded group for parents of autistic kids

February 9, 2014 Updated: February 12, 2014 at 4:05 pm
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Sarah Stockwell isn't your run-of-the-mill military spouse.

Before meeting her husband, the native Welsh with a doctoral degree was working as a lithium ion battery researcher in Las Vegas.

A military marriage would likely threaten her career, and she knew it.

But the heart wants what the heart wants, she said.

"I think it's much harder to find someone you want to spend your life with than it is to find a job you're reasonably happy at," Stockwell said. "You always have to balance what options come your way."

Stockwell married her husband, an Air Force intelligence officer, in 2005. She soon realized how difficult it would be to find work at each of her husband's new duty stations.

"The first few years I worked from home, head hunting people into the same kind of technical jobs I'd done myself," she said. "It was always 'go self-employed and figure out something that will travel.'"

When she applied for outside work, employers often said she was overqualified or assumed she was a military wife by looking at her resume, she said.

"It's very hard when an employer looks at your resume and sees you're moving every one, two, three years," she said. "They say, 'It's not worth it.' And I think the more specific your career field is, the harder it is."

In 2009, the couple's 2-year-old son was diagnosed with autism, and Stockwell faced a new challenge: battling the military medical system to get the treatment he needed.

"We were fortunate that the military does have a good health insurance policy," she said. "But you might have to fight for the services your child needs."

Stockwell's battle inspired her to volunteer with American Military Families Autism Support, a grass-roots organization that helps military families dealing with autism spectrum disorder.

She moderates the group's Facebook page and assists military families with special needs children who are relocating to the area.

She plans to use her platform as Peterson Air Force Base Spouse of the Year to raise awareness of the plight of military spouses seeking employment, as well as the plight of troops and dependents with medical conditions.

"I would love to see things more efficient, streamlined and better sharing of information between bases," she said. "As for spouse employment, landing a job seems to require networking, and if you're brand new in town, you have no network. Or what if you're a parent who is new in town and highly qualified for a job but have a child with complex medical needs? Where do you find child care? That's a big challenge, too."

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