She knows the toll that frequent moves can take on a family, and a wife who wants to have her own career.
“We haven’t moved a lot,” she said. “When I say we haven’t moved a lot, we’ve only moved nine times.
“I’ve met other people who have moved a lot more.”
From Norfolk, to Mayport, to Texas, to Korea, she said one theme remains constant: The stress of trying to find a new job — again.
That struggle ultimately led Smith to start homeportadvantagejobexchange.com, an employment website tailored toward military spouses and dependents.
Smith endured the struggle first-hand.
When she and her husband, a surface warfare officer, made their first move from Norfolk Naval Station, she’d just graduated with a bachelor’s degree in economics.
“Whenever I started a job, it was one of those things where even though I had the experience, it was always about how much time I had to spend in that job,” she said. “Being someone fresh out of college, having the degree and moving from place to place, it was almost like starting over.
“There were times I was making less money compared to my prior job.”
It’s not just Smith.
“Studies have shown that female Armed Forces spouses are employed at lower rates and earn less than female civilian spouses, on average,” according to a 2014 report by Syracuse University. “Female civilian spouses with the same characteristics as female Armed Forces spouses have better employment outcomes than the average female Armed Forces spouse.”
What employers perceive to be an erratic work history is often the problem, Smith said.
Employers would find roundabout ways to find out if her husband was in the military and thus likely to move in a couple of years.
“They can’t ask you if you’re military, but they’ll ask you a slick question like ‘What brings you to Jacksonville?’ ” she said. “You tell them that my husband’s in the military and I assume that’s a red flag.”
She eventually decided to put her career on hold and start a family.
Once the kids were in school, she earned a master’s degree in education and taught for a number of years in Jacksonville before the idea came to her.
“I’ve met so many military spouses over the years,” she said. “I’d always volunteered in different organizations working with military families and I just had this desire.
“I knew what military spouses were dealing with when moving from place to place.”
If Smith’s dream comes to fruition, that won’t be the case for many anymore.
Homeport Advantage also advertises permanent jobs, but it focuses on micro-jobs like contract work and temporary jobs that may range from one day to six months or longer.
Though the ethos of the company and its owner is to help military families, Smith said one thing she learned at the OneSpark business boot camp this year was that her target wasn’t military families, it was businesses.
In other words, get employers to post their jobs on the site and the job seekers will come.
“I am actually going out knocking on doors and saying, ‘Hey, these are the benefits of hiring a military spouse,’ ” she said. “If you’re a small business, we come with our own health benefits. That’ll reduce employment costs.”
The reaction from the local community has been enthusiastic so far, Smith said.
“I think the difficult part is that this is something new to Jacksonville for the most part,” she said. “It’s not an original idea, except just focusing on military spouses, dependents and veterans.
“I just want to give them options.”