WASHINGTON — For the second straight year, first lady Jill Biden welcomed National Guardsmen, spouses and children to the White House to discuss their challenges and how best to support them.
The first lady heard stories of the pride and resilience children show in the face of frequent calls for their Guard parents to serve their nation, state and community.
“Our National Guardsmen and women have to be ready to go on support missions at a moment’s notice,” she told them. “And that means that their kids — all of you — know what it’s like to have your mom or your dad missing at the dinner table every time they’re called to duty.
“And you do it with humility and honor,” she said. “I want you to know that my husband, President Biden, and I are so grateful and so proud of all of you. We know it isn’t easy.”
Since 9/11, more than 1 million Guardsmen have deployed in support of operations around the globe. Because the National Guard is the combat reserve of the Army and Air Force, its members are trained and equipped to help with first-response efforts at home during a crisis.
Today, the Guard stands at more than 430,000 members strong. As the second largest military organization in the Department of Defense, its mission, motto and promise to America is to be Always Ready, Always There.
The National Guard is in about 2,800 communities — almost every ZIP code. Most Guardsmen serve part-time and balance their service with civilian careers and family responsibilities.
Kelly Hokanson, the National Guard senior spouse and mother of three service members, told the group that growing up as a military child is a sacrifice and a gift. Kelly’s husband, Army Gen. Daniel Hokanson, is the 29th chief of the National Guard Bureau.
Gen. Hokanson has served in duty stations across the United States and deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq.
“It’s a sacrifice of time with your family — a sacrifice every member of our community shares,” Kelly Hokanson said. “But it’s also a gift. A gift of compassion, service and unfathomable strength and resilience.”
Caleb Greico, 14, a New Jersey native, attended the event with his parents and sister, Penelope. He introduced Jill Biden to the group, a responsibility he relished.
“Thank you for inviting me and my family to the White House,” Caleb told her. “We are very honored to be here with you.
“It’s not just my family, but everyone here has a family member that has been contributing to this country.”
Caleb’s mom, Army Spc. Laura Greico, a signal support systems specialist assigned to Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion, 113th Infantry Regiment, 44th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, New Jersey National Guard, is preparing to deploy with her unit.
Caleb asked other children for advice on how to cope with a parent being gone for an extended time. Staying active and connected in community circles were common themes from those whose parents have deployed or been away for long durations.
“Focus on the stuff you enjoy and work on yourself,” said Aiden Buckner, 14, from New Mexico.
Aiden’s dad, Air Force Capt. Thomas Buckner, is the deputy commander of the New Mexico Guard’s 150th Civil Engineering Squadron.
“Try your best to work and focus on your goals,” Aiden said.
Eight-year-old Marina Munyabuhoro immigrated to America from a refugee camp in East Africa with her parents when she was 11 months old. Her father, Airman 1st Class Theogene Munyabuhoro, joined the New Hampshire National Guard and became an American citizen.
Marina told the first lady she wants to serve in the military “to honor my father’s legacy and to be a symbol of hope … and a good example to other immigrant kids.
And to protect and defend this blessed country.”
The president and first lady are familiar with National Guard service: their son, the late Army Maj. Beau Biden, served in the Delaware Guard, leaving behind his children to deploy on a tour in Iraq. It’s part of why Jill Biden helped establish Joining Forces to support service members, veterans and those they hold most dear.
She encouraged the children in attendance to share with their teachers, coaches and influential people in their lives that their parents serve.
“As a teacher, I ask my class, ‘Is anybody here militarily connected and what are your connections?’” she said. “That helps me to understand that they might be going through a rough patch or might be absent for a day.”
Guard leaders and families — more than 200 representing 36 states and territories — attended the event, which included a holiday presentation and the first lady’s unveiling of the 2023 White House “Magic, Wonder & Joy” holiday theme and decorations.
“We are grateful for everyone’s support of our National Guard families and especially of the children who are central to so many of our members’ lives and service,” Gen. Hokanson said. “We could not do what we do without the support of our families.”