By Elaine Wilson, American Forces Press ServiceMarch 1, 2011
WASHINGTON, Feb. 28, 2011 -- First Lady Michelle Obama and Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden, plan to launch a campaign next month that's designed to rally citizens, businesses and nonprofit organizations to provide support for U.S. servicemembers and their families.
Obama and Biden previewed the campaign today during the National Governors Association meeting at the White House.
"We're very excited about this initiative because we think that this will not only help our troops and their families, but it will help us as a nation link together and be even stronger," the first lady said.
The campaign, Obama explained, will focus on four main areas: employment, education, wellness and public awareness.
"We're going to be working with businesses and nonprofit organizations to improve career opportunities for veterans and military spouses," she said. "There are a lot of wonderful models, companies that are already doing great things. We want to raise up those models and encourage other businesses to find a way to do the same."
They'll also work with education groups to better accommodate military children, Obama said, and encourage Americans to "simply step up as individuals."
It's evident that Americans care for the nation's troops, she said. However, "Oftentimes we just don't know what to do. And our hope is that through this public awareness campaign, we can funnel that energy, we can galvanize it, and we can direct it in a way that's going to be most helpful for our military families."
The first lady praised sweeping efforts already under way. President Barack Obama unveiled last month a new whole-of government initiative to support military families. Federal agencies have made nearly 50 commitments to improving military families' quality of life, she said.
It's an important step, she noted, but military families' needs can't be met by government efforts alone.
Families need employers willing to hire them and who understand the unique employment issues that military spouses face, she said. They need schools that recognize there are military children in their midst and understand how to address their unique needs as they cope with multiple deployments and moves.
And, "They need communities that show gratitude for the sacrifices they're making -- not just with words, but with deeds," the first lady said.
The first lady acknowledged the additional challenges National Guard and Reserve families face, particularly those who live far from bases or communities with built-in resources and support networks.
"It takes a special effort to reach out to these individuals and their families," she told the governors. "And that's why we want to work with all of you -- the governors of our states and with people and organizations within your states -- to help us find ways to better support military families, to keep raising awareness and making these families an important part of all of our common agenda."
Stepping up to help military families doesn't have to entail large-scale efforts, the first lady noted. People can help out with simple acts of kindness, such as mowing a lawn or shoveling snow off of a driveway. And local businesses and professionals, ranging from lawyers to mechanics, can offer military family discounts.
"However folks choose to help, the idea here is very simple," she said. "It's about doing everything we can to keep military families in our hearts and on our minds.
"It's about showing our gratitude to that very small group of Americans who make such a tremendous contribution and sacrifice to this country," she added. "And it's about serving the people who sacrifice so much to serve us."
Biden said she knows from personal experience what a difference it can make when someone, whether an individual or group, reaches out to support troops and their families. She cited her experience as a military mom -- her son, Beau Biden, is a captain in the Delaware Army National Guard -- and her work with the grassroots organization, Delaware Boots on the Ground.
"Where a military family in Delaware has a need, we try to meet it," she said, describing the organization's mission. "Whether it's physical labor or repairs around the house, a fun night out for the kids, or other simple ways individuals, businesses and groups can support a family through a deployment."
Small groups like "Boots on the Ground" are making a difference across the country, Biden noted. A Minnesota-based organization, for example, collects hockey equipment for military children, she said, and a group of barbecue lovers in Ohio provides meals for military family events across the state.
As an educator, Biden said she's also pleased to hear how schools and teachers are supporting military children. She highlighted the efforts of a teacher working near Fort Stewart, Ga. The teacher sets up parent-teacher conferences over the Internet so deployed parents can take part, she said.
"There are so many great and inspiring stories which demonstrate that every American can take their time, their expertise and their passion and use it to support and thank a military family," Biden said.
Biden said she and the first lady often talk about the ways that Americans can support troops and their families. "And now we are trying to encourage all Americans to join us in this effort," she said.
Obama said the true mark of the campaign's success will be in its longevity.
"This isn't just a campaign for today. This is a campaign for every day, all day," she said. "This is going to outlive me and Jill and Joe and Barack. This is something that should be a part of what we do here in America."