WASHINGTON, April 12, 2011 -- First Lady Michelle Obama and Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden, launched a national initiative today that calls on all sectors of society to join forces to support and honor servicemembers and their families.
Flanked by their husbands, the first and second ladies announced the "Joining Forces" military-support campaign, which aims to raise awareness of military families and spark all Americans -- from citizens and communities, to businesses and nonprofit groups -- to take action to ensure troops and their families have the support they need and deserve.
"This campaign is about all of us, all of us joining together as Americans to give back to the extraordinary military families who serve and sacrifice so much every day so we can live in freedom and security," the first lady told a packed audience of top Defense Department and government officials, servicemembers and military spouses at the White House.
Military families are strong and resilient, and "they don't complain," she said. But this same strength may cause Americans to overlook families' immense sacrifices.
As a country, Americans don't always see military families, our "heroes on the home front," Obama added.
To ensure their voices are heard, the first lady said the first step in their campaign journey will be to raise awareness of military families and the sacrifices they make.
"The truth is, our military families are all around us," she said, noting most military families live off base.
Military families, she continued, are neighbors and co-workers, and children sitting in classrooms across the nation. Many are National Guard members or Reservists, serving in civilian jobs one day and in uniform the next. And just about every town in the country has a veteran, the first lady said.
"We want Americans to realize in a way that every community is a military community," she said.
Obama said a series of public service announcements -- from organizations such as NASCAR and celebrities such as Oprah Winfrey and Tom Hanks -- soon will help shine a light on military families. Additionally, she said, writers, producers, directors and actors have committed to telling more stories of military families in TV shows and movies.
Obama said the next step for Joining Forces will be a call to action.
Their efforts, based on conversations with military families, will focus on three key areas: employment, education and wellness, including mental health, she said.
In the area of employment, the first lady said she and Biden will be champions for military spouses as they pursue jobs and advance careers.
On education, they'll work to help military children thrive in the classroom, the first lady added, especially as the children move from school to school. And they'll help spouses continue their education and obtain degrees.
On wellness, "we're going to remind our nation that just as our troops deserve the best support when dealing with the stresses of war and long deployments, so do military spouses and children," the first lady said.
The campaign's motto is simple, Obama said: "Everyone can do something."
Obama recounted the many sectors of society that already have pledged to help. The campaign will join forces with the federal government, which earlier this year, made nearly 50 commitments to improve the lives of military families.
They'll join forces, Obama continued, with states, cities and local governments. States, for example, can help spouses obtain licenses and certifications, and ease children's transitions to new schools.
And they'll join forces with businesses, the first lady said. Some companies will be telling military spouses working at their stores that they'll have a job when they move to a new duty location. One company is setting aside 10 percent of positions for veterans, she added.
The Chamber of Commerce also is stepping up, the first lady said, by encouraging members to hire military spouses and veterans and to find mentors for military wives. The Chamber has agreed to host more than 100 job fairs across the country.
Technology companies, she said, will help connect military spouses and veterans with companies that are hiring and train them in new technologies so they can start their own businesses.
Turning to nonprofits, Obama said these groups also will pitch in to support families. The USO will expand its efforts to help Americans to support military families, she said, and the Military Child Education Coalition is teaming up with the national PTA and with more than 100 teaching colleges to help teachers in communities better serve military kids.
"Finally, this is about all of us joining forces as Americans and we can do it right where we live and work," the first lady said. An offer of mowing a lawn or shoveling snow can go a long way, she said, as can an offer to pick up an extra carpool shift or deliver a home-cooked meal to a parent with a deployed spouse.
Everyone can commit to one small act of kindness, said Biden, who is a military mom herself. Her son, Beau, is in the Delaware Army National Guard.
"There are countless ways to help -- some large, and many small, but all important," she said. "And I can tell you from personal experience -- all appreciate it.
"Imagine for a moment not just what these small gestures mean to a family, but what they mean to a Soldier thousands of miles away who knows that someone is looking out for the ones he loves back home," Biden added.
People can learn more about supporting military families on the campaign's new website, called Joining Forces.gov. Visitors can send messages of thanks, find opportunities to get involved and share stories of service.
Also in response to this call to action, the Center for a New American Security will coordinate commitments and mobilize support for Joining Forces. These efforts will be led by a board of Americans, including retired Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal and Patty Shinseki, wife of Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric K. Shinseki.
Obama said she and Biden will begin a whirlwind trip tomorrow to highlight America's efforts to support military families and to provide examples for others to follow. At each stop, she said, they'll ask Americans: "How can I give back to these families who are giving me so much'"
The first lady vowed her ongoing support, which she hopes will be sustained for the long term.
"It's our hope that what we're launching today becomes part of the fabric of our country," she said. "Working together we're going to make sure our military families are never forgotten."