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First Lady, Dr. Biden to 'Shine Light' on Military Families

By Elaine Sanchez
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, April 12, 2011 – First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden said they have spoken with countless military families in their travels and have heard some “breathtaking” stories of service and sacrifice.

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First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden, discuss their new "Joining Forces" campaign in an interview with American Forces Press Service at the White House, April 6, 2011. DOD photo by Linda Hosek
  

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

They’ve talked to wives dealing with fourth and fifth deployments, to children stepping up to care for their families, and to caregivers who walked away from jobs and homes to care for a wounded loved one.

It’s now time, they said, for the rest of the nation to hear these stories.

“There isn’t a citizen on the face of this nation who wouldn’t be moved by [their] fortitude,” the first lady said. “These aren’t stories of sadness -- they’re stories of success, triumph …. These are the stories the country needs to be motivated by.”

Obama and Biden plan to spotlight these stories in the coming months through their nationwide initiative, called “Joining Forces.” Joined by President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, they announced today the launch of this campaign, which aims to bring together every sector of this nation -– from individuals and communities to businesses and nonprofits -– to support and honor service members and their families.  

Last week at the White House, the first lady and Dr. Biden sat down with American Forces Press Service to discuss what they feel are military families’ biggest challenges and to outline the steps they plan to take to address them.

Obama and Biden said the first step in this journey will be to raise awareness of military families and to “shine the light on their voices.”

“These families, and the men and women who serve, represent the best of this country,” the first lady said. “They struggle and have challenges, but are succeeding in the face of some devastating circumstances in some instances, and they are patriotic and dedicated and ready to do it again.”

Now, “I want the rest of the nation to meet them,” she added.

Obama and Biden said they plan to focus on three key areas in their campaign -- education, employment and mental health and wellness. Based on their conversations with families, these areas reflect the issues families most frequently face, they said.

As a long-time teacher, Biden said education issues are particularly close to her heart. Military families -- who move up to six or seven times over the course of a military career -- must tackle the ongoing challenges of multiple school transfers, dealing with everything from records transfer delays to struggling to meet grade requirements.

Employment is an area of longstanding concern for military spouses, the first lady noted. Military spouses -- who are “highly skilled professionals in their own right” -- move so often that it’s tough to build up a consistent work history or to maintain certifications and licenses that vary from state to state, she said.

Above all, the nation “needs to make sure families are healthy … and have all the care they need,” the first lady said. After a decade of multiple deployments and related stressors, troops and their families need support that isn’t stigmatized and is confidential and effective, she added.

“This has to be hard,” Obama said of the struggles that troops and their families face, “emotionally, physically, financially, you name it.”

Obama and Biden said they’re particularly concerned for the nation’s nearly 2 million military children. In recent years, studies have revealed the impact of deployments on these children –- from their performance in school to their psychological well-being.

Biden recalled a story she heard while visiting troops in Iraq last summer. An officer told her about a child who attended a musical play. When “Ave Maria,” was sung, the child burst into tears, she said. The teacher rushed over and asked her why she was crying.

“That’s the song they played at my daddy’s funeral,” the little girl told the teacher.

“That made me realize that teachers need to be aware of the kids in their classroom that are military children,” Biden said. “They need to know what these kids are going through and that they are under additional stress.”

The nation needs to step up care for these children, who are serving in their own way alongside their military parents, the first lady said.

“They’re doing it quietly, maybe not even indicating what they’re going through unless there’s a song played or something triggers it,” Obama said. “We should know ahead of time; we shouldn’t wait for those triggers.”

Military families are strong, they said, but this strength can sometimes translate into a reluctance to ask for the support they need.

“They don’t complain and they won’t ask for help,” the first lady said. “They feel they should be handling this burden.”

Families living on military installations often lean on each other. But it’s often tougher for National Guard and Reserve families, Obama noted, who may live away from a base and the readily available support systems there.

Biden said she recently got together with a group of women to deliver baby gifts to a wife of a deployed service member who was about to have a baby.

“They’re not asking for this; they’re proud, resilient,” she said. “Be we as Americans need to appreciate the sacrifice they’re making for us.”

Throughout the campaign, Obama and Biden said they’ll ensure these stories are heard, and afterward, they’ll put forth a call to action that will encompass all sectors of society.

“It’s that call to action that I think this country will respond to positively –- to say let’s step up and care for these families, these veterans,” the first lady said.

“Let’s end homelessness among veterans once and for all,” she continued. “Let’s take care of military children and make sure they have everything they need to pursue their dreams and more.”

Obama and Biden will be calling on all Americans to help, whether it’s with an offer of child care, shoveling a driveway or cooking a family a meal.

“We’re asking [Americans] to find their strength, find out how they can help, to show their appreciation,” Biden said.

Obama and Biden said they hope to generate so much support through their campaign that military families won’t ever have to ask for it.

They’ll know “they live in a country that’s grateful for the sacrifices they already make,” the first lady said.

Biden agreed. “I hope we never ever have again a military family who says … I just don’t think Americans appreciate what we do,” she said. “I want them to know and feel they’re appreciated.”

The greatest testament to their efforts will be a  continuation of support for military families, they said.

“This can’t be an initiative that’s just about wartime,” the first lady. “Because the truth is the challenges these families face will just begin when a conflict is over and will continue for the rest of their lives.

“We must be prepared for a sustained effort and support and I hope that this campaign will support this role, that it will become part of the fabric of this country,” she added, “and when we’re long gone and the next president has taken office, this is just something we do, that all sectors of society have figured out how to incorporate this into their mission now and forever.”

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageFirst Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden, arrive for an interview with American Forces Press Service at the White House, April 6, 2011. Obama and Biden discussed their new military family-support initiative called "Joining Forces" during the interview. DOD photo by Linda Hosek  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageFirst Lady Michelle Obama discusses her new military family-support campaign during an interview with American Forces Press Service at the White House, April 6, 2011. Dr. Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden, also participated in the interview. DOD photo by Linda Hosek  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageDr. Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden, speaks about a new White House initiative to support and honor service members and their families in an interview with American Forces Press Service at the White House, April 6, 2011. DOD photo by Linda Hosek  
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