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Joining Forces Event with First Lady Michelle Obama

As Delivered by Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta, Pentagon Auditorium, Washington, D.C., Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Thank you very much.  Good afternoon and thank you for joining all of us here to welcome our very special guests.  I also want to acknowledge some important guests that are in the audience.  First, Ash Carter, my deputy; and Deputy Secretary Neal Wolin from Treasury, we welcome you, and all the good work that Treasury has done on this particular issue.  And Mrs. Beshear, who is the First Lady from Kentucky, we appreciate your presence as well.  The Service Chiefs and all Service Secretaries, we thank you all for being here as well.

I can tell that all of you are as excited, and honored, as General Dempsey and I to be honored by the presence of Mrs. Obama and Dr. Biden here at the Pentagon.  This is truly an honor for all of us.  I know they have the gratitude of all the service members and military spouses in the audience for devoting so much of their time and their energy to helping support military families. 

In this building, we do everything we can to provide service members with the best support system in the world and to give them everything they need in order to do their mission.  But there is no support system like family.  For all of us.  The love, the devotion, the support, the loyalty, the dedication of our loved ones is what makes us get through each day, through thick and thin.  So I’d like to thank all the extraordinary military spouses and family members in this audience for your service and sacrifice.  We simply could not do this mission without you.  I’d also like to thank the representatives from veterans service organizations and other non-profit groups that do so much to support our military families.

Military families are a vital part of what makes our military, and our country, the strongest on earth.  Mrs. Obama and Dr. Biden, everything you have done to help make our troops and their families part of your families, you have brought much-needed attention to the unique needs and strengths of America’s military support system.  We thank you for that.  Their leadership on these issues is making a profound difference for our men and women in uniform, their families, and our veterans.

To all service members and spouses and those here today, please know that just as you have committed yourself to this country, this country is committed to you. 

As part of that commitment, this Department is working to ensure that our veterans and military families have opportunities to use their skills and their experience and their expertise to help strengthen communities across this nation.  As one example, we are committed to providing those who transition out of military service, and their spouses, with the training and support they need to find a job, pursue higher education, or start a business

Working with the Department of Veterans Affairs, we have recently put forward a new model for helping service members through the transition process.  This model consists of:

  • stronger career readiness standards;
  • an enhanced transition curriculum to meet those standards, and;
  • a direct connection to community resources that can provide continued support after the service member departs the military.

As we go through this transition, this support system is going to be absolutely essential to help these troops and their families get back to their communities.  Another key aspect of this Department’s commitment to its people – and the reason we are coming together today – is our effort to support the spouses of our active duty service members.  The military lifestyle creates unique challenges and obstacles that often prevent military spouses from being able to move upward in their own careers. 

Today, we are highlighting one of those obstacles:  the complicated process too many of our spouses have to go through to get their professional licenses transferred across state lines.  And I have my own personal experience with this.  My wife was a nurse when I was in the service, and her ability to be able to practice as a nurse was often inhibited by these restrictions.

The Department of Defense has been working closely with the Department of Treasury to study the impact of occupational licensing on military spouse employment, and today we are releasing a report that highlights the importance of this issue, and what states can do to help for military families. 

Now let me introduce somebody who is truly dedicated to our troops and to their families.  General Martin Dempsey, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, is truly someone whose whole life has been dedicated to this cause.  I’m particularly grateful to Marty for being an extraordinary battle buddy over the last two days of budget hearings on Capitol Hill.  Over the last two days, we’ve had to sit through more than eight hours of congressional hearings.  I’ve asked Marty to develop a new combat badge for duty on Capitol Hill—with clusters.

But Marty endures it, as we all do, because he cares so deeply about every man and woman serving this country in uniform, and their families.   He is truly a great example of leadership and caring.  He and his wife Deanie have worked tirelessly to help support these families, and we are all thankful for their leadership.  

So, thank you Marty, and to you Deanie, for your service and sacrifice. And my deepest thanks also to Mrs. Obama and Dr. Jill Biden for coming here today, for your leadership on this issue, and your commitment to all our military families.  As I told the Congress at hearings:  this Department, our job, our commitment is to protect this nation and keep America safe.  In helping our families, you are not only protecting them,  you are helping to protect America. God bless you and your dedication to this cause. Ladies and gentlemen, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs.

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