Joining Forces, an Obama administration initiative, is being reintroduced with new priorities, First Lady Dr. Jill Biden announced April 7 in a virtual White House event.
Joining Forces supports military and veterans' families, caregivers and survivors by helping them find employment, securing child care and making sure families' well-being is addressed.
The first lady was joined by Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III's wife, Charlene Austin, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Mark. A. Milley's wife, Hollyanne Milley. Military family members, advocates and stakeholders from around the world joined the virtual event on myriad monitors as Biden outlined the new priorities for Joining Forces.
"We're here because of you … because of the stories you have shared with me, your joys and your challenges from difficult [permanent changes in station] to the lack of child care on and off bases, for fighting to keep your own careers, and to saying goodbye to beloved schools and friends, from caring for your loved ones to mourning those who have been lost," Biden, also a military mother, said. "You are the rudder that steers our military, and supporting your physical, social and emotional health is a national security imperative."
Service members cannot focus on their mission if their families don't have what they need to thrive at home, she emphasized. The nation can't keep the best and the brightest talent in its military ranks if service members are forced to choose between their love of country and the hopes and dreams they have for their families, she said.
The U.S. military, as an all-volunteer force, continues only because of generations of Americans who see the honor, dignity and patriotism of that calling, Biden said. "How can we hope to keep our military strong if we don't give our family survivors and caregivers what they need to survive if we don't act on our sacred obligation," she asked.
That is what Joining Forces is all about, the first lady said. During the Obama-Biden administration, under the direction of then-First Lady Michelle Obama and then-Second Lady Biden, "we made a lot of progress … and now we're ready to do more," she said.
Over the next few years, Joining Forces will focus on these issues, Biden said:
- Military family employment and entrepreneurship. Before the pandemic, the Defense Department estimated the military spouse unemployment rate was about 22%, she said. "All of you deserve opportunities to do the work you love, whether that means keeping your job when you move from base to base, or owning your own businesses."
- Quality child care when families need it, so they don't have to feel like they're choosing between their job and taking care of their children.
- Education for military children. There are more than 2 million children whose parents are service members, National Guard reservists or veterans. Schools want to support all students, but they don't always know how to do so, she said. "We're going to work with educators and our government partners to make sure that your military-connected kids have what [they] need to succeed."
- Military family health and well being will also be highlighted. Because only 1% of our country has shouldered the burden of 20 years of war, no one has more strength, grit and resilience than our military families, Biden said, adding, "But you can't do this alone. We have to help you carry this weight by improving access to mental health resources, ensuring everyone can put food on the table and supporting caregiving families and survivors."
Joining Forces has commitments from the departments of defense, labor and education, and this initiative will take all of our government working together, she noted. "We expect every agency to step up and be part of it. This is a community bound together by love, love for our country, love for your service members and love for the communities you build together. And it's time that we match that devotion," the first lady said.
"Your commander-in-chief understands there is no greater honor than serving those who serve our country, [and for] everyone who serves, he's going to make sure that you and your community are seen," Biden said. "Our goal is this work will live on long after we leave as a permanent priority for every White House, because you deserve nothing less. So thank you for all that you do."
Following her remarks, the first lady, joined by Austin and Milley, went to Arlington, Virginia, where they toured a Military OneSource call center, one of three in the nation. The Arlington call center also is the home of the Military OneSource website and comprises a DOD resource providing 24/7 support to service members, their families and survivors. They were met by Patricia "Patty" Montes Barron, deputy assistant secretary of defense for military community and family policy.