Ed note: This article was cross-posted from the Department of Defense site.
Supporting troops, veterans and their families as they’ve supported the nation is a charge that will define America’s next generation of leaders, the vice president’s wife said today.
Dr. Jill Biden cited the importance of enduring military family support to about 200 aspiring young leaders attending the 2012 National 4-H Youth Conference, sponsored by the Agriculture Department’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture, in Chevy Chase, MD.
“You are all here today because of your extraordinary leadership and your commitment to service,” Biden, a longtime educator, told the audience. “You are role models and mentors. As you continue to achieve, we will look to you to keep making a difference in your communities and across the country.”
The 4-H, the nation’s largest youth development organization, has a long-standing history of military family support, Biden said in her prepared remarks. She cited the Military 4-H Club Program, which serves children on military installations, and Operation: Military Kids, which supports children impacted by deployment.
“4-H has provided a sense of community for military-connected children for decades,” she said. “4-H has given military-connected children an outlet -- a chance to use their talents -- and helped them reach their full potential, even while they face some unique and difficult challenges.”
As a military mom, Biden said, she’s all too familiar with these challenges. The Bidens’ son, Beau Biden, is a major in the Delaware Army National Guard. She recalled when their son deployed to Iraq for a year, leaving his two young children behind.
“They missed their dad terribly,” Biden said, noting it was a “tough” year. “But one of the most wonderful things that happened to them that year was the support and love they got -- from family, from friends, from teachers and neighbors. Our family knows firsthand just how important it is for children to have that kind of support when a parent is deployed.”
For more than a decade, hundreds of thousands of service members have served multiple deployments in Iraq, Biden said, and troops still are serving in Afghanistan.
“As a nation, we have asked so much of them and their families, while they ask so little of us,” she said. “They and their families should always feel they are just a handshake away from a caring and supportive neighbor or friend who has their back.”
Generating this type of support was the driving force behind the Joining Forces initiative, Biden explained. She and First Lady Michelle Obama launched this campaign a year ago to rally the nation around troops, veterans and their families.
Over the past year, “individuals, groups and businesses have risen to the challenge in so many wonderful ways,” she said, also citing the “tremendous work” of the 4-H.
“The work of 4-H is a perfect example of what we hope people all across our country will do,” she said.
Biden noted a specific need to support children of reservists. These families typically live in civilian communities where their neighbors may not even be aware they have a military family in their midst.
“That is why I am so pleased that 4-H is focusing some attention on children in the National Guard by helping them develop leadership and communications skills,” she said.
Biden pointed out several National Guard youth participants in the audience, including Kirsten Morris of Georgia. Last year, she explained, Morris met with her state school superintendent to explain military children’s unique challenges, such as frequent moves and school transitions.
She saw a need and stepped up to address it, Biden said, and is in good company.
“All of you share a very important trait with our troops and veterans -- the desire to serve your country,” she told the audience. “It is as deeply ingrained in them as it is in all of you.”
Nearly 6 million young people, ages 5 to 19, participate in 4-H youth development programs in all 50 states, territories and military installations worldwide, according to the 4-H website.
Elaine Sanchez is a writer for the American Forces Press Service.