Joining Forces to Support Military Families

April 12, 2011 | 50:34 | Public Domain

First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden are joined by President Obama and Vice President Biden as they launch Joining Forces, a national initiative to support and honor America’s service members and their families.

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Remarks by the President, the Vice President, the First Lady, and Dr. Biden at Launch of "Joining Forces" Initiative

East Room

12:16 P.M. EDT

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  Well, welcome to the White House.  Shirley, you’re getting to be an old pro.  (Laughter.)  When Shirley and Jill made their first television appearance a while ago, I think it was up in Philly at -- for a Boots on the Ground event, Mr. Secretary, they were both scared to death.  Now I am scared to follow Jill.  (Laughter.)
Ladies and gentlemen, Jill and I just returned from a ceremony that honored Bob Dole and his heroic service -- an unparalleled devotion to supporting veterans in this country.

You know, he always knew and taught me what many of us have come to learn -- that we have many obligations in this country, but we only have one truly -- one truly sacred obligation, and that is to prepare those who we send to war with all that they need, and take care of those who return from war and their families with all they deserve.

Although Bob’s generation was known as “The Greatest Generation,” this generation of warriors, as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Admiral Mullen can tell you, this generation of warriors may be among the most devoted because of the long, long, long periods of service that they’ve had to endure.

They’ve seen multiple deployments.  They’ve seen and participated in two wars that -- wars that have extended almost a decade.  And in the process, we have lost over 5,000 -- not over, exactly, as of an hour ago -- 5,957 fallen angels; 43,006 -- 43,006 have been wounded.  And there’s still more of a job to be done.  There are still more warriors deployed.

I don’t think there’s ever been a time in American history when a generation of military families has had to endure for as long and as much as this generation of American families of service people.

As I said, we only have one truly sacred obligation.  You know, the poet John Milton said of Shirley and all the Blue Star moms and dads and husbands and wives and grandparents out there, he said, “They also serve who only stand in wait.”  And this generation of military families has, as I said earlier, stood a long time.  Some have waited multiple times.

I look at the men in uniform here, the men I most admire, and I may be mistaken, but I don’t think there’s been this many times when people have been in battle, wounded, seen bloody, bloody conflict, come home for a brief respite, and sent back again.  It’s one thing to go the first time, not knowing exactly what the horrors of war may be like, but to saddle up and go back again and again and again.

On my multiple flights, Mr. Secretary, into Iraq and Afghanistan over 25 times, I -- last time in I sat up with the pilots in the C-130s that were coming in.  And I said, guys, how many tours?  Of the four in the cockpit, only one had served only two.  Three had served -- two had served four, and this was the fifth deployment for the fourth.

So this generation that Michelle and Jill are embarking on bringing the awareness of the rest of the country to, we owe them a lot.  They’ve known the pain and anxiety that comes from when the external and internal bond of family is stretched across oceans and gulfs of time. 

You know, your child, it’s your child when you’re there; your child, you miss their first step; the first smile that they smile; the missed birthdays; the anniversaries that were celebrated on Skype.  We learned all about Skype when our son was in Iraq for a year.
Yet their support here at home has never wavered, and I would say that they, too, the families that Shirley represents and many of you in the audience, they are as brave and heroic as their sons and daughters and their husbands and wives that are there, and they truly deserve our support.

As I said, Jill and I know a little bit like -- what it’s like firsthand.  Our son Beau was in Iraq for a year, deployed once.  We learned at that time how much it means to those who are in a war zone thousands of miles away, knowing that their family is being cared for; that the next-door neighbor has offered to cut their grass while their husband is overseas; or that the next-door neighbor will give a jumpstart on that cold morning when you’re trying to get your daughter or son to elementary school.  I know that those little things are the things that make every day work or not work.  It matters.  It matters because it’s one less thing they have to worry about in theater. 

And all of those of you who’ve served in the military and served overseas, no, I’m not exaggerating when I say that -- every single warrior I meet in place in Afghanistan or Iraq or Bosnia, in those days, in Kosovo -- all they ask about, they ask about what it’s like at home:  Can you give my wife a call?  Can you pick up the phone and call my pop, let him know it’s okay?

All Americans should know that one act of kindness extended to a family of a soldier, a sailor, or a Marine, a Coast Guardsman, reverberates across water, over the mountains, and through the deserts, into the heart of the warrior who is standing there alone, thinking as much about his family as his family is thinking about him or her.

I promise you, I promise you, all those of you who are listening on the television or radio, it matters.  It matters. 

Jill always points out that only 1 percent of our nation is serving -- over a million young women and men -- and not so young.  Last time -- four or five times ago I was in Iraq in one of Saddam’s old palaces, and we were having one of those sort of impromptu meetings you have all the time, Mr. Secretary, where one soldier gathers around you, then five, and then 10.  Next thing you’re standing on a chair talking to a bunch.  And I said, “You’re a great bunch of young guys.”  And a guy from the back, General Shinseki, yells, “Biden” -- and I was senator -- “Senator, John Jones” -- I won’t mention his name -- “John Jones.  Saw you here last time.  Sixty-one years old.”  (Laughter.) 

So they’re not all -- they’re not all young.  But the fact is only 1 percent of the families have served in those wars.  Yet 100 percent of American families have an obligation to commit to that 1 percent and just show one -- one single act of kindness to a deployed veteran’s family.

As Jill has declared many times as Second Lady, helping to muster the strength and to remind the neighbors that everyone in America has a duty to fulfill that sacred obligation I mentioned.  Jill knows how important it is for our troops and for their families.  She knows also that -- how far just a little bit of support can go. 

My wife, whom I’m about to introduce, feels it in her bones.  It’s become part of who she is.  That blue star is sort of indelibly branded on her heart.  And it’s come in our family and among our friends, as Shirley will tell you, to define her in a sense. 

Ladies and gentlemen, I’m honored to present to you the Second Lady of the United States, a Blue Star mom, my wife, Jill Biden.  (Applause.) 

DR. BIDEN:  Good morning.  I’m Jill Biden, and I am a proud military mom.  As my husband said, we are honored to have you all here at the White House today as we express the gratitude of our entire nation to those who serve in our military and to their amazing families.  You are all heroes -- from the moms and dads who keep your families together while your loved ones are serving overseas, to the grandparents who step in with much needed support, to the children who are strong and brave while mom and dad are away.  You go about your business every day, lifting up your communities, volunteering at your schools, lending a hand to your neighbors, and you do it all while carrying a heavier burden than most folks imagine.  You are truly remarkable. 

As Joe said, we have been a National Guard family for the last 10 years.  Two and a half years ago, I stood in Dover, Delaware, watching as our son Beau prepared to deploy to Iraq.  I remember it like it was yesterday.  Like other military families I felt an intense mixture of pride and concern, and I can honestly say that not a day passed during his year away when I didn’t worry about his safety.

During the deployment ceremony a friend slipped a prayer into my hand.  It brought me comfort, and I’ve shared it with many others since then.  The prayer asks for courage and strength for each soldier to do their duty when they risk their lives to protect our freedom, and expresses thanks for the sacrifice of these men and women and their families.  That prayer has been a huge source of comfort to me, especially in the year that Beau was deployed.  I could be anywhere in the course of my day, writing on the chalkboard in my classroom or preparing a meal, and I would just stop, close my eyes, and say that quick prayer for him and all others serving in harm’s way.

Now, when I attend deployment ceremonies I pass on this prayer to the moms and families I meet in the hopes that it comforts them as it did me.  I’ve had the opportunity over the last few years to attend several of the deployment and return ceremonies.  I have seen the pride, the trepidation, the relief, and the pure joy.  I have spent time with spouses and children, grandparents and friends, but somehow it is always the mothers who seek me out.  They know that I understand their experience.  And I because I do, I offer them my thanks, my prayers, and a warm embrace.

Michelle and I have met so many amazing families in the past few years.  Just last month, I attended a deployment ceremony where I met some folks I now call the grandparents.  Both parents of three children under the age of 10 were deploying, and these grandparents decided to circle the wagons and take care of the children together.  The grandmothers Janice (ph) and Ellen are here today.  Grandpa Charles is home babysitting.  (Laughter.)  I want to thank your entire family for their service.

Now, just think about these women.  They aren’t wearing uniforms.  They don’t live on a base.  But they are serving.  They could be your neighbors.  Ryan, Emma and Abby (ph) -- their grandchildren -- could be in your child’s classroom.  They could be members of your church or synagogue or customers at the hardware store you manage.  Think about that.

Now, imagine how a community could rally around this family, helping with carpools, sporting events, or school activities.  I’ve seen through my work with Shirley’s organization that small community groups can make a huge difference.  Imagine for a moment not just what these small gestures mean to a family, but what they mean to a soldier thousands of miles of away who knows that someone is looking out for the ones he loves back home.

There are small and effective groups like this all over the country -- from the barbecue master, who travels all over the state of Ohio to cook for military families; to the accountants providing free tax service; to the soldiers in Minnesota collecting hockey equipment for military kids.  These efforts make a difference in the lives of our families.

When I was in Iraq last year, I heard a story that has stuck with me ever since.  An officer told me about a little girl in his daughter’s class who broke into tears when she heard the “Ave Maria” sung during a holiday program.  As the teacher comforted her, the little girl explained that the song had been played at her father’s funeral.  Her father had been killed in Iraq.

As a teacher, I know that all teachers would want to understand that little girl’s experience.  So I shared that story with a group of educators, and I am so pleased to share the good news today that the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education has partnered with the Military Child Education Coalition to promote training for future teachers.  Together, they hope to teach 10,000 future educators how to best serve their military-connected students across the country.

In our travels, Michelle and I have seen many teachers who are making a real difference for the military children in their classrooms -- teachers who arrange parent-teacher conferences by Skype so deployed parents can participate; or teachers who encourage students to tape a photo of their deployed parent to their desk so they can look at it whenever they feel the need; or teachers like the one in my granddaughter’s classroom who hung up a photo of my son’s deployed unit so the whole class would know that Natalie’s dad was at war.

Believe me, that photo of her dad on the wall meant the world to Natalie, and it meant the world to me and Joe, too.

These teachers and all the other individuals and groups across the country who are supporting our troops and their families are showing all Americans that there are countless ways to help -- some large, and many small, but all important. 

And I can tell you from personal experience, all appreciate it.  We can all join forces. 

I am thrilled and humbled to be here today with a group of people that represents the best of this nation -- individuals and families who embody the strength, the resilience and the patriotism that has shaped the United States of America. 

We -- Joe, myself, Barack, and Michelle -- we are here today because of you.  We are here to celebrate you.  You are doing your part.  The government is doing its part.  And each American has the ability to make a difference in the life of a military family.

That’s what this initiative is all about.  Every one of us can commit to one small act of kindness. 

And now it’s my honor and privilege to introduce a man who is doing his part as a strong leader and constant advocate for our service members, veterans, and military families.  He’s also the husband of my partner on this effort -- our President and Commander-in-Chief, Barack Obama.  (Applause.)

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you.  Thank you, everybody.  Please, please have a seat.  Thank you very much.  Thank you very much.  Thank you so much.  Thank you.  Thank you, everyone.  Please, please be seated. 

Thank you very much.  Well, as you can see, the Vice President and I are the warm-up acts here today.  (Laughter.)  Our role is to introduce our better halves.  Actually, Michelle and Jill are like our better three-quarters or four-fifths.  They’re basically just all around better.  (Laughter.)

So, thank you, Jill, for your introduction and sharing your personal experiences and stories and being able to describe how much this means to you personally.  To the Vice President, the entire family, which, like so many others, has known both the pride but also the worries and the fears when a loved one in uniform is serving in harm’s way. 

We are joined today by members of Congress, by members of my Cabinet, Joint Chiefs, by leaders across the administration and just about every sector of American society.  But most of all, we’re joined by our service members and their families, representing the finest military that the world has ever known. 

And while the campaign that brings us all together is truly unique, it does reflect a spirit that’s familiar to all of us -- the spirit that has defined us as a people and as a nation for more than two centuries.

Freedom is not free -- simple words that we know are true.  For 234 years, our freedom has been paid by the service and sacrifice of those who’ve stepped forward, raised their hand and said, “Send me.”  They put on a uniform.  They swear an oath to protect and defend.  And they carry titles that have commanded the respect of generations -- soldiers, airmen, Marine, sailor, Coast Guardsman. 

Our nation endures because these men and women are willing to defend it, with their very lives.  And as a nation, it is our solemn duty and our moral obligation to serve these patriots as well as they serve us.

But we are here today because these Americans in uniform have never served alone -- not at Lexington, not at Concord, not in Iraq, not in Afghanistan.  Behind every American in uniform stands a wife, a husband, a mom, a dad, a son or a daughter, a sister or brother.  These families -— these remarkable families —- are the force behind the force.  They, too, are the reason we’ve got the finest military in the world.

Whenever I’m with our troops overseas, when I ask them what we can do for you, there’s one thing they request more than anything else:  “Take care of my family.”  Take care of my family.  Because when our troops are worried about their families back home, it’s harder for them to focus on the mission overseas.  The strength and the readiness of America’s military depends on the strength and readiness of our military families.  This is a matter of national security.  It’s not just the right thing to do; it also makes this country stronger.  

And that’s why, over the past two years, we’ve made major investments to take care of our military families.  Secretary Gates has been one of the leaders in this process -- new housing and childcare for families; new schools for military kids; better health care for veterans; new educational opportunities for hundreds of thousands of veterans and their family members under the Post-9/11 GI Bill.

And that’s why, as part of a landmark Presidential Study Directive, for the first time ever the well-being of our military families is now a national priority -— not just a Defense Department priority, not just a VA priority —- it is a federal government priority. 

Today, my administration is working to implement nearly 50 specific commitments to improve the lives of military families -—everything from protecting families from financial scams to improving education for military kids and spouses, to stepping up our fight to end homelessness among veterans.  And as Commander-in-Chief, I’m not going to be satisfied until we meet these commitments.  Across this administration, we’re going to keep doing everything in our power to give our military families the support and the respect that they deserve.

But as we’ve said all along, this can’t be the work of government alone.  Something else has been true throughout our history:  Our military —- and our military families —- can’t be the only ones bearing the burden of our security.  The United States of America is strongest -— and as Americans, we are at our best -— when we remember our obligations to each other.  When we remember that the price of freedom cannot simply be paid by a select few.  When we embrace our responsibilities to each other, especially those who serve and sacrifice in our name.

And that’s why the extraordinary work that Michelle and Jill have been engaged in these past two years is so important.  I remember how it began.  It was during our campaign.  Michelle was meeting with women all across the country, listening to their struggles, hearing their stories.  And inevitably there were complaints about husbands and -- (laughter) -- not doing enough around the house and -- (laughter) -- being confused when you’ve got to brush the daughter’s hair and get that ponytail right.  (Laughter.)  So they were sharing notes.  But in all these conversations, there was one group that just kept on capturing Michelle’s heart —- and that was military spouses. 

And she decided right then and there, if I was given an opportunity to serve as President and she was given the opportunity to serve as First Lady, she would be their voice.  And that’s exactly what she and Jill have done.

You all see the events around the country —- on the bases, in the communities, at the hospitals with our wounded warriors -— where Michelle and Jill celebrate our military families -- celebrate your families -— and what we can do to support you better.  But what you don’t see is what happens when the cameras are off; how Michelle and Jill come back, and they are inspired by what they saw, and they use their platform to advocate on your behalf in every single agency.

So I want every military family to know that Michelle hears you —- not just as a First Lady, not just as a fellow American —- but as a wife, and a daughter, and a mom.  She is standing up for you and your families -- not just today, in public events like this one, but every day.  And the voice that she promised to be, that’s what she’s been out there doing, making sure that you’re getting the support and appreciation that you and your families deserve.

And so it is my honor to introduce to you my extraordinary wife, America’s extraordinary First Lady, Michelle Obama.  (Applause.)

MRS. OBAMA:  Thank you.  It is a thrill, and it’s always nice to be introduced by the President of the United States.  (Laughter.)  It’s always kind of cool.  And on behalf of all of us, I want to thank my husband, I want to thank Joe for their leadership.  From the top down, their personal commitment to keeping our military families strong is really what’s allowed us to be here. 

And I’ve told military families that.  This is something that comes from the very top.  This isn’t just about me and Jill.  We have husbands who care about your families, that care about these issues, and we wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for their leadership.

So here we are.  This is the moment that we’ve been working toward for such a very long time.  And let me say that I am just thrilled that all of you could be here today as we launch this unprecedented national campaign to honor and support our incredible military families.  We’re calling it Joining Forces.  Pretty good.  (Laughter.) 

We call it Joining Forces for a very special reason.  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 that we can live in freedom and security.

Joining Forces is a challenge to every segment of American society to take action, to make a real commitment to supporting and engaging these families.  And I want to thank all of you here because this campaign is the result of everything that so many of you have shared with us and taught us over the past two years.

And I am especially grateful to my phenomenal partner in this effort, a Blue Star mom herself and a tireless champion of Guard and Reserve families, and an inspiration to me throughout this entire process, my dear friend, Dr. Jill Biden.  And we need to give Jill -- (applause.)

Joining Forces is inspired by the amazing military spouses and children who we’ve met all across the country, some of whom, like Shirley, have been able to join us today; families who’ve told us that even with the huge outpouring of support for our troops over the last decade, the truth is that as a country, we don’t always see their families, our heroes on the home front.  These families have appealed to us, like a military mom who wrote to me and said, “Please don’t let Americans forget or ignore what we live with.”  Please don’t let them forget.        

Joining Forces is shaped by the insights of spouses like Becky Gates and Patty Shinseki and Deborah Mullen and spouses of the Joint Chiefs, spouses of our Senior Enlisted Advisors and countless spouses of all ranks, many of whom I see sprinkled around have been terrific advisors to us.  Also, the passionate advocates representing military families who are here, and of course, member of Congress from both parties, they’re all in support of this.  These are all leaders who’ve devoted their lives to serving our troops and their families and who’ve helped us to understand where and how a campaign like this could really make a difference.

Joining Forces builds on the great work of the President and the Vice President and the entire administration, which has made military families a priority across the federal government, even as we recognize, as the President said, that this work cannot be done by government alone.

And I am just excited that as a result of the work that we’ve done with so many people over the past two years, businesses and organizations across America, including some of the best known names and brands, have already responded to this call.  Today, as part of Joining Forces, they are going to be announcing major new commitments to support military families, and you’ll all see those incredible commitments as we go forward, but we are tremendously grateful for so many of them stepping up so early.

Joining Forces is rooted in those American values of service and citizenship that have kept our country strong throughout history.  In World War II, for example, the whole nation went to war.  Just about every family was a military family, or knew someone that was. 

However, today, with an all-volunteer force, fewer Americans serve or know someone who does.  And unlike our troops, military families don’t wear uniforms, so we don’t always see them.  But like our troops, these families are proud to serve and they don’t complain, so as a result, the rest of us don’t always realize how hard it can be or what we can do to help lighten their load.

And I have to admit that I haven’t always realized it myself.  My father served in the Army, but he served before I was born, so I didn’t grow up in a military family.  I always revered our troops, but like many Americans, I didn’t see firsthand just how much our military families sacrifice as well.

And that’s why we’re Joining Forces.  This is about the responsibility that we each have to one another, as Americans.  It’s about the fact that, as Joe said, that 1 percent of Americans may be fighting on our behalf, but 100 percent of Americans need to be supporting our troops and their families.  This campaign is about renewing those bonds and those connections between those who serve and the rest of us who live free because of their service.

So this is a national initiative, and here’s how it’s going to work.  First, as part of a new public awareness campaign, we’re going to highlight the service of these families that Americans don’t always see, because the first step in taking action is awareness.  And the truth is that our military families are all around us.  We may not know it.  We’re going to remind Americans that most military families live off base, in thousands of communities across the country.  They’re our neighbors and our coworkers; the military spouse who puts a full day in at the office, then goes home to do the parenting of two while their husband or wife is deployed.

We’re going to remind them that most military children go to public schools.  They’re our kids’ classmates and teammates -- like the girl in your daughter’s class trying to make new friends and handle all the normal pressures of growing up, even as she worries whether Dad or Mom will come home safe.

Many of our National Guardsmen and Reservists and their families don’t live anywhere near a military base.  They’re in virtually every community in this country.  One day they’re our police officers, our firefighters, our doctors and our teachers. And then the next day they’re called to duty and deploy to a war zone.

Just about every county in America has sent a service member to Iraq or Afghanistan.  And their families, including Gold Star families who’ve made the ultimate sacrifice, they live all over America. 

And there probably isn’t a town in this country without a veteran.  So, in other words, we want Americans to realize that, in a way, every community is a military community.

So these are the stories that we’re going to tell.  These are the stories that we’re going to celebrate.  And to help us, we’re being joined by some outstanding folks who know a little thing about capturing the public’s attention -- folks like NASCAR and Walmart and Major League Baseball.  They’re going to be creating public service announcements.  Other PSAs will feature the likes of Oprah Winfrey and Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks.  Everyone is stepping up. 

The major guilds in entertainment -- writers, producers, directors, actors -- all have committed to telling more stories of military families in TV shows and movies.  Working together, we’re going to make sure that our military families are never forgotten.

This leads to the second part of Joining Forces -- what we can actually do to support these families.  So we’re going to focus on the specific things our military families have told us they care most about, and things that I think that all of us can make a unique contribution to -- the areas of employment, education, wellness, and that includes mental health.

So in the area of employment, we’re going to be champions for our military spouses and veterans as they look for new jobs and advance their careers.  And we’ll make sure that businesses know just how lucky they’d be to have these talented spouses and veterans on their team.

In the area of education, as Jill said, we’re going to work to help our military children thrive in the classroom, even as they move between schools and deal with parents being deployed.  And we’re going to work to make it easier for military spouses to continue their education and get their degrees.

In the area of wellness, including good mental health, we’re going to remind this 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.  They need the support as well.

Which brings me to the most important part of Joining Forces -- and that’s how we’re going to get all this done.

And as I said, this is a challenge to every segment of American society.  And our motto is simple:  Everyone can do something.  So we’re Joining Forces across the federal government.  Those nearly 50 commitments that the President mentioned are going to make such a difference for so many military families.

But these commitments also do something even more important.  They’re going to give military families a seat at the table across the federal government.  It means that we’ll all be working together to make sure that we’re forging new federal partnerships to serve military families for years to come.

We’re going to be Joining Forces with states and cities and local governments.  We want the whole country to know about states like Michigan and cities like Pittsburgh and Augusta, Georgia, that encourage folks to volunteer and support our troops and veterans and their families.

And states can make it so easy for these families.  They can make it easier for spouses to get their professional licenses and certification.  They can also help make it easier for military children to transfer between schools.  So every state, every city, and every town in this country can do something.

We’re Joining Forces with businesses, both large and small, including some of America’s biggest employers, which are making new commitments as we speak today.  Companies like Sears, Kmart, and Sam’s Club are telling military spouses who work at their stores that if they move to a new duty station, they’ll do their best to have a job waiting for those spouses.  Siemens is setting aside 10 percent of their open positions for veterans. 

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is stepping up, encouraging its millions of members to hire military spouses and veterans; to find mentors for military wives and women veterans.  And the Chamber is going to host more than 100 job fairs across the country for these individuals.

Technology leaders like AOL,, Cisco, will help connect military spouses and veterans with employers that are hiring.  Companies like Hewlett-Packard and Microsoft will train military spouses in new technologies so they can start their own businesses.  And believe me, the list goes on and on, because every business can do something.

We’re Joining Forces with nonprofits, with reach -- their reach into communities all across the country.  The USO is going to expand its efforts to help Americans support military families right here on the home front. 

Jill said The Military Child Education Coalition is teaming up with the National PTA, and with more than 100 teaching colleges, to help educators and communities better serve our military kids.  The National Math and Science Initiative will be bringing Advanced Placement courses to tens of thousands of students, including military kids.  The Sierra Club and the YMCA are partnering with the National Military Family Association to get 15,000 military kids and families to camp this year.  The American Heart Association will help 100,000 military spouses and women veterans lead healthier lives.

And again, the list goes on and on.  Every one is stepping up, because every nonprofit can do something.

And finally, this is about all of us Joining Forces as Americans.  And we can do it right where we live and work.

As Jill said, if you’re a parent or a teacher, you could encourage your school to find new ways to support our military kids.  If you’re a lawyer, an accountant, a counselor, you can offer your services to a military family, pro bono.  If you’re a member of a church or a synagogue or a mosque, you could urge your faith community just to reach out to military families who are grieving the lost of a loved one.

It could be something as simple as mowing the lawn, shoveling the snow for that family down the street; telling that mom or dad that you’ll take their shift at the carpool; or lending a hand to that wounded warrior in your neighborhood.

You don’t even have to know a military family, because thanks to great organizations like Blue Star Families and their partnerships with the American Red Cross and ServiceNation, every American can write a letter to a military family and let them know that, in their honor, you’ll be serving or volunteering in their own community.  It’s that easy.

And if you ask any military family, they will tell you sometimes it’s the smallest things -- these simple gestures that say “thank you” that can make the biggest difference in their lives.

And if you need ideas, you don’t have to go far because we are also creating a new website,, where Americans can come together, connect, and find out how they can take action, often right in their own communities, because every single American can do something.

And that includes me and Jill.  We’re not asking anybody to do anything that we won’t do ourselves.  So beginning tomorrow, we’re hitting the road.  Yes, Michelle and Jill on a road trip.  (Laughter.)  I think Jill is going to drive.  (Laughter.)  We’re going to be traveling throughout the country, celebrating the service of military families and the communities, and nonprofits and businesses and folks who support those families every day.  And at each stop, we are going to be encouraging every American to ask a simple question:  “How can I give back to these families who have given me so much?”  That’s the question.

So obviously I’m excited about this campaign.  And I know Jill is, too.  And we know that this cannot be something that we do just for this year, or just for the next year.  This isn’t just a short-term effort, because our military families deserve our respect and support at every stage of their lives, no matter who’s in office.

So it’s our hope that what we’re launching today becomes part of the fabric of our country.  And to make sure that it does, I am proud that one of America’s leading nonpartisan institutions focused on national security, the Center for a New American Security, has stepped forward to help coordinate Joining Forces.  It’s going to be guided by an advisory board of distinguished Americans with a wealth of experience in serving military families and bringing people together around a common cause, and those include General Stan McChrystal and Patty Shinseki.  Both of them are here today, and we are grateful to you both for leading this effort.  (Applause.)  Good stuff.  (Applause.)

So, Jill and I truly believe that if enough people across this great country realize just how much our military families do for us, and if we look in our own lives to see what we can offer, then there is absolutely no limit to what we can do together to keep these families, and our country, strong.  And if we do this, if we come together, I know that we’ll come closer to our vision of a nation that truly recognizes and honors our military families.

It’s an America where every soldier, sailor, airman, Marine and Coast Guardsman -- and woman –- can deploy knowing that their family will be taken care of back at home.

It’s an America where every military spouse has the support that he or she needs to keep their family strong and thriving.

It’s an America where every military child has the support they need to grow and learn and realize their dreams.

It’s an America where our veterans and their families, especially our Gold Star families who have sacrificed so much, are honored throughout the entirety of their lives.

In short, we see a nation where more Americans across every sector of society are Joining Forces on behalf of our military families.

And believe me, this is going to remain one of my defining missions as First Lady.

So I thank you all for joining us to help make this happen.  And Jill and I hope that this campaign will be worthy of the service and sacrifice and strength of every single military family in this country, and that it will make a real difference in their lives for years to come.

So thank you so much.  (Applause.)

1:02 P.M. EDT

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