Remarks by the First Lady at Vermont National Guard Joining Forces Rally
3:40 P.M. EDT
MRS. OBAMA: Thank you. (Applause.) Oh, my goodness. (Applause.) Good job. Thank you so much. (Applause.) Oh, my goodness! (Applause.) Got to come to Vermont more often! (Applause.) Yes! (Applause.) Oh, my goodness, thank you so much. (Applause.)
Please, please rest yourselves. Oh, I am thrilled to be here with all of you today. Let me just say that when I found out I was coming to Vermont -- I’m coming to do some other things, but I told my staff -- I said I have got to do something with the Vermont Guard and my dear friend, Marcelle. So I am just thrilled to be here and that you all have taken the time to come and be here with me. We are proud, so very proud.
I want to start by thanking Marcelle for that very kind introduction and for all her hard work on behalf of our Guard and Reserve families. But I also want to personally thank her for being my big sister in the U.S. Senate. She told you that we met then, but the truth is, is that she’s my big sister. She was assigned to me to look after me as a new spouse, and she did that well then and she continues to do that. She is a truly wonderful woman who I consider a dear friend, and she has always had my back. So we have to give Marcelle Leahy a big round of applause. (Applause.)
And I also want to acknowledge someone who couldn’t be here today but who would have been here today. She’s been a phenomenal partner to me every day on this issue. She’s a military mom herself, a tireless champion for military families, and also my friend, Dr. Jill Biden. (Applause.)
And I want to recognize your wonderful governor, Governor Shumlin. And his daughter is here, as well. She’s gorgeous, having a great summer. Stay out of trouble. Listen to your parents. (Laughter.) Thanks so much. As well as General -- Major General Dubie for his outstanding leadership. I had an opportunity to meet his wife, as well.
I can’t forget that Marcelle does have another half. (Laughter.) I won’t say the better half, but you know -- (laughter) -- you’re pretty good, too. (Laughter.) Our dear friend, Senator Patrick Leahy, who is such a passionate advocate for our Guard and Reserves and their families. (Applause.)
And a dear, dear, dear friend, as well. I want to recognize Representative Welch for his outstanding work in Washington.
And all of the other elected officials who are here today, thank you all for being here. Thank you for your service.
And finally, and most important of all, I want to thank all of you, the extraordinary men and women of the Vermont National Guard.
Now, for the past few years, I’ve had the privilege of visiting military bases and communities all across this country, and it is one of the best things that I do. I’ve sat in meetings with your commanding officers. I have spent a great deal of time with our courageous Blue Star families. I have felt the strength of our Gold Star families. And after meeting so many troops and veterans, after meeting so many spouses, and children, and parents, I can say with complete authority that you all are absolutely incredible. Absolutely incredible people.
But I also know that as our citizen-soldiers and airmen in the National Guard, there are so Americans who don’t always recognize the special kind of service that you all perform for this country.
Because you all live and work right in our communities, you’re right alongside of us, oftentimes, you just blend right in. So folks don’t always know about the Clark Kent/Superman routine that you manage to pull off all the time. You may seem just like everyone else during the week. You’re working fulltime as teachers, and firefighters, and doctors. You’re taking care of your families, you’re cooking dinner, you’re coaching Little League, you’re taking your turn in the carpool.
But when it comes time for the weekend, or activation, then suddenly, you’re off doing amazing things, performing daring rescues from a flood or a hurricane. Or you’re out clearing roads and making sure folks are safe in the midst of a blizzard. Or you’re deploying to Iraq and Afghanistan, serving and sacrificing right alongside active duty members of our military. In fact, just last year, we saw the largest deployment of Vermont Guardsmen since World War II. And I don't think most people realize that. Since World War II.
So I come here today on behalf of a grateful nation to say two simple words that you all should hear every single day: Thank you. And I come here to celebrate the people who serve right alongside you without ever wearing a uniform: your amazing families, our heroes right here at home.
We know that every member of a military family sacrifices just as much for this country. When one member of the family goes to war, the whole family goes with them.
For military kids, that means stepping up to help with housework when mom or dad is deployed. It means putting on a brave face through all those missed holidays and birthdays and recitals and games, trying to focus at school no matter what’s happening at home.
For military spouses, it means pulling double-duty during deployments, doing the work of both parents, often while juggling a full-time job of your own, trying to finish your education.
Mary Small from Colchester knows a thing or two about all of this. She is this year’s Northeast Military Family Member of the Year. (Applause.) Her husband Phil is an Air Ambulance pilot currently deployed in Iraq. And while he’s gone, she’s got a full plate of her own, running her household and taking care of their 10 year-old daughter, Kaitlyn. And as if that weren’t enough, Mary also serves as a Family Readiness Group co-leader. So she’s also running fundraisers for Guard families, putting together spaghetti dinners, organizing holiday parties for families whose loved ones are deployed. And on top of all of that, she’s also a Girl Scout leader, she’s treasurer of the Parent-Teacher Organization at her daughter’s school.
See, military families like Mary’s represent the best of America. And you all juggle everything with such dignity and grace that most Americans never realize what you’re going through. It’s almost like you’re wearing camouflage, even though you’re not the ones on the battlefield.
But I’m here today because I want everyone in this country to know your stories. I want everyone in this country to know how much you all contribute every single day.
And that’s why Jill and I launched Joining Forces. It’s a nationwide campaign to recognize, honor, and serve our military families. Our troops give so much to this country. And they ask for just one thing in return: they ask us to take care of their families while they’re gone.
So we’ve put out a call to action. Our motto is very simple: Everyone can do something. All people have to do is ask themselves one question –- and that is: “What can I do to give back?”
And that’s what we did out in Washington last year. We asked what we could do to join forces all across the federal government. At my husband’s direction, every federal agency -– not just the Departments of Defense and the VA –- but all of them are helping us meet nearly 50 goals –- everything from improving access to mental health care and childcare to helping spouses and veterans find jobs.
We’re also joining forces with businesses and non-profits. So today, when military spouses have to move duty stations, companies like Sears and Kmart and Sam’s Club are working to ensure that those spouses have a job waiting for them when they get to their new station.
Siemens has set aside a certain percentage of their open positions for veterans.
Sixteen-thousand veterans and spouses will be starting small businesses thanks to the SCORE Foundation and partners like Wal-Mart, and Cisco, Hewlett-Packard, and Microsoft.
A non-profit organization called Reach Out and Read is distributing 400,000 books to our military kids.
The PTA and the Military Child Education Coalition are helping our schools better understand the needs of military children.
And folks in every corner of this country are stepping up and helping out in their own small ways in their neighborhoods and in their communities. Small things. They’re popping over to rake the leaves, or bring a family a home-cooked meal, or offering to babysit.
At the Clarendon Elementary School right here in Vermont, students made their own care packages. They recorded a song telling the troops how much they cared about them, and they filled hand-colored boxes with little notes and red, white and blue candy. These “Boxes of Kisses” have now reached hundreds of troops in harm’s way.
And then there’s the community of Hyde Park here in Vermont. I mean, that’s the hometown of one of our amazing wounded warriors, Private First Class Andrew Parker. When Andrew was wounded in Afghanistan, he and his family faced an uncertain future. But then Hyde Park, that community stepped up. Led by Andrew’s kindergarten teacher –- that’s right, his kindergarten teacher from all those years ago –- she led hundreds of people in the community and across the country. She helped bring them together, and they raised money –- five, ten dollars at a time. They helped build Andrew a wheelchair-accessible apartment. And they threw him a parade to give him the hero’s welcome that he deserved.
His mom, Winnie Barnes, put it best when she said -– and these are her words: “I am sure there's a lot of challenges we’re going to face, but there’s a lot of people around to help us with it.”
And it’s these stories that I want America to hear. These stories are beautiful and they are inspiring. And they show us that you do not have to be the First Lady of the United States or a CEO or a general to get involved in this effort, because no one can do everything, but everyone can do something.
And that’s really the goal of this initiative. If we each do whatever we can, and we all join forces, then we can ensure that every school supports and celebrates our military children. Every school. We can ensure that every business is a military-friendly employer. And we can make sure that every community in America is a military community.
As members of our armed forces, you all have your missions. And as citizens of this country, supporting you should be our mission. So today, I want all of you and military families across this country to know that we have you in our hearts, we have you in our prayers, and we have your back. We are going to keep working hard so that the changes that we’re trying to make are ones that you feel on the ground. Every day.
So, again, thank you all, thank you so much, and God bless. (Applause.)
END 3:55 P.M. EDT