Remarks by the First Lady at a Joining Forces Employment Event - Shreveport, LA
Kansas City Southern Railways
1:27 P.M. CDT
MRS. OBAMA: Well, hello, everyone. (Applause.) I want to thank Michael for that very kind introduction and for his service. We are very proud of him. We know he’s going to do well. And we’re just thrilled to be here -- thrilled to be here with all of you.
I also want to thank Dave for his work and his introduction, for hosting us here today, and everyone else here at Kansas City Southern for hosting us as well. It is really exciting to be here as part of our first anniversary of Joining Forces.
I also have to recognize Shreveport Mayor Cedric Glover, who is here. (Applause.) Thank you for being here and thank you for your leadership and for joining us today.
Yesterday, we kicked off our tour to celebrate the first anniversary of Joining Forces, which is our nationwide campaign to honor and serve America’s veterans and military families. And I’m here today in Shreveport to make another big announcement about our effort to hire veterans and military spouses across the country.
And I have a little secret -- because the truth is, is that when we started to plan this event a couple of months ago, we had planned on announcing the 50,000th hire. That’s what this was going to be. But by mid-March -- because we were going to hit that goal by the end of -- the middle of the year -- but by the end of March we had already hit that mark. (Applause.) And then a week later, we added 5,000 more. And by April, another 3,000. (Applause.)
So today, I couldn’t be more excited to announce that America’s businesses have hired 60,000 veterans and military spouses in the past year. (Applause.) And that’s really the story that we want to celebrate here today. That’s the story of Joining Forces. Whenever we have asked Americans to step up, no matter who we were talking to, they have gone above and beyond our expectations -- just above and beyond. And I want these veterans to understand that. America is stepping up in big ways.
When we looked to America’s health care providers, 135 medical schools, more than 500 nursing schools, more than 3 million health care providers stepped up to improve care for veterans and military families. (Applause.)
When we asked Americans of all kind to find ways to honor our military families, they answered by serving more than 13 million volunteer hours right in their own communities. (Applause.) That’s individual. That’s all volunteer work.
And of course, when it comes to businesses, when we approached the private sector, when we asked them to follow through on my husband’s challenge to hire or train 100,000 veterans and military spouses by the end of 2013, America’s businesses have overwhelmed us with their response. So just listen to some of what they’ve done, just some examples:
The Chamber of Commerce held more than 130 hiring fairs for veterans and military spouses all across the country. The Military Spouse Employment Partnership committed to 20,000 hires. The American Logistics Association pledged 25,000 hires. And the International Franchising Association committed to 80,000 more hires.
And just last week, a group of 11 companies said that they would devote 15,000 portable, flexible jobs to military spouses and veterans. More than 1,600 companies -- from Sears and Siemens, to NBC and Disney, to Honeywell and Snap-On Tools -- they’ve all joined this effort. Everyone is stepping up. And in total, they’ve committed to hiring at least 160,000 veterans and military spouses in the coming years. And that’s above and beyond the 60,000 that we’re talking about here today. That’s on top of it. (Applause.)
So I think it is fair to say that over this past year, this has just been one year’s worth of work. Over this past year, America’s businesses have truly answered the call to give back to the men and women who have given so much to this country. And all of these companies are joining this effort, as Dave said, not just because it’s the right thing to do, not just because it’s a patriotic way to show our support, but because it’s good business as well. That’s important. This is good business. (Applause.)
Right here at Kansas City Southern you all are seeing that. That’s why more than 10 percent of your American workforce has worn our country’s uniform. That’s why you hired 45 veterans last year alone. You have made hiring veterans a priority because you know that these folks are some of the most highly-skilled, hardest-working employees in this country. They have experience that simply cannot be created -- or recreated in a classroom.
Today’s modern battlefield means that our 9/11 generation of veterans has served not only as soldiers or airmen or sailors, but as diplomats -- they’ve served as social workers, as mediators, as educators. They’re directing dozens of their peers -- so they’ve got the management experience. They’re executing highly complex, life-or-death missions, and they’re operating some of the most advanced technology on the planet.
Meanwhile, their spouses are getting more done in a day than most of us get done in a week. They are juggling everything -- family schedules, keeping the finances in order, coordinating community drives -- because they’re also volunteering outside of their own homes, all while earning degrees or trying to build their own careers. They are doing it all.
So make no mistake about it, our veterans and military spouses are some of the most able –- and employable -– people in the marketplace today.
But for so long, so many of these heroes have had difficulties finding jobs. Last year, the unemployment rate for post-9/11 veterans was over 12 percent -- and that was significantly higher than the general population. And over the last few years, our nation’s military spouses have struggled to find employment as well, with an unemployment rate that nearly doubles that of civilian spouses.
But we have reason for optimism -- because the unemployment rate of post-9/11 veterans has been trending downward for the past 27 months. (Applause.) Absolutely. So while we know that we haven’t solved this problem and we know that there is still a lot more work to be done, we are cautiously optimistic that we’re beginning to turn a corner on this employment issue and so many other issues that impact our veterans and military families.
And let’s remember that these are not simply numbers or plot points on a graph that we’re talking about. These are not just statistics that we’re dealing with. These are real lives that we’re talking about -- real people with real struggles. These are families who won’t have to worry about where the next mortgage payment is going to come from. These are military spouses who can once again add a second income to the family’s finances. Correct? We are talking about veterans who can provide for their families and put their skills to use, and who can trust that this country has got their backs. That’s what this is about. (Applause.)
And that is really what Joining Forces is about. That’s why we’ve done this. It is not about words. And I said that from the very beginning: This is not about words or about false pats on the back, this is really about action. That is one thing I didn’t want to do when we started this initiative, is to have some family member look me in the eye and not feel the work that we were doing. This isn’t about what’s going on in Washington. This is about what’s happening on the ground. (Applause.) It’s about making a real, meaningful difference for these men and women and families who have given our country so much. And they’ve done it without complaint. They’ve done it without hesitation.
So to all of you here at Kansas City Southern and to everyone across the country who has hired our veterans and military spouses, I want to thank you for giving our heroes the opportunities they deserve. (Applause.) Thank you so much. (Applause.)
And this anniversary is about continuing to raise the bar. We can celebrate a little bit today, but there is more work to do. So to any company out there that needs dedicated, productive, and highly skilled professionals on their team, I urge you to hire a veteran or a military spouse. I urge you to do that. I am confident that they will serve you as well as they’ve served this country.
And also, to all of the veterans and to the military members here -- and I know that includes the 30 veterans who were recently hired at KCS –- I again want to thank you for everything that you have done and continue to do for this country. You all inspire me. And one of this things that most people cannot do is that they don’t get a chance to visit a military base. They don’t get to see up close and personal what you all go through over the course of a day, a year, a career. They don’t see what happens when you come back. The challenges that you face for the service that you’ve provided.
I feel blessed to have had that honor. I am not from a military background -- Jill Biden is, and she’s been a terrific partner in this effort. But we committed to be a voice for all of you in this position. We’ve committed to be a part of telling your story so that other Americans who don’t have that connection, who don’t have someone in the military can really understand the incredible lives you’ve lived and the debt that we owe you as a country for the sacrifice that you have so selflessly made. We are grateful.
And it is important for you to know that you live in a grateful nation. Everyone we have asked has wanted to step up. I think the only reason the connection hasn’t been made is that people don’t always know how to serve, because you all are so doggone competent -- (laughter) -- that you don’t ask for help, and you’re used to handling it all, keeping it all in, so people don’t always know how best to reach out, how best to provide that support.
But it is not just businesses that are doing this. This is church groups that are stepping out. These are teachers and classrooms, and again, nursing students and doctors and social workers. Joining Forces provides them a platform for help. We are not doing it; they’re doing it. And they’re doing it not because of us but because of you and your stories. And I want you to know that, because sometimes it takes a little time for that support to trickle down. And we are working -- that’s why there is so much more work to do. We cannot stop until the unemployment rate among our veterans and military families is at zero. That’s a high goal. (Applause.) But that’s how much we need to do.
So I want to thank you all for what you’ve done for this country. This is a forever proposition. The goal is that Joining Forces, the concept of it -- whether it’s in name or in spirit -- is something that becomes a part of our culture as America forever.
So thank you, all. Good luck to you. Good luck to your families. And God bless you all. Thanks so much. (Applause.)
1:40 P.M. CDT