Remarks by The First Lady at Joining Forces Fifth Anniversary Employment Event
State Dining Room
10:26 A.M. EDT
MRS. OBAMA: Thank you all. (Applause.) Thanks so much. You all rest yourselves. (Laughter.) You’ve been working hard and, obviously, after this announcement, you’ll have a lot more work to do once you’re rested. Welcome, welcome.
We are so thrilled to have you all here at the White House today. Let me start by thanking Kathleen for that just very sweet introduction. She didn’t share with me backstage the story about Sophia, so it’s like, you’re going to wait and make me cry -- (laughter) -- right before I came out. (Laughter.)
But the reason why we like to have folks like Kathleen share their stories is that they are the best representatives of why Joining Forces means so much to me and Jill. When we talk about being in awe of these men and women, it’s stories like Kathleen’s and her family’s, and there are millions of people like her out there. So I want to thank Kathleen and her amazing family for being my inspiration. Thank you all for your service and sacrifice. We’re so grateful and we love you all. We love you to death.
I also, of course, want to thank Jill, my dear, dear friend, who has been an amazing partner in this Joining Forces endeavor. But more importantly, she’s been a terrific friend to have over this interesting journey that we’ve had together. So we made it to five years on Joining Forces. Looking back, we started talking about this backstage when Barack chose Joe to be his vice presidential candidate, and we both talked about the passion we had developed for our military -- her as a Blue Star mom and me as a regular civilian who didn’t have that connection. So to be able to celebrate this milestone together with you today means the world. So thank you, Jill. Thank you so much. (Applause.)
And, of course, I have to recognize our dear friend, Jeff, an Amazonian -- I like that -- (laughter) -- and all the Amazon team. Thank you, Jeff, for your leadership, for making such an extraordinary commitment to our veterans and our military spouses today. You are setting the bar high, you are doing a phenomenal job. Your team is amazing, and you were smart enough to hire Kathleen, so you must know what you’re doing. (Laughter.) Thank you so much, Jeff, from Amazon, as well. (Applause.)
Now, I’m going to take just a moment on this fifth anniversary to embarrass a couple of people. I want to give a special -- and they’re both looking down now. (Laughter.) They’re like, oh, no, oh, no. First, I want to thank Andy Anderson. Andy, please stand up. I’m sorry, you’ve got to stand up. (Applause.) Andy is an Airforce Major and an actual rocket scientist. (Laughter.) There’s one right there. We always touch him and go, ah -- and we didn’t know they were that cute, too, rocket scientists. (Laughter.) But he has been serving on our team as a White House Fellow, and Andy has done such outstanding work on not just this event but on so many others. I don’t think people realize that all the work out of Joining Forces comes from a handful of people on Jill’s and my staff. And Andy is one of those folks, and it’s just been a pleasure to have you and your family on our team.
The second person I’m going to embarrass is sitting right next to him. (Laughter.) Our Joining Forces Executive Director, Colonel Nicole Malachowski, whose last day with us is tomorrow. So Nicole was the first female Thunderbird pilot. She has flown 200 combat hours and received every award and recognition you can imagine. And she is as humble -- she is the total opposite of all that. (Laughter.) I have to pull her up and get her to talk. And she’s a great mom, and I just have loved having you on our team. And our executive directors come and go -- we only get them for a year, and Nicole is leaving us, but I love you. You have done a phenomenal job, and I wish you all the best on the next phase of your journey. (Applause.)
And finally, most of all, I want to thank all of you who are here today -- representatives from more than 50 outstanding companies and organizations all across America. You all range from small startups to multinational corporations. You’re leaders in so many different industries -- from aerospace and telecom to financial services and tech. But all of you are here today for one simple reason: Because you know that our veterans and military spouses are some of the most dedicated, skilled, talented people in this country. And I am just thrilled that all of you have pledged to hire more than 110,000 of them, and train 60,000 of them. Thank you so much. (Applause.)
You’re preparing them for high-tech jobs in some of our fastest-growing industries. And this is key. These jobs offer high salaries, opportunities for advancement and, as you’ve heard, the flexibility to accommodate the demands of military life.
So these jobs are -- they mean more than just the number, because this is real opportunity. These are precisely the kind of jobs we want for our veterans and our spouses. And that's why since we launched Joining Forces back in 2011, we've been reaching out to the business leaders like all of you and urging them to look to our military community for their employment needs.
And year after year, companies have responded. And over the past five years, through Joining Forces and great team members like Nicole and Andy, companies have hired or trained more than 1.2 million veterans and military spouses. And during that same period, our veterans’ unemployment rate was literally cut in half. (Applause.)
And I want to be clear that companies didn't just make these commitments because we asked them to or because it was the patriotic thing to do, though it is. As Jeff mentioned, they made these commitments because, time and again, they saw for themselves that our veterans and military spouses are simply the best employees around. And they realized that training and hiring these folks isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do for their bottom lines.
And that is especially true when it comes to tech jobs in industries. The fact is that we have the most technologically advanced armed forces in history. For years, some of the biggest technological innovations -- from the Internet to GPS -- have come from the U.S. military.
Right now more than 150,000 of our men and women in uniform are already doing tech jobs. Whether it’s the staff sergeant who repairs her battalion’s communications equipment in the field to the technicians who maintain the software on our fighter jets, to the countless folks working around the clock to protect our networks from cyberattacks -- these people have done their jobs in some of the most challenging environments imaginable.
So just think if they can set up wireless networks in Baghdad, or do satellite reconnaissance in the mountains of Afghanistan, I am pretty confident that they can handle whatever is happening in Silicon Valley, right? (Laughter.) But seriously, the bottom line here is simple. Right now so many folks across our military are essentially already working in the tech industry. They just happen to be wearing our country’s uniform while they're doing it. So when they decide to transition to civilian life and companies like yours decide to hire them, I know that you will be blown away by everything they have to offer.
Just take Ryen Macababbad. Ryen is here. Where are you, Ryen? I saw you. I know you're here. There you are. (Laughter.) Ryen, I’m going to embarrass you, too. She started her career in the Army maintaining systems for military intelligence. After completing Microsoft’s Software & Systems Academy, she got a job working on Microsoft’s cloud technology where she quickly distinguished herself as one of the most talented and passionate employees.
In an essay –- this is a quote from you, Ryen -- she said, “When I’m relaxing, I like to do things that interest me. Learning about different authentication methods and different technologies that connect you to cloud services –- those are the things that I enjoy.”
See that's passion. (Laughter.) I don't even know what that is. (Laughter.) And that's what she likes doing in her spare time. So Ryen is amazing.
And then there’s the story of Sarah Dutile whose husband is a Captain in the Army. Sarah? Where’s Sarah? There you go, Sarah. Stand up. Let us see you. Sarah works as a talent acquisition operations manager at EMC. And even through multiple deployments and multiple moves across the country –- Massachusetts, Virginia, Washington -- I’m sure I’m missing someplace you’ve lived -- EMC ensured that Sarah could keep her job. And she won five awards from her managers and was promoted to manage a team of her own.
So it was worth it, right? Yes.
So folks like Ryen and Sarah don’t just bring a host of hard skills to the workplace, they also bring plenty of other qualities that are hard to teach on the job. They have a relentless commitment to excellence. They know how to juggle multiple priorities, and meet tough deadlines, and lead diverse teams. And when it comes to high-pressure situations, when the pressure is the highest, that’s usually when our veterans and military spouses are at their best.
And remember, they can bring these skills not just to tech jobs, but to countless other jobs –- from HR to communications to project management. Whatever job you're looking to fill, there are plenty of folks doing that job in the military right now who will be ready to succeed in your company on day one. Flat out.
That's why you've all made these commitments today. So thank you for doing your part. Thank you. But, of course, it’s going to take all of this. This isn’t just your responsibility because even when companies are doing everything right, too often the realities of military life make it hard for folks to take and keep the jobs that you've created.
For example, for too long veterans faced all kinds of barriers to applying their military training toward professional licenses and academic degrees. So while someone may have had years of training as an Army medic, for example, hardly any of it would count toward a PA degree or an EMT certification. They’d have to start from scratch, often repeating courses they’d already taken.
Military spouses in careers like nursing, law, real estate, anything that required professional licenses, faced their own set of challenges, because as their families moved from base to base to base -- as you've heard they often do -- they would have to apply for a new license in each new state, often paying hefty fees just to find work. But now, through Joining Forces, we’ve worked closely with governors and state legislators across the country to address these issues.
And as of today, I’m happy to report that all 50 states have taken action to help veterans get credit for their military training. And 49 out of 50 states have passed laws to help military spouses transfer their licenses from state to state. That's a big deal. (Applause.) And we very much hope that the one remaining state -- (laughter) -- the great state of New York --
AUDIENCE: Ooh --
MRS. OBAMA: Mmm -- (laughter) -- will pass legislation to help us solve this problem nationwide. Let's get to 50, New York! Because laws like these aren’t just critical for the employment prospects of our veterans and military spouses, they're also critical for the overall health of our military.
Let’s not forget that we still have about 200,000 servicemembers making the transition to civilian life every single year, and their success and their struggles will have an impact on our military for decades to come. See, we have to remember, our military is an all-volunteer force. Everyone who wears our country’s uniform today does so by choice. And if we want our best and brightest young people to keep choosing to join our armed forces, they need to see that their service will lead to successful careers -- either in the military, or in civilian life.
So that is truly our charge in the years ahead. And today, I want to call on companies and organizations across America to follow the lead that you all are setting and truly commit to hiring and training our veterans and military spouses. We have so many resources to help companies get started.
Through the Skillbridge Program at the Department of Defense, companies can start training servicemembers six months before they leave the military so they’re ready to start full-time the minute they transition.
The Department of Labor runs a veterans’ job bank and offers all kinds of assistance that companies can access. And once our vets and military spouses are on board, I hope that companies will take it to the next level, like Amazon is doing, by working to retain and promote them. Because the end goal here isn’t just getting folks into entry-level jobs; it’s putting them on a career path where they can keep learning new skills, moving up the ladder, and pulling others along with them.
Because our veterans and military spouses don’t stop learning and serving when they hang up that uniform. They are eager to find their next mission and use their training and talent to serve this country here at home. And giving them that opportunity is the least we can do. And if anyone can make it happen, it’s all of you. You all are some of the most innovative, successful businesses in the history of this country. And you all are truly setting the standard on this issue. You're truly showing us what’s possible.
So we need to keep up this momentum. And I will say this again and again and again: No matter who is in the White House next, this should absolutely continue to be a national priority with national leadership coming from this building. And I know that if folks like you keep leading the way and inspiring others to follow your example, then we can absolutely give our veterans and military spouses the opportunities they deserve. And we can finally serve them as well as they have served this country.
So I will end by once again by saying how grateful I am for everything you all have done and everything you will continue to do. And I look forward to continuing our work together in the months and, yes, the years ahead. So no matter where we are, Jill and I are going to be working to finding a way to work with you guys and making sure that you get all the love and attention and support that you've earned, because we are certainly proud of you. We are certainly in awe of you. You make us better people.
So thank you all so much. Congratulations on this wonderful commitment. Let's get more people joining in. And God bless you all. Take care. (Applause.)
10:44 A.M. EDT