Remarks by the President, Vice President, First Lady and Dr. Biden at Joining Forces 5th Anniversary Event
Joint Base Andrews
6:18 P.M. EDT
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Hello, everyone! (Applause.) Great to see you! Can't be anyplace I'd rather be. I was going to say something nice about Jon, but the hell with him. (Laughter.)
Jon, thank you for continuing to shine a spotlight on our incredible warriors, and also for all you did for the 9/11 first responders. Jon, had you not literally thrown your body in front of the train, they would have never gotten the coverage they got. And I want to thank you, man. Because what Jon does -- what Jon does comes from his heart. He means it. So, thank you very much, Jon. (Applause.)
I want to thank all the artists you're about to hear tonight. We just got to meet backstage. I want to thank everyone in uniform here today and all of you overseas for what you do for this country day in and day out. And, J.D., thank you. You're always, always looking out for our military families, including mine.
Every military family in here can tell you -- those who are here and those who are listening -- that every family knows it's the little things -- it's the little things that really matter.
USO volunteers are there to say good-bye to our warriors as they deploy. And they’re the first ones to welcome them home when they return. It matters. I know it mattered to our son, Beau. He, after a year in Iraq, set foot on American soil at the Pease Air National Guard Base in New Hampshire, there was a long line of warriors standing there to salute his brigade as they got off, to say thank you, thank you, thank you. They represented everything from World War II to the Korean War, to Iraqi Freedom.
And you know, he said -- and it always surprised me when people would ask me about it -- he said it was the most meaningful thing that happened to us, he said, getting off that plane and seeing everybody just standing there. It was the middle of the night. Just saying, welcome home.
You all know it. You know what it feels like.
And on a personal note, we also remember how the USO embraced us when we lost Beau.
Joining Forces, five years -- Michelle and Jill making things better all across the country and around the world. You all know not only they worked so hard for your families, because they believed. But you’ve inspired them. You’ve inspired Jill. Whether it's at Brooke Army Medical Center or Walter Reed, or Ramstein Airbase in Germany, or Camp Lejeune, Fort Leonard Wood, Aviano Airbase in Italy, United Arab Republic, Kadena Airbase in Japan, or standing next to me at Al Faw Palace -- where some of you were -- at Camp Victory, congratulating your Mexican immigrant who was being sworn in, in uniform, as a United States citizen.
Ladies and gentlemen, the President and I -- you might expect us to say this -- are incredibly proud of what Michelle and Jill have done. Always, always fighting for your families. Because you are -- you are virtually the bone and sinew of this country. You're America’s backbone.
And all those family members who watched their son or daughter or husband, wife deploy, every single day, every minute that went by, you thought of them -- once a day, twice a day, 10 times a day. There’s a famous English poet who wrote, “They also serve who only stand and wait.” So to every family member -- I mean this from the bottom of my heart -- for every family member of anyone in uniform, we owe you.
My mom used to have an expression -- she’d say, remember, Joe, you're defined by your courage and you're redeemed by your loyalty. I heard it once, I heard it a hundred times growing up. To all of you in this room, in this hangar, all of you here, you live up to my mother’s code every single, solitary day. And we owe you.
As Jill always points out, 1 percent of you are the ones defending the entire population, but 99 percent remaining of the population owes you our thanks, our appreciation, and our gratitude.
You here and all those listening and so many more are all part of the greatest generation of warriors -- and this is not hyperbole -- the greatest generation of warriors the world has ever seen. More than 4.6 million of you signed up since 9/11, knowing with almost virtual certainty you’d be deployed into harm’s way; 2.7 million of you have been deployed into harm’s way. An unbroken chain of patriots, you’ve stood guard over this country in a way that is just -- you have to see you in the field to really understand it.
The President and I -- I've seen you in Bosnia, Basra, Fallujah, Ramadi, Kabul, Kandahar, the Upper Kunar Valley. A great opportunity was being back last week in Baghdad and Erbil. You are literally the finest warriors in the history of the world. You're incredible.
But I'm not the only one who understands this. The man I'm honored to stand with for the last eight years, in quiet moments, in difficult moments, in debates within the Oval Office and in the White House -- we were down in the Situation Room. We had been given bad news and sometimes good news. Every decision he makes -- I can say this without fear of contradiction -- every decision he makes he makes with you and your families in mind. You're the beginning of every important decision that this man makes.
So, ladies and gentlemen, welcome our Commander-in-Chief, Barack Obama. The President of the United States of America. (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: Hello, everybody! (Applause.) Give it up for Joe Biden! (Applause.) Oh, it is good to see all of you here today. (Applause.) Thank you so much. Everybody, please have a seat.
I want to recognize all of our outstanding military leaders who are here. And I want to acknowledge our Secretary of the Air Force, Deborah Lee James. (Applause.) Chief Master Sergeant Mitchell Brush from the National Guard. (Applause.) Major General Darryl Burke. (Applause.) Wing Commander Bradley Hoagland. (Applause.) And I want to thank the USO for the outstanding work that they have done for so many years and that means so much to not only those who serve in uniform but also their families. So please give it up for the USO. (Applause.) WE are very proud of them.
And let’s hear it for the funny people who are here tonight who are going to be -- I think -- telling a few jokes, I hope, including our host, the Bob Hope of this USO Show -- Jon Stewart. The one and only. (Applause.) I do want to mention, though, any jokes told about me, you should not laugh. (Laughter.) I'm just kidding. This is actually my second comedy show in the past week. (Laughter and applause.) The good news is there are no tuxedos. (Laughter.) And most importantly, I get to spend some time with you, the men and women who make up the greatest fighting force the world has ever seen. (Applause.)
I know we already did the rollcall, but I just want to see if you guys can do it a little bit better this time. (Laughter.) And by the way, I'm going to start with Army, because Jon made fun of you. Army! (Applause.) There you go. We got Navy here. (Applause.) Air Force is in the house! (Applause.) This is an Air Force base. (Laughter.) I'm just saying. You got a little home field advantage. (Laughter.)
Marines! (Applause.) And Coast Guard. (Applause.) Good job, Coast Guard. (Laughter.) Military spouses and kids, let’s hear you! (Applause.)
This is a nice way for me to not just say thank you for your service, but to give a particular thanks to Joint Base Andrews, home of the 89th Airlift Wing. Because Joe and I spend a little bit of time on this base. (Laughter.) You guys are the ones who take care of our planes. You keep us on time -- most of the time. (Laughter.) And you're always the first ones to welcome us home. So you mean so much to us. And I'm so glad we're able to do something here so that you guys know we don't take you for granted. And Michelle and I, Joe and Jill, when we come in and out of this base, we know how many people stand behind the planes and the helicopters and all the incredible work that's being done just moving us around every single day. So thank you very much. We really mean it. Thank you. (Applause.)
Thanks for your service here. Thanks for your service around the world. Now, because I'm standing between you and a party, I am going to be the Commander-in-Brief. (Laughter.)
One of my greatest honors is to serve you and your families. And that means using our military power wisely. It means sending you into harm’s way when it’s absolutely necessary. It means making sure that you -- our troops, our veterans, your families
-- are getting the care and the benefits that you’ve earned. It means cutting the disability claims backlog. It means helping you and your families, whether it's starting a business or pursuing your education under the Post-9/11 GI Bill.
And the good news is we've made a lot of progress over these past eight years. But the work of doing right by you and your families is never done. And it is not just a job for government. And that’s why we’re here today.
Back on the campaign in 2008, Michelle sat down with some military spouses, and she was deeply moved by the stories of your service, and your strength, and your resilience. She heard stories of families enduring multiple deployments. This was obviously at a time when we still had 180,000 troops deployed between Iraq and Afghanistan. Spouses and veterans were coming home and struggling to find jobs. Children constantly moving from school to school. And these are stories you live out every day, but they’re ones that the rest of the country wasn’t always hearing. So Michelle pledged that if she became First Lady, she’d help share those stories far and wide -- and challenge Americans to stand with you.
And five years ago, she teamed up with another formidable force, Jill Biden, to start Joining Forces. As a Blue Star Mom, as a teacher whose dad served in World War II, Jill was already fired up about reaching out to military kids. And together, they wanted to channel what they knew was America’s goodwill towards our military into something concrete and something real. Not just a parade on Veterans Day or Memorial Day; not just honors at a ballgame, but what was happening day-to-day to make people’s lives better. And so Michelle and Jill wanted to help folks answer a question that a lot of people were asking, which is, how can we do more? How can we help more?
So they started by focusing on the most basic ingredient of stability and security -- a job. In the aftermath of the economic crisis, the unemployment rate overall had reached 10 percent. But for some of our veterans it was even worse. As many as one in four of our youngest vets were looking for jobs. And too many of our military spouses were struggling to find work because their families were constantly relocated.
So Michelle and Jill reached out to hundreds of America’s biggest brands and employers -- companies like Walmart and Disney and Amazon -- telling them the same thing I tell CEOs every time, which is, if you want a job done right, hire a vet, hire a military spouse. (Applause.) They know how to handle stress. They know how to do the job. They know how to perform under pressure. They’ve proven themselves. (Applause.)
And the good news is, over the past five years, America’s businesses have begun to answer the call. All told, the unemployment rate for veterans has been cut in half, and through Joining Forces, companies have hired or trained more than 1.2 million veterans and military spouses.
But Michelle and Jill didn’t stop there. They worked with states to change professional licensing laws so that our vets can get credit for your military training and spouses can get hired when you move across state lines. They’re working to rally almost 900 mayors and local leaders to get our homeless veterans into housing and to get the support that they need. They help teachers and schools support military students from kindergarten through college. They supported our caregivers and our wounded warriors. And they’ve worked to destigmatize mental health challenges.
They’ve worked with Hollywood to share your stories with the American people in movies and television. And they’ve shined a special light on our women servicemembers and our veterans. And they’ve mobilized communities all across the country to honor and support our military families.
All of this just in five years. And here’s the thing. This event is not the endpoint, it's not the finish line. This is just a marker on the race. It's a mile-marker. Because every year, around 200,000 American heroes are transitioning back into civilian life. And whether it’s wartime or peacetime, many of our troops still serve far from home and families like yours sacrifice. So Michelle and Jill have pledged to keep charging forward on this issue -- not just for the next nine months, but long after we leave office.
That’s why tonight, on this fifth anniversary, I want to renew Michelle and Jill’s call from the day they launched this effort. I challenge every American to keep asking that simple question -- “How can I give back to these troops and families who have given me so much?” Everybody should have that in their minds. Because thanks to Joining Forces, we have answers in terms of how you can help.
If you’re a business owner, hire more veterans and military spouses. And if you don't know how to do it, let us know. We'll tell you. If you’re a teacher, reach out to the military students in your class. And if you need ideas for how to provide more support, Joining Forces will let you know. If you’re a mayor, or a coworker, or a neighbor, go to JoiningForces.gov to find out how you can make a difference for military families in your communities. That’s how we can concretely show that we have your backs -- that it's not just lip service, but we're actually doing something concrete.
That’s what today is about. I could not be prouder of everything the American people have done and will continue to do through Joining Forces. More importantly, I think I speak for Joe Biden to say I could not be prouder of two people who are as smart and charismatic and committed and dedicated -- what they’ve been able to accomplish with almost no budget, but just through sheer force of will and personality and commitment to you is something that leaves me in awe. I am so proud of them.
Give it up for two champions for our troops and our veterans and our military families -- Michelle Obama and Jill Biden. (Applause.)
DR. BIDEN: Thank you to the Commander-in-Chief, President Obama, for that wonderful introduction. Thank you. (Applause.)
And, of course, I want to say thank you to my husband, Joe, the Vice President --
THE PRESIDENT: He’s all right. (Laughter.)
DR. BIDEN: -- for always supporting and encouraging me to do as much as we can to show our military families how much we appreciate them.
And tonight’s celebration wouldn’t have happened without the USO. Let’s give the USO a big round of applause. (Applause.) For the past seven years, it’s been an honor to work with the USO on a number of issues affecting our troops, our veterans, and their families. We’ve done everything together -- from stuffing care packages on Capitol Hill for women soldiers to hosting barbecues for wounded warriors at the Vice President’s residence, to block parties with military families on bases in Hawaii, Germany, Japan, Italy, Singapore, and throughout the United States.
Everywhere we go, the USO is there. I feel like I’ve seen your volunteers so often that they’ve really become like family. Just as you’ve been there for so many military families over the years, you’ve been there for us every step of the way. You were there for my father during World War II. You were there for our son when he deployed to Iraq. And it was your work that inspired our work.
Your mission is one of the reasons Michelle and I started Joining Forces in the first place -- to give all Americans the opportunity to step up and show their support for our military and their families. You even helped Michelle and me launch our Joining Forces initiative with “Sesame Street.”
So thank you for all the work that you continue to do and congratulations on the 75 years of incredible work that you do every single day for our warriors and their families around the world. It’s making a difference in more lives than you will ever know.
To all of the military and their families here tonight, you are our heroes. Your selflessness and sacrifice on behalf of our country is so inspiring. We can never do enough to thank you for your service and we hope you have a little fun tonight.
So now it’s my honor to introduce our country’s great supporter of our military and their families, my friend and Joining Forces partner, the First Lady of the United States, Michelle Obama. (Applause.)
MRS. OBAMA: All right, you guys! (Applause.) Yes! (Applause.) All right, we’re going to get this party started but before we begin, I have to thank my husband, Barack. (Applause.) Thanks to Joe and Jill. Thank you, J.D. and Jon and, most of all, thank all of you for joining us tonight. I hope you all are good. We’re so excited.
Let me just tell you, in order to get four of us on a stage -- it’s really hard. (Laughter.) And we’re doing it because of you. We have cleared our schedules, we made this happen because we all care and you mean so much to us. We are so incredibly honored to be here with all of you to celebrate the fifth anniversary of Joining Forces. I can’t believe it’s been just five years.
Make no mistake about it, Joining Forces is about one thing and one thing only: It’s about you. It’s about rallying this country to honor, support, and thank all of you -- (applause) -- our extraordinary servicemembers, our veterans, and of course, those military families who are so near and dear to my heart. (Applause.)
You just have to understand, we know what you do for our country every single day because over the past five years, through Joining Forces, Jill and I, we’ve had the pleasure of traveling across America and around the world, as you’ve heard, to bases and schools, communities and hospitals. We’ve had the privilege of really getting to know so many of you. The spouses who’ve endured those long deployments; all those difficult moves.
Our military kids who bravely walk through the doors of yet another new school. The wounded warriors who tell us they would do it all again for the chance to serve their country. The heroes -- that is all of you who make such extraordinary sacrifices to keep us safe.
Now, let me tell you, in many ways you all have made our job with Joining Forces easy, because all we have to do is tell your stories. That’s really it. Because when people hear about you, they want to step up. They want to express their gratitude. They want to serve you as well as you’ve served this country. You inspire people all across this country, and that is absolutely true for Jill and for me. Getting to know all of you -- oh, you all just make us want to be better. You inspire us to be better mothers and spouses, better public servants, better citizens, better human beings. You do that.
You inspire us to try every day to use this platform, this light to serve and support everything you do. The courage, the honor, the boundless love for this country -- that’s what we’ve come to know. And tonight, we just want you to know that serving you, doing this work with Joining Forces, of all the things that I have experienced -- we’ve experienced -- serving you has been one of the greatest privileges of our lives. (Applause.)
AUDIENCE: We love you! (Applause.)
MRS. OBAMA: We love you. (Applause.) We’re here tonight, gathered here to thank you. Thank you for that privilege. We’re here tonight to once again honor you for everything you’ve done and to tell you again and again how much we love you.
So tonight, we want you all to have some fun, all right? (Applause.) Please have the time of your lives. (Applause.) I hope there’s food or drink or something around here. (Laughter.) Enjoy every single minute. Soak this all in, because you’ve more than earned it, and we are proud of you all. (Applause.)
So with that, I’m going to stop talking and turn things back over to Jon so that we can get this party started. How ‘bout it? Thank you all so much. God bless you. (Applause.)
6:45 P.M. EDT