Remarks by the First Lady and Dr. Jill Biden at Joining Forces Capstone Reception
5:17 P.M. EDT
DR. BIDEN: So good afternoon. It’s so wonderful to be here with all of you today. And let me start by thanking Sheila Casey, a true friend and champion for all military families, including mine. Thank you, Sheila, for your kind words and support over the years. It’s been a pleasure working with you and your husband, General Casey.
Well, it’s hard to believe that after five years, this is our last Joining Forces event. I remember the moment eight years ago, backstage in Springfield, Illinois, when Michelle and I decided we wanted to focus on this important issue together. It was that exciting day when then-Senator Obama announced that my husband Joe would be his running mate. Michelle turned to me and asked what would I like to work on if we won. And I told her that I wanted to tackle the issues that our military families were facing, and she said, “Me too!” (Laughter.) For me, I couldn’t think of anything more fulfilling than serving those who have sacrificed so much for our country.
One thing we say in the Biden family -- and I know you all feel it in your hearts -- is that our country has one sacred obligation -- to equip those we send to war, and to care for them and their families during deployments and when they return. (Applause.)
Back in 2008, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were going strong. Hundreds of thousands of our troops were deployed. So I called the National Guard and said I wanted to help the families of military families whose loved ones were serving overseas. They connected me with Delaware Boots on the Ground, which was helping to match the everyday needs of our military -- they’re here, that’s why it’s making me so emotional -- to match the everyday needs of military families with folks who could provide the service. If you need a tire changed, Boots was there for you. If you had a leaky roof, Boots was there. If you needed diapers or a new crib, Boots was there again.
Delaware Boots on the Ground made such a big difference for military families in Delaware that Governor Ruth Ann Minner declared on July 4th, 2007, Delaware Boots on the Ground Day. Remember guys? And after we were elected to the White House, I wanted to keep going. I wanted to keep doing all the things that I could for military families -- not just in Delaware, but all across our nation. Because, like Michelle, I had been so inspired by the military families, the incredible military families I had met and gotten to know over the years.
That’s why, when we called upon you to help us shine a light on our military families, we wanted to raise awareness of the challenges that they confront and still confront that most Americans never have to face or can even imagine. Sending loved ones into harm’s way. Enduring countless separations during training. Starting over on different bases in different towns again and again.
All of you in this room, from the veterans and military spouses we met eight years ago on the campaign trail to the nonprofits, schools, foundations, businesses, associations, civil servants and Americans of every stripe, have been with us every step of the way since we launched Joining Forces. You have been our lifeline to our military families. You’ve helped us better understand the unique challenges that they face. You’ve been critical in helping us find solutions to better support those amazing families. You’ve helped us remind folks that we can all make a difference, not just in word on Veterans Day or Memorial Day, but with good deeds and best efforts each and every day of the year, by doing what we do best.
As a lifelong educator and as a military mom, the way we reach out to our military children in our classrooms is especially close to my heart. That’s why I’ve been so proud to work with organizations like the Military Child Education Coalition. Together, we launched Operation Educate the Educators to encourage teaching colleges to recognize military children in their curriculum. To date, more than 100 colleges and universities have signed up to train thousands of future teachers so that they are prepared to identify the challenges military kids face. (Applause.)
And one of the first groups that Michelle and I partnered with to launch Joining Forces five years ago was the National Math and Science initiative. Thanks to NMSI’s college readiness program, we’re helping to ensure that students at 200 military-connected schools in 33 states across the country are prepared for the rigors of college and a career.
I’d also like to thank the media, who has helped us share the story of the military family. And that includes everyone from Elmo and “Sesame Street,” to “Reading Rainbow” with LeVar Burton, who have shined a light on military-connected children, as well as the History Channel, which has lifted up our veterans, servicemembers, and their families. And I’d especially like to thank CEO of History Channel, Nancy Dubuc, for being here today.
All of you have stepped up for our military and their families in your own unique ways. That’s what you do. And that’s why you’re here today. Because Michelle and I want you to know just how much we appreciate everything that you’ve done and everything that you will continue to do to support those who serve our country.
And we all need to keep doing this work, because our military families will continue to serve and sacrifice. Our men and women in uniform will continue to deploy. Their spouses and children will continue to move from base to base, and eventually they will transition to civilian life. That’s why this work matters. And we have to show them that we have their backs.
You know, I believe we couldn’t have asked for a better champion for our military families than Michelle Obama. (Applause.) I know you all feel this. She is a woman like no other. (Applause.) Whip smart. Passionate. Loyal. For our nation, she’s been a true role model, especially for young girls. She’s raised two amazing girls on her -- of her own whose potential has no bounds. And she’s shown the same warmth and care for her girls that she has with our grandchildren.
And from day one, Michelle was determined to make a real and lasting difference in the lives of our military and their families -- measurable action, not just words. She has had the courage to take on veteran homelessness, making the seemingly impossible possible. (Applause.) Naturally, freely, warmly she brings joy and hope often simply through a hug to the deployed caregivers and wounded warriors.
As a military mom, I am grateful for her service. I love her. We’re family. Our First Lady, Michelle Obama. (Applause.)
MRS. OBAMA: Oh, my goodness. (Laughter.) This wasn’t supposed to be tearful. (Laughter.) Oh, wow, look at you all. What an evening, what a day.
First of all, let me thank --
AUDIENCE MEMBER: I love you!
MRS. OBAMA: We love you all. We love you all more than you can know. (Applause.) This community has kept us going through a lot. So let me just start by, of course, recognizing my partner in crime, Jill Biden, for that introduction. Oh, my goodness. (Applause.) Jill has been, by far, the best partner I could have ever imagined, not just for the work on Joining Forces, but our families have joined forces in so many ways. I’m just grateful to have her by my side. She’s been a devoted advocate for our military community long before she ever came to the White House. This is her cause, as you can hear from her words. This is her mission. And her passion has really been at the heart and soul of Joining Forces from the beginning.
But Jill is much more than a partner. She is one of my dearest friends. And, as Jill said, we’re family. This is my girl right here. (Applause.) We have laughed together. We have been silly together. We have cried a lot. (Laughter.) We’ve been there for each other as much as we can throughout this amazing journey. And Jill is not just brilliant, but she is kind. She is very funny. And she is one of the strongest people I know. I love and admire her with all my heart. So thank you, Jill. (Applause.)
And of course, thanks to all of you -- my goodness -- folks from every sector of our society who’ve come together through Joining Forces -- CEOs and government officials, medical professionals and educators. And most of all, our extraordinary servicemembers, our amazing veterans, oh, and our military families. (Applause.)
Just looking out over this room, so many of you have been with us right from the very beginning, way back in those early days when Jill and I were just starting to figure out what Joining Forces would look like. And back then, we’d get together with military spouses, and Blue and Gold Star families. We’d talk to veterans, and of course we talked to troops. And we’d ask the simple questions: How are things going? Do you have the support that you need? What can we do to help?
And, as Jill said, we continue to be blown away by your honesty and your courage, your sacrifice, your service, moving your families across the country, across the globe every few years, enduring deployment after deployment, struggling to maintain your careers and care for your family -- I could go on and on. You keep us from complaining about anything. And I know that some of you were probably a little skeptical of us at first. Some may have wondered, how are these two with almost no budget going to make a difference? (Laughter.) And rightfully so, wondering would this just be another PR campaign? Because you had seen plenty of tributes and parades and memorials, all of which are very important, but nowhere near enough.
As I said earlier today, talk simply is not enough. So Jill and I knew it was time to act, and that’s why we decided that the only measure of our success would be whether you all could see and feel a concrete difference in your lives. That was the only thing we cared about.
So in 2011, we issued a call to all Americans to step up and serve our military community as well as you all have served this country -– not just with kind words, but with real resources, with real support. And as we told you, people answered that call time and again. And that’s what you should know about this country. Just when you wonder whether we’re crazy -- (laughter) -- we’re not. We’re good people, all over the place. Know that about this country. (Applause.) We are made up of good people.
Folks from every industry, every corner of this country, they raised their hand every time and they said, yeah, I can help. And just think for a minute about everything we’ve achieved together. I mean, you heard it in that beautiful video. In just five and a half years -- let’s just stop there -- five and a half years, our businesses and companies have hired or trained more than 1.5 million veterans and military spouses, and the unemployment rate for our veterans has been cut in half. (Applause.) That’s because of you. (Applause.)
Governors and legislatures in 50 states, all 50 states, took action to help military spouses transfer their licenses and continue their careers as they move from state to state -- simple ask. I think there were only two when we first started. And we were like, hey, can we get this done? Folks were like, yeah!
We provided new training and tools for thousands of healthcare providers. New networks and support for our caregivers. New resources and educational opportunities for our amazing military kids who, by the way, really blow us away. Those kids are some of the most amazing, poised -- (applause) -- those are our next leaders. So another thing to know about this country, we’re in good hands, because our young people -- we’ve got some good young people. We do. (Applause.)
And working with mayors and local officials, as we celebrated earlier today, we have ended veteran homelessness in cities and states across this country, housing 354,000 homeless veterans and their families. (Applause.) We did that. We did that. Through wonderful VA programs, we’ve worked to cut veterans’ homelessness nearly in half. And we did that in just a couple of years.
That’s just some of what Joining Forces has been able to accomplish, and it’s because of you. Jill and I, we just ask, and then we wait for the press conference. We come in and we go, look what we did! (Laughter.) But we are so incredibly proud of you. You want the country to see this. This is America. And Jill and I, we are so grateful for everything you all have done.
But what we do not feel is satisfied, because --
AUDIENCE MEMBER: That’s right!
MRS. OBAMA: That’s my hype man back there. (Laughter.) Because for everything we’ve accomplished, we also know that every day, people across America thankfully are signing up to put on our country’s uniform, and so many others hang it up for good and join the ranks of our veterans.
So our work is nowhere near finished. And it never will be. So my main message to all of you today is let’s just keep this going. Let’s keep it going. (Applause.) Plain and simple. (Applause.) We don’t get all of this done in such a short period of time and just not keep pushing.
And to our servicemembers, our veterans, and to our military families, I urge you to never settle for anything less. This effort, it hasn’t been perfect. We haven’t achieved every goal. We haven’t righted every wrong. But believe me, from now on, this should be the baseline. This should be the minimum level of support our military should feel from their White House all the way down to every community in this country. (Applause.) They should feel it from the President and the Vice President, from the First and Second spouses on down to the VA, to VSOs, to schools, to hospitals, to congregations, to citizens. That’s true regardless of who is in charge or what party they belong to.
Because this issue has nothing to do with whether you are a Democrat, a Republican or an independent. It is so much bigger than that. It’s about supporting our American heroes. (Applause.) And it’s about standing up for who we are as a nation. And that’s something we can all agree on. There should never ever be any daylight between any of us when it comes to that.
So you all need to work with the next administration to continue these efforts. Whatever it is that you’re working on, I want you to find new partners in the next administration. I want you to work with them just like you worked with us on the issues that matter most to our military community. And I want you all to know that while today might be our last time together here as First Lady -- and I hate to say Second Lady, because there’s nothing second about Jill -- (laughter and applause) -- but we are not saying goodbye. This is not the end.
Jill and I intend to keep working on this issue for the rest of our lives. (Applause.) We will figure out a way to use whatever platforms we have next. And with your help, we know that the spirit of this movement will live on. We will continue to find ways to be supportive long after we leave the White House.
This movement will live on. It will live on in every military spouse who steps up and says, I’m tough, but even I can’t do this alone, and every Governor who responds, you don’t have to. It will live on in every veteran looking to bring their skills and their training to our workforce, and every CEO who gives them that chance. It will live on in every servicemember who knows their spouse is being supported during their deployment, and every teacher who goes that extra mile to make sure their kids feel welcome in a new school.
This effort is going to live on because it belongs to each of us and to every American who joins forces to support America’s heroes. So instead of saying goodbye, I want to end as I started -- by once again saying thank you. (Applause.) This has been one of the greatest pleasures of my life, getting to know this community. We are grateful. We are grateful. And we have so much to feel grateful for in this country. Let us never forget that.
Let’s get to work. Thank you all. God bless. (Applause.)
5:48 P.M. EST