First Lady, Dr. Biden Mark 'Joining Forces' Anniversary
By Elaine Sanchez
WASHINGTON, April 11, 2012 - First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden, today marked the one-year anniversary of the Joining Forces campaign by celebrating the individuals and organizations that have stepped up in "extraordinary ways" to improve military families' lives.
Speaking from the White House's South Lawn, the first lady and Biden expressed their gratitude for the nation's "outpouring of support" for military families to a star-studded crowd that included Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey and his wife, Deanie, as well as military, government and community leaders from all sectors of society and military members and their families.
In brief remarks, Dempsey noted the importance of supporting troops and their families. Service members are "pillars of American strength ... -- hardened warriors, unwavering teammates and absolutely selfless citizens," he said.
Today's warriors, he said, "have fought harder and their families have sacrificed more over the last decade than any of us could ever really know."
In return, they deserve enduring support that continues long after they transition out of the military and back into their hometowns, the chairman said, which will require community involvement and a nationwide commitment. It will take "each of us and all of us," he said.
Dempsey lauded the first lady and Biden for their efforts over the past year to improve employment, education and wellness opportunities for troops, veterans and their families, and expressed his "deep appreciation" for the individuals, organizations and communities also stepping up to help.
When Joining Forces launched, the first lady said, she knew the nation would step up to honor and support veterans and military families. "But the outpouring of support that we have seen over this last year -- ... the hours logged, the services donated, the love and devotion and offers to help that have poured in from every corner of the country -- all of that has far surpassed even our wildest expectations," she said.
Obama ticked off a list of these contributions. Over the past year, she said, more than 1,600 businesses have hired more than 50,000 veterans and spouses, and have pledged to hire at least 160,000 more in the coming years.
Technology and employment companies such as Google, Monster and LinkedIn have stepped up to help connect veterans with jobs, she added, and state leaders are passing legislation to ease employment woes for military spouses with professional licenses moving across state borders. Additionally, medical schools are training health care providers so they can better care for military families.
From the entertainment industry, TV shows such as "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition," "Sesame Street" and organizations such as NASCAR, AOL and Disney are sharing military families' stories, "and using those stories not just to shine a light, but to encourage others to serve," she said. Obama noted her own appearance on the popular children's TV show "iCarly." "I am now more popular than the president because I was on 'iCarly,'" she joked.
The first lady also cited a series of popular public service announcements featuring stars such as Tom Hanks, Oprah Winfrey and Steven Spielberg.
Obama cited "Operation Honor Cards," an initiative that asks Americans to pledge service for military families, as a perfect example of Americans' willingness to help. The organization had set a goal of 3 million hours of pledged service last year, but had doubled that number by June. "And today, we can announce that we're at 21 million hours pledged -- 21 million hours pledged -- with already 30 million total hours served," she said.
Other examples of the nation's commitment to help were scattered across the audience, Biden added. Also attending the event were the 20 finalists of the Joining Forces Community Challenge. The Challenge is intended to recognize and celebrate the extraordinary military family support efforts of citizens and organizations across the country.
Biden pointed out a few of the these organizations, such as HeartsApart.org, a network of photographers who take photos of soon-to-be deployed troops and their families, and GreenCare for Troops, which connects local green industry professionals with military families to provide free lawn and landscaping services.
"If I had to sum up what we have seen since launching Joining Forces in one word, it would be 'inspiring,'" Biden said. "These efforts aren't always in the headlines, but they support our military families every single day in real and meaningful ways."
While a powerful gauge of the nation's commitment, Joining Forces' true impact can't be measured in numbers of hours served, the first lady said. "The true measure of our success lies in the lives that we've helped to change," she said.
Today is a time for celebration, Obama said, but it's also a time to renew a call to action. She challenged the audience, and all Americans, "to keep raising the bar."
The first lady reiterated her enduring commitment to military families. Joining Forces isn't a temporary initiative, but a "forever proposition," she said.
"We're going to keep driving forward until all of our nation's military families feel in real and concrete ways the love and support and gratitude that we all hold in our hearts," she said. "That is our simple promise to you."
Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey