Hi everybody, nice to see all of you. Thank you, Charlene, and congratulations to you and Secretary Austin – and we're so proud to have your family, as a critical part of our administration. And good afternoon everyone and welcome to the White House.
You know, I always knew that if we got here, I would want to meet with this group right away – because all of you have been a part of this community for so long. Many of you started as newlyweds, you know, decades ago. Some of you served in uniform, and now many of you are parents to those who have taken up that uniform as well. You know the lows of deployment and the highs of homecoming; you know the excitement of landing at an interesting new duty station; and the pain of geo-batching. You've served our nation with dedication and passion, and love. So even though we can't be with each other in person, I didn't want to wait any longer to have this meeting.
It's hard for me to believe that it's only been two weeks since the inauguration; and already I’ve had so much to do. In fact, last week I sat down with some military connected teenagers who are apart of MCEC’s student to student program – I’m sure most of you know all about it – and they were so impressive. You know kids from across the country, and even the world. In fact, one young man had grown up in Japan and Germany – never having lived in the United States.
They were funny and friendly, as you’d expect from kids who’ve had to learn to make friends fast. At one point we asked them what they wished people knew about military kids; and Sophia, a senior at Alamogordo High School in New Mexico said, “I wish I had a hometown.” It was the kind of thing that shouldn’t have been a surprise, to anyone that knows this community – and yet, in that simple statement, she captured the loss of what so many take for granted. Cheering for a football team on brisk Friday nights; backyard barbeques with grandparents and cousins; sleepovers with friends you’ve known since kindergarten.
The students told me that they wanted people to know that, though they might not wear a uniform, they serve too. They wanted that service to be seen. They wanted their voices to be heard. And that’s what I want too.
Being first lady is the honor of my life; and to me it means exactly that – the chance to lift up students like them and families like yours, and tackle these challenges together. Because, this is personal to me. Some of you might know that my father was a navy signal man in World War II; and my son Beau served a year in Iraq as a member of the Delaware Army National Guard. And recently, I had the chance to go back to Hamilton, New Jersey to see the memorial that bears my dad’s name in his hometown. And it’s this modest stone obelisk, with the bronze names of the local men who fought in World War II. And I’ll never forget how, on some Sunday afternoons, my dad would take my sisters and me, down to that obelisk and we’d polish those names. You know, it was a small thing that he could do. A communion with his brothers in arms; a way of honoring the bond that they had with each other, and the sacrifice that they made together. From the flag that he would proudly display on veteran’s day – or the Fourth of July – to the John Philip Sousa songs he played as loud as we could stand – I learned my love of this country from my dad. My parents were republicans, but they knew somethings aren’t red or blue. Due to our nation’s support of our military; service to our communities – those things are purple issues. As all of you might say, they’re bigger than politics – and that’s how it should be. We all need to support our service members, veterans, and their families, caregivers, and survivors – because they, you, have earned nothing less.
When first lady Michelle Obama launched the nationwide initiative Joining Forces in 2011, we began by traveling the country listening to families. And over and over, we heard similar stories of military spouses moving and losing beloved jobs. Of students whose teachers didn’t even know when parents were deployed. Of families, struggling, to meet mental health needs. And then Michelle and I used those stories to shape the three pillars of Joining Forces – wellness, education, and employment. The solutions to these challenges weren’t, and aren’t, simple. There were so many complex factors that contribute to them – from school policies; to HR practices; to state licensing boards. But over five years we brought problems to light.
We helped businesses better understand military spouse resumes so that they could be hired to do the jobs they already know how to do. We met with state and local leaders to talk about how schools could support military connected students. We met with nonprofits that created innovative ways to reach families. We educated; we asked for help; we told people “go to your strengths” – and you know what? Something incredible happened; they did. In big ways and small ones, Americans stepped up for our military families.
After Joe and I left the White House, I knew that I had to keep this progress going. So I brought one of the stars of that initiative, Rory Brosius, to the Biden Foundation to continue to the work. As a member of a military family herself, she’s worked in this space for years, and is deeply passionate about supporting military families. And I’m excited to say that she’s agreed to join my office now, as the executive director of our new Joining Forces effort.
We need her leadership now more than ever. Because, you know, there’s still so much work to do; and the needs of this communities are evolving. As we build on the progress we’ve made, we’ll be hosting listening sessions with families, government leaders, and experts. We’ll figure out where we need to improve, and create strategies and timelines to get there. And we’ll be working with partners like you.
Getting to know the families of our military over the years has enriched my life in ways I never could have expected. We’ve been side by side, sharing Thanksgiving dinners with Walter Reed patients and visiting bases around the world. After one trip overseas I loved calling the parents to tell them that I had seen their son or daughter and that they were doing well – just like the calls I lived for when Beau was in Iraq.
It was another military mom who gave me the very prayer I prayed every morning when he was gone. And it helped me to get through that year. The friendship, the guidance, and kindness I have found in this community, has been invaluable to me.
So, I’m excited to get to know you and to work with you. Because there is no one who knows this community better. For so many years, you’ve brought your time and talent to the cause of supporting military families. Some of you have dedicated your career to it; some have been volunteers; and sometimes, and I understand this, you have been voluntold to help. As a long time senator’s wife, I know a little bit about the latter. No matter what, you serve this country and this community faithfully.
Misses Obama and I made a commitment that we wouldn’t tell military families what they needed – we would ask them, and listen to what they said. And that’s going to be true for our administration as well. This is a partnership, a dialogue; we can’t visit every base or meet every family, but you can tell us what you see on the ground and what your community needs. And while I hope you will tell us when we’re getting it right, more importantly, I hope you’ll tell us when we get it wrong.
I hope you’ll help us make this initiative reflect your lived experiences, so we can truly serve the military families who serve us all. Because that’s what this is all about. As we begin this administration, hoping to overcome historic challenges, I’ve been thinking of the words of Helen Keller. In the speech she gave on the transformation she found with her teacher Anne Sullivan’s help, Keller said, and I quote, “We live by each other and for each other. Alone we can do so little. Together we can do so much.”
No matter our politics; no matter our titles; no matter our positions, at the end of the day we are military moms and dads, spouses, and siblings. We know that serving this community isn’t just a nice thing to do, it’s a matter of national security, and it’s a mission that we can only complete together – by each other, and for each other. By the time the Obama-Biden administration ended, I felt that I had formed lifelong friendships with so many spouses of senior leaders. And I look forward to building friendships with all of you as well. So thank you; thank you for being here and I look forward to getting to talk each one of you personally. Thanks.
Neither the Catt Center nor Iowa State University is affiliated with any individual in the Archives or any political party. Inclusion in the Archives is not an endorsement by the center or the university.