By Elaine Sanchez
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, March 20, 2012 – First Lady Michelle Obama encouraged Americans to rally in support of military families during an appearance on the “Late Show with David Letterman” last night.
The first lady shared a few laughs with Letterman, but then grew serious when the topic turned to her Joining Forces campaign. Obama and Dr. Jill Biden, the vice president’s wife, launched this initiative last year to boost support to troops, veterans and their families.
Service members and their families have served and sacrificed for more than a decade, the first lady noted, yet most Americans are unaware of the extent of their challenges. “We take it for granted because we have 1 percent of this nation serving and protecting the rights of the other 99 percent of us,” she said.
Growing up in south Chicago and with limited exposure to the military, the first lady said, she wasn’t aware of these challenges either until recently. “It wasn’t until I started campaigning and traveling around to military bases where I got to meet these very resilient, proud, disciplined, smart individuals,” she said. “I thought, ‘Most Americans have no clue about the level of sacrifice they’re making so we can live in freedom.’”
The Joining Forces campaign is intended to ensure every service member, veteran and family member understands “they live in a grateful nation,” she said.
Obama cited the progress she’s seen in military family support since Joining Forces launched last spring, particularly in the area of employment. Organizations have been hosting veteran job fairs across the nation, and President Barack Obama has launched programs and incentives to encourage private-sector employers to hire veterans.
Due to these efforts and others, she said, the unemployment rate among veterans is decreasing at a faster pace than the broader unemployment rate. As of last week, the unemployment rate for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans was down from last year’s high of 12.5 percent to 7.6 percent, below the national rate of 8.3 percent.
While this progress is a “great thing,” the first lady said, she also called attention to military spouses’ employment challenges. In this decade of war, military spouses have moved forward despite the challenges of frequent moves and deployments -- all while caring for children and a household.
But when it comes to moving forward in their own careers, she said, military spouses often run up against a brick wall as they’re forced to kick-start their careers at each new location.
“These men and women are just as trained, they are just as prepared, they are just as competent” as their civilian-life counterparts, Obama said. “They’re some of the best this country has to offer.”
The first lady encouraged people to find military families in their midst and then “do whatever they do best,” whether it’s offering to mow a lawn or babysit for a family with a deployed loved one, or providing pro bono accounting or attorney services.
Obama also noted the importance of caring for children from military families. It’s hard to imagine what they’re going through, she said, as they move from base to base every couple of years. She recalled meeting children attending their 12th school in nearly the same number of years.
Still, they’re keeping their grades up and are “still managing to keep it all together,” she said. “Just imagine what these kids need.”
Military families need to be on the forefront of Americans’ minds, she told the audience. And, through Joining Forces, “we’ll do everything we can to rally support for them so that they never feel that they’re alone in this.”