By Terri Moon Cronk
DoD News, Defense Media Activity
WASHINGTON, May 9, 2015 – First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden, yesterday welcomed military families to the annual White House Mother’s Day tea, drawing service members, spouses, children, wounded warrior caregivers and veterans, as part of the Joining Forces initiative.
Obama and Biden welcomed the families into the State Dining Room on a day that also marked National Military Spouse Appreciation Day.
“We couldn't have picked a better day to show you how much we care and how grateful we are for the service that you provide for our country,” the first lady said.
Obama greeted Deanie Dempsey, wife of Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; and Mary Winnefeld, wife of Navy Adm. James A. Winnefeld, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The general and the admiral both attended the tea with their wives.
“Mary and Deanie … are perfect examples of the kind of folks that we have here today -- women who are juggling families and careers,” the first lady said.
Military Families Make Sacrifices
Obama noted that military families move from state to state every couple of years, start new jobs, put their children in new schools and build new communities for themselves, over and over again.
“You’ve been separated from your loved ones, whether you’ve been deployed yourself or you’ve had someone overseas,” she added.
The first lady emphasized how members of the military community are the first to volunteer to help others in their communities in the midst of their already active lives.
“You're always stepping up, always trying to figure out how you can help,” Obama said. “And that's inspiring … which is why we thank you, because you give us energy. You give us strength. You give us focus and purpose.”
“And I want you to know just how much we appreciate everything your families do in serving our country,” said Biden, whose son, Beau, is a major in the Delaware Army National Guard and an Iraq veteran.
“We ask a lot of our military families,” Biden continued, “and I believe that each of us -- no matter where we live, no matter whether we’re connected to military ourselves -- all of us should make our best efforts to show our military spouses, kids, siblings and parents how much we appreciate their service and their sacrifice.”
Supporting Military Spouses, Veterans
The first lady said the Joining Forces initiative she and Biden established four years ago in April has blossomed into a large support system for veterans and military spouses, with 850,000 veterans and spouses gaining employment in that timeframe.
“Four years we’ve been at this work and it feels like we’ve been doing it a lot longer because we’ve [made] so much progress,” Obama said.
“We’ve been highlighting our local veterans’ centers, which a lot of folks don't know exist,” the first lady said. “And those are out there for our veterans. They're modernizing. They're different. They're accommodating the needs of the modern-day veteran in ways that many people wouldn’t imagine.”
Joining Forces also has highlighted nationwide efforts to end veteran homelessness, the first lady said.
“Cities like New Orleans have actually ended veteran homelessness,” Obama said. “And we’ve got many cities on the way to reaching that goal. We’ve been able to celebrate the new commitments to reach, hire and train our veterans, our transitioning service members and our military spouses.”
The first lady added, “We’re moving the needle step by step, lowering the unemployment rate among our veterans, and making sure that employers know the value that you all add by hiring the quality of folks that you represent.”
Joining Forces supports military families in many ways, Obama said. She announced that Blue Star Museums will again this summer starting on Memorial Day provide active-duty military family members free access to more than 2,000 museums across the country in an initiative with Blue Star Families, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Defense Department.
“[It’s] just one of the many ways that organizations from across this country are teaming up to thank all of you for the service that you do for us. That’s what Joining Forces is all about,” the first lady said.
Honoring Military Families
Hosting the White House tea for Mother’s Day, Obama said, is an opportunity to honor military families in “a small way that we can say, ‘Thank you.’ To open up this house … to just enjoy a day where you can look good, feel grand.”
As a finale, musical artist Ben Folds performed for the families.