When we asked Yahoo! and Yahoo! Shine readers to submit questions for us to ask First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden, one of the things many readers wanted to know was this: Why have military families become such a priority for this administration?
"I'm not from a military family," Mrs. Obama said candidly. "but I had the opportunity to meet many spouses over the course of the campaign, and truly their stories will take your breath away."
"When you think about the struggles that the average working spouse has, holding down a job, and dealing with daycare, handling sickness, worrying about school and graduation and college for your kids," she continued, "when you take that and you multiply that by five, six, seven deployments, where a loved one is in harm’s way, or you multiply that by nine or 10 schools that a child has had to attend, because that’s the average number of schools that a military child will go through in the course of their educational experience… all of that just makes me think, man, we need to use our voices and our platforms to lift these families up and to find a way to make sure that this nation is stepping up for them in the ways that they’re stepping up for us."
Dr. Biden's interest is more personal: Her oldest stepson, Joseph "Beau" Biden, joined the Delaware National Guard 10 years ago, when he was in his 30s. "He was deployed to Iraq for a year. So I think that I feel a very personal connection with other military families, and have for a long time."
The first lady and Dr. Biden are the faces of Joining Forces, the Obama Administration's initiative to support military families. "One of our mottos of Joining Forces is, 'Do what you do best'." Mrs. Obama told Yahoo! Shine in an exclusive interview at the White House. "We encourage people -- they don’t have to be experts in military life. They don’t have to live on a base. They don’t have to live near a base. Many people should think about taking the talents and gifts that they have and find a way of applying that."
Other military wives and moms with whom we've spoken have said the same thing. "Everybody wants to help," Dena Provenzano told Yahoo! Shine. "And I say, jump in and do it. Just make it happen."
The first lady suggests that civilians like her start by figuring out who are the military families in your midst—in your schools, churches, and your local community. "Identify who’s out there, because many families don’t identify themselves. It’s particularly Reservists who are our firefighters, our doctors. They’re our neighbors. They’re not surrounded by a military community and the support that goes with it. So those families in particular need things as small as babysitting support, or a meal cooked, or a carpool covered, and many things, big and small."
Dr. Biden--a military mom--agrees. "I know what it was like during the holidays… when I looked down our Christmas table and I saw that my son was not sitting there because he was in Iraq," she remembers.
"I think we’re growing as a country in terms of our understanding and appreciation for the sacrifices of war," the first lady said. "It is very difficult to take for granted the complicated nature of the lives of our men and women in uniform when they choose to serve. We have one percent of the country protecting the freedoms of the other 99 percent of us. That burden is deep, and it is real, and it’s something that the rest of us can’t take for granted."
Yahoo! Shine senior editor Lylah M. Alphonse also talked with the First Lady and Dr. Biden about their families' holiday traditions, what they'd do differently as parents, how they maintain their own identities and careers, and how they felt (or, in Mrs. Obama's case, would feel) about their children joining the military. You can find those videos and more, only on Yahoo! Shine. Learn more about the ways you can support the families of US service men and women at Shine.Yahoo.com/veteransday.
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Also on Shine:
- Life in a military family: 5 things you might not know
- Michelle Obama: If Malia or Sasha joined the military, "I would be proud"
- Yahoo readers ask Michelle Obama and Jill Biden about national pride, Let's Move, and keeping their careers
- Michelle Obama on the things that matter most to moms
- Veterans Day on Yahoo! Shine