White House launches "Joining Forces" to support military families

President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama talk with Vice President Joseph Biden and Dr. Jill Biden just after launching President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama with Vice President Joseph Biden and Dr. Jill Biden just after …This week, the White House launched a new initiative to support military families.

Spearheaded by First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden (a Blue Star mom herself), the goal of Joining Forces is to increase awareness of the role that military families are playing and to find ways to support military spouses, children, and veterans.

"This is about the responsibility that we each have to one another, as Americans," the First Lady said during Tuesday's launch of the program. "It's about the fact that... one percent of Americans may be fighting on our behalf, but 100 percent of Americans need to be supporting our troops and their families. This campaign is about renewing those bonds and those connections between those who serve and the rest of us who live free because of their service."

"This will help unify us as a country," Mrs. Obama said in an interview after the launch. "It's something we can all rally around, regardless of our political party or geographic area. It's an American issue."

During World War II, Mrs. Obama pointed out, "Just about every family was a military family, or knew someone that was."

"However, today, with an all-volunteer force, fewer Americans serve or know someone who does," she said. "And unlike our troops, military families don't wear uniforms, so we don't always see them."

With the number of active National Guardsmen and Reservists at an all-time high, the number of military families who don't have the support of a military community close-by is climbing as well. "They're in virtually every community in this country," Mrs. Obama pointed out. "One day they're our police officers, our firefighters, our doctors and our teachers. And then the next day they're called to duty and deploy to a war zone."

"Just about every county in America has sent a service member to Iraq or Afghanistan. And their families, including Gold Star families who've made the ultimate sacrifice, they live all over America," she added. "And there probably isn't a town in this country without a veteran. So, in other words, we want Americans to realize that, in a way, every community is a military community."

Joining Forces has three main parts: education, employment, and wellness.

Education applies to the soldiers themselves, their spouses, and their children. "It's hard to complete a degree if you're moving every couple of years and your credits don't transfer," Mrs. Obama said. Children who have special needs may end up going from a school with plenty of resources to one that struggles to meet their needs.

For military families who are dealing with the dual stressors of deployment and unemployment, Joining Forces hopes to make it easier for spouses to find jobs, and is encouraging companies to reserve spots for veterans and to support military spouses in their career development. What's usually a resume red flag-changing jobs often, moving from place to place-is a way of life for many military spouses, Mrs. Obama pointed out.

In terms of wellness, the Joining Forces website says, "The stress of war, multiple deployments, and frequent moves can affect the wellness of military families. Children and spouses can experience anxiety, changes in relationships with family and friends, isolation or emotional challenges in dealing with deployments, illness or injury, and high mobility."

Most important, though, is the idea that everyone can do something. "It could be something as simple as mowing the lawn, shoveling the snow for that family down the street; telling that mom or dad that you'll take their shift at the carpool; or lending a hand to that wounded warrior in your neighborhood," Mrs. Obama said.

"This initiative is a forever thing. We want it to be part of the fabric of this country," the First Lady said in a phone interview hours after the launch. "It shouldn't be about an administration, a First and Second Lady, a party that's in power. It's about serving the one percent that's stepped up to serve the country."

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