By Elaine Wilson
Jan. 25, 2011
Yesterday was a landmark day for military family support and I was proud to be a small part of it.
President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden, unveiled a new, whole-of-government approach to family support (read full report here), with agencies uniting to create new resources and programs to improve families’ well-being and quality of life.
These programs will address everything from health care to spouse employment to childcare – all of the issues so pressing for our military families.
When I was asked to report on it, I figured I’d be watching the coverage along with everyone else on TV. But instead, I was asked to cover it from the White House. I’ve been there a few times, but I have to admit it’s always a thrill to go. As I walked through the front door, mashed a bit in the mad rush of reporters to get in out of the cold, I felt fortunate to be a part of this historic announcement.
I stood on a platform in the back of the East Room — lavish in gold accents with ornate chandeliers – and watched as VIPs packed the room. I immediately spotted top Defense Department officials in the crowd, including Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Dr. Biden, a military mom and longtime military family advocate, was the first to speak. “Today is an important next step in this administration’s commitment to support our [service members], their families and our members,” she told the audience.
“Michelle and I have talked a lot about the ways that all Americans can support our troops and thank those men and women for their service,” she added. “Today, we will highlight the efforts of the federal government to support our nation’s military families.”
Dr. Biden then introduced the first lady, whose sincere desire to help military families was evident in her words. (Read Dr. Biden’s blog about the event.)
“For me and for Jill, this isn’t about just understanding your concerns,” Mrs. Obama said. “It’s about addressing your concerns. It’s about telling your stories throughout the country, but more importantly, giving you a voice with decision-makers. But most of all, it’s about getting something done. It’s about making real, lasting changes that make a real difference in your lives.
“And that’s why today means so much to us,” she said. “That’s why we’re so excited.”
The first lady spotlighted some of the new programs aimed at improving employment and childcare, which I highlighted in several articles yesterday, and reiterated her long-term commitment to helping military families before introducing her husband.
The president, she said, “hears your stories not only as president and commander-in-chief, but also as a loving father and as a wonderful husband,” the first lady said.
The president walked in to thunderous applause and opened his remarks with praise for his wife and Dr. Biden.
“Michelle and Jill, on behalf of all of us, thank you for being such extraordinary champions for our military families and making sure that their priorities are America’s priorities,” he said.
Obama spoke on the importance of military family support and also touched on some of the nearly 50 commitments federal agencies will roll out in the coming months. You can read more about these initiatives in the American Forces Press Service special Web report: Strengthening Our Military Families.
“Today, I’m proud to announce that for the first time ever, supporting the well-being of our military families will be a priority not just for the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs, but all across the federal government,” he said.
Obama closed with a pledge of support to service members, their families and the families of the fallen.
“I want every service member who’s deployed to know that when you’re over there taking care of the country that you love, your country is back here taking care of the families that you love,” he said. “I want every military wife and husband to know that we’re going to help you keep your family strong and secure. I want every military kid to know that we’re going to be there for you, too, to help you grow and to live your dreams.”
And, he added, “I want our Gold Star families to know that this nation will never forget and will always honor the supreme sacrifice that your family has made to our nation.”
Obama said his efforts to support families will be ongoing.
“These are my commitments; these are Michelle and Jill’s commitments; these are my administration’s commitments; and they must be America’s commitments,” he said. “And as long as I am president, we’re going to keep working to fulfill those commitments for all who serve.”
As the ceremony ended and I packed up my camera and notepads, I paused for a moment and looked around the room. Government officials were there in full force, mingling and talking, all there in support of military families.
It was a momentous day for military family support, I thought.