POLITICAL SPEECHES & DOCUMENTS
OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 112TH CONGRESS:
First Lady Michelle Obama revealed that 60,000 servicemen and women and their spouses have been hired through Joining Forces employment initiatives
First Lady Michelle Obama at Kansas City Southern Railroad during a Joining Forces event, White House Photo, Lawrence Jackson
On Board with the First Lady: Michelle Obama Celebrates One Year of Joining Forces
Source: WH, 4-19-12
Go behind the scenes as First Lady Michelle Obama travels from Washington DC to Philadelphia, New York City, Shreveport and Jacksonville to honor our servicemen and women and their families. Join us on set at the Colbert Report, on stage with Ellen DeGeneres and on the ground with thousands of nurses and meet the 50,000 person to get a job through the Joining Forces hiring initiatives.
- View a gallery of the Anniversary events
- See highlights from the first year of Joining Forces in a video or photo gallery
Michelle Obama’s Message to Military Families: You Do Live in a Grateful Nation
Source: WH, 4-11-12
First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden today marked the one year anniversary of the launch of Joining Forces with an event on the South Lawn of the White House, and Mrs. Obama used the occasion to renew her call of action, and challenged all Americans to keep finding new ways to show their support for military families.
The First Lady told the crowd that over the past year, as she and Dr. Biden reached out on behalf of our military families, “not a single person that we’ve talked to, that we have approached, has told us that they could not help — not a single person. We’ve asked; they said yes.
And the good thing is, is that once people get started, they just keep coming up with new ideas on their own. We’ll present something, and they double it. They want to do even more. They just keep raising their goals even higher. They just keep figuring out how to get more and more people involved.”
And her message for all military families, is that “you do live in a grateful nation.”
First Lady Michelle Obama greets guests following the Joining Forces Community Challenge event on the South Lawn of the White House, April 11, 2012. The event was a celebration for military families and organization leaders who have played key roles in supporting our nation’s troops, veterans and military families over the past year. (Official White House Photo by Sonya N. Hebert)
Today’s event also honored the Joining Forces Community Challenge finalists, who Dr. Biden called “inspiring. These efforts aren’t always in the headlines, but they support our military families every single day in real and meaningful ways. That’s exactly what the First Lady and I set out to accomplish with Joining Forces.”
Later today, the First Lady and Dr. Biden will be in Philadelphia, where they will announce a commitment from more than 150 state and national nursing organizations and over 500 nursing schools to further educate our nation’s 3 million nurses so they are prepared to meet the unique health needs of service members, veterans, and their families.
- Read the full remarks from the ceremony
- See a gallery of highlights from the first year of Joining Forces
- Find out how Joining Forces is helping veterans and military spouses find jobs
- Find out how you can get involved
Remarks by the First Lady and Dr. Biden at the Joining Forces Anniversary event
11:13 A.M. EDT
DR. BIDEN: What a great day for a celebration. Thank you, General Dempsey, for that kind introduction and for all that you have done to support the Joining Forces initiative over the past year. I also want to thank Deanie Dempsey, who’s been a wonderful partner and a wonderful friend. Thank you for your leadership. (Applause.)
To the Joining Forces Community Challenge finalists who are here, it was great to see you all yesterday, and we’re delighted to have you here at the White House this morning.
One of the best parts of my role as Second Lady is spending time with military veterans and families. And I’ve traveled across the — as I’ve traveled across the country and the world, I’m always inspired by the strength and the resilience of our military families.
While the troops serving our nation may be only 1 percent of the population, we want to make sure that 100 percent of Americans are supporting them. Our military families have done so much for our country and each of us can do something in return. That’s why the First Lady and I created Joining Forces to encourage all Americans to support and honor our military families.
Since we launched Joining Forces a year ago, we have been so inspired by the many ways Americans all across the country are honoring, celebrating and supporting our military families. Our partners in this effort are businesses, schools, churches, communities and individuals. The Joining Forces Community Challenge finalists here today are shining examples of what we’ve seen.
Organizations like HeartsApart.org — photographers volunteer their time to take photos of soon-to-be deployed servicemembers and their families. And so that they can carry their loved ones when they are serving us, these beautiful photographs are printed on waterproof, durable cards that fit perfectly in the pocket of a battle dress uniform.
Programs like GreenCare for Troops, which connects local green industry professionals with military families to provide free lawn and landscaping services while their loved ones are serving our country.
Or the city of Richfield, Utah, an entire community that has supported its local Army National Guard through four deployments since September 11, 2001. They’ve organized a community-sponsored holiday party for the families of deployed troops. The local newspaper delivers the hometown paper to deployed soldiers so that they can stay in touch with home. And the community library ordered children’s books about deployment so that children will understand what their parents are doing while they are away.
These are just a few examples of what is happening all across our country. If I had to sum up what we have seen since launching Joining Forces in one word, it would be “inspiring.” These efforts aren’t always in the headlines, but they support our military families every single day in real and meaningful ways. That’s exactly what the First Lady and I set out to accomplish with Joining Forces.
So please, let’s give a round of applause for all the Challenge winners who are here with us today. (Applause.)
I am also proud to announce that after the wonderful response this first year, we will start another challenge later this year. We look forward to seeing more of the creative ways that Americans are giving back to our proud and brave military families.
And now it is my great pleasure to introduce an amazing, young woman. I met Moranda Hern two years ago when she came to my office to tell me what it was like for her when her dad was deployed to Afghanistan. She was going through all the challenges of being a teenager with the added burden of worrying every day about her father’s safety.
Moranda’s dad is in the California National Guard, so she didn’t have the support of a military community and she felt disconnected from her peers. When Moranda met another military teen, she realized she wasn’t alone. The girls created a support network called The Sisterhood of the Traveling BDUs* — to make sure other military girls had a way to share their experiences with one another. Today the Sisterhood connects military girls through an online community and is expanding nationwide.
Moranda is here today as a military daughter and the founder of an initiative that has made a real difference in the lives of military children. Now, as you can see, she wears a uniform herself. She is pursuing her dream of becoming a pilot as a sophomore at the United States Air Force Academy.
I’m so proud to introduce Moranda Hern. Thank you very much. (Applause.)
* * * * *
MRS. OBAMA: Thank you, everyone. Please be seated. Welcome. Welcome to the White House. And happy anniversary.
I want to begin by thanking Moranda for that lovely introduction. But she is the reason why we do this. I mean, enough said. There are thousands of amazing kids like her all over this country that need to have this light shined on them. So we are so proud of you, so very proud of you — and the others like you. So keep it up.
I also want to recognize Tom Brokaw, who has been such an advocate for our men and women in uniform. He has been amazing. And we are privileged to have him with us today and have his voice out there so passionately on behalf of families and troops.
Of course, I want to thank General Dempsey and Deanie. They have just been amazing partners. I think I spend more time with you all than I do my husband — (laughter) — which isn’t bad, isn’t bad, not too bad. But they have just been tremendous. And I can’t thank you both enough for what you have done for this country, what you are doing and I know you will continue to do for the rest of your lives. So we wouldn’t be here without you.
And of course, I want to thank my partner in crime, Dr. Jill Biden. She is, as you know, a proud military mom, very passionate. She is really just a tremendous friend, just a true inspiration for me. This would not be as much fun if I didn’t have her by my side. And she has done just an amazing job, and we need to give her another round of applause. (Applause.)
And of course, I want to join Jill in congratulating the winners of the Joining Forces Community Challenge. We are so happy that all of you have been able to come and travel here to D.C. And you’ve been spending a little time in the city. I understand that there was a wonderful reception and roundtable yesterday that I missed, but I hear was just wonderful. And you’ve been able to get some tours around town. I hope everybody has been nice. And there’s going to be a luncheon for you all today. So, hopefully, the food will be good.
But we are just thrilled to have you in our nation’s backyard to congratulate and honor all that you’re doing. So thank you again.
I also want to recognize Congressman Al Green who is here. San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro is here as well. Thank you both for being here. And, finally, I want to thank each and every one of you for taking the time to be here this morning.
We have many people in the audience. We have our troops and military families here, but we also have government and military leaders, business and nonprofit leaders, leaders from our faith communities, our schools, our hospitals, our veterans’ service organizations and so many others. And I am thrilled that all of you could be here today as we celebrate the one-year anniversary of Joining Forces.
Now, I have to tell you that when Jill and I first started talking about launching this initiative to honor and support our veterans and military families, we knew that we were going to get a pretty good amount of support, because after all, every American is proud of our men and women in uniform. So we knew that the emotion was there; we knew that the feelings were there. So we knew we were going to get some support, because we all want to show our gratitude for their service.
But the outpouring of support that we have seen over this last year — I mean, the hours logged, the services donated, the love and devotion and offers to help that have poured in from every corner of the country — all of that has far surpassed even our wildest expectations. And that’s a good thing.
And I tell military families all around, that’s really what we want you to know, is that you do live in a grateful nation, and when people are asked on your behalf they are stepping up and they are doing it gladly. Over the past year, more than 1,600 businesses have hired more than 50,000 veterans and spouses, and they pledged to hire at least 160,000 more in the coming years. And I know they’re going to do even more than that — that’s just the pledges that we’ve gotten.
Technology and employment companies like Google, Monster and LinkedIn, they have stepped up to help connect veterans with good jobs. We’ve had state leaders that are passing legislation to make it easier for military spouses to renew their professional licenses and get back to work as their families move from state to state. And we hope that we’re going to see that kind of initiative throughout the country.
Medical schools are training our next generation of health care providers so that they can better care for our military families. The Departments of Defense, Veterans Affairs, Treasury, Labor, they have all made groundbreaking announcements to support our nation’s veterans, our wounded warriors, our caregivers and our military spouses.
Associations of doctors, nurses, physician’s assistants and social workers, they’re working to improve the treatment that they provide for Post-Traumatic Stress and Traumatic Brain Injuries.
School professionals are reaching out to our military kids in ways that are so important. High schools have — with high numbers of military students — are adding more Advanced Placement courses so that these kids have the opportunities they deserve to compete for college.
If you watch TV, you’ve seen all of the activity on the airwaves. TV shows like “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition”, “Sesame Street” — our favorites — (laughter) — and organizations like NASCAR, AOL, Disney, they’re all sharing stories of military families and using those stories not just to shine a light, but to encourage others to serve.
You’ve got wonderful people like Tom Hanks, Oprah, Steven Spielberg — they starred in a series of very powerful PSAs. And then, of course, the episode that has made me a fan favorite in every household — I am now more popular than the President — because I was on “iCarly.” (Laughter.) There are kids who probably didn’t know I was First Lady, but they know I was on “iCarly.” (Laughter.) And that episode — they focused the entire episode on the experience of military children. It was wonderful. It really got the message out to young people in a way that we could never do on our own.
So over the past year, not a single person that we’ve talked to, that we have approached, has told us that they could not help — not a single person. We’ve asked; they said yes.
And the good thing is, is that once people get started, they just keep coming up with new ideas on their own. We’ll present something, and they double it. They want to do even more. They just keep raising their goals even higher. They just keep figuring out how to get more and more people involved.
A wonderful example is Operation Honor Cards. It’s a wonderful initiative that asks Americans to honor our military families by pledging service of their own. And when we first sat down with this organization last year, they set a goal of getting 3 million hours of pledge service from people all across the country. But then what happened was that by June, they had already doubled that number; and then by November, they hit 10 million hours — just by November. And today, we can announce that we’re at 21 million hours pledged — 21 million hours pledged — with already 30 million total hours served. (Applause.)
Now, that’s really the story of Joining Forces. That’s what we are celebrating today. That’s truly what is going on through Joining Forces. It is the story of a wave of support that spreads across this country, and it’s reaching more communities every single day.
But the real impact of Joining Forces over this past year truly cannot be measured just by a list of accomplishments. It can’t be explained with numbers or hours or dollar amounts. The true measure of our success lies in the lives that we’ve helped to change — all of us, everyone here — those lives, all those moms and dads out there, all of those sons and daughters, like Moranda, all the grandparents who have felt the love and the support of a grateful nation.
They are heroes like my good buddy, Johnny Agbi — Sergeant Agbi. He’s quite a character; got to spend some time with him. He was wounded in Afghanistan, and he’s here with us today. And thanks to Sears and Rebuild Together, who worked together to refit his house for his wheelchair — and Jill and I got to write on his wall — I hope our signatures are still there. Are they there? (Laughter.) All right, that’s good. We got to write on his wall. But thanks to their efforts, Sergeant Agbi can now more easily get in his front door — something as simple as that. He can now move around his home more freely. And hopefully, everything feels just a little bit more like home again.
They are spouses like Ann Wells, who Jill and I got to meet. She’s a nurse who, because of the licensing portability efforts in the states may not have to deal with so much bureaucracy the next time her family moves and she needs to recertify before she can get a job.
They are veterans like Joshua Rassi, from Beaverton, Oregon. Now, in 2007, Sergeant Rassi joined the Army and was trained as a geospatial analyst — you guys probably know what that is, right? You Joint Chief types, right? He was deployed to Iraq, where he was in charge of securing convoys, checking roads for IEDs. He managed many, many soldiers, communicating detailed information throughout his unit. But when he left active duty in May of 2010, he couldn’t find consistent work. He couldn’t find consistent work back home. For more than a year he was out of consistent work. This highly trained soldier applied everywhere, but his searches ended in frustration.
Then last September, he went to one of the Chamber of Commerce’s hiring fairs in Portland. And the Red Cross liked what they saw at this fair. And within a week, Sergeant Rassi had started a new job with the Red Cross as a lab technician. And he has been working for six months. And he is thankful not just for the income, not just because his skills are no longer idle, but because it gives him an opportunity to keep giving back to the country that he loves.
And, as he said — and these are his words — he said, “Part of the reason I joined the military was getting to serve, and at the Red Cross I’m doing the same thing. My big thing in life is making a difference.” And that’s how deeply ingrained service is to our men and women in uniform. That is the greatness that we all feel when we travel the country. That’s why you guys hook us in. It is that ethic of service. It’s that commitment to this country that we want to honor through Joining Forces.
I always say if all of our young people could just get a little dose of what you all have, then they would be just fine. Just fine. This effort is about making an impact. It is about repaying our debt to our veterans and military families. It’s about giving these heroes the opportunities they deserve.
But I want to be clear that we are not here to pat ourselves on the back. We’re not here just to throw a nice party or to list our accomplishments. We’re here to really, truly make a difference for these families who have put everything on the line for all of us. So while today is certainly a time for celebration, it’s also a time to renew our call of action. That’s why we’d like to mark the sand with an anniversary, because it’s time to say this is what we’ve done, but there is so much more to do. It’s time for us to redouble our efforts.
So today, I want to challenge all of you here, and I want to challenge Americans all across the country, to keep raising the bar, just keep raising the bar. Keep bringing more people into the fold — the fold of Joining Forces, the fold of whatever it is you are doing, keep bringing people in. Keep coming up with new ideas.
And one message to all of the military families here today and watching around the country: I want you to know that these are not just words. We are not giving out empty promises — not on my watch, not on Jill’s watch. We’re going to keep working until all of our veterans know that when they hit the job market, their skills be rewarded. We’re not stopping until every military student gets an educational experience that honors their service. We’re not calling it a day until all of our military spouses can rest assured that the next time their family is transferred, they won’t have to leave their job behind.
And we’re going to keep working. We’re going to keep persuading. We’re going to keep driving forward until all of our nation’s military families feel in real and concrete ways the love and support and gratitude that we all hold in our hearts. That is our simple promise to you. And it is one of the best things that we all do with our time.
And as Tom said, this is a forever proposition. This is not a blue state or red state proposition. This is something that we want to make a part of the culture of the United States of America, that every citizen feels this level of gratitude and finds some way to give something back. And if we can do our part by shining a light on this effort, then we will continue to do that.
So I want to thank you all for everything that you have done, for leading the way in your communities across this country. Keep it going. We are so proud of all of you. We are grateful. So God bless you all. And God bless the United States of America. Enjoy the rest of your time here in Washington. (Applause.)
11:39 A.M. EDT
60,000 Veterans and Military Spouses Have Been Hired Through Joining Forces Employment Initiatives
Source: WH, 4-13-12
First Lady Michelle Obama greets people in the crowd at Kansas City Southern Railroad after delivering remarks during a Joining Forces Event in Shreveport, La., April 12, 2012. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)
It was a great day in Shreveport, Louisiana, yesterday. First Lady Michelle Obama joined the leadership of the Kansas City Southern (KCS) Railway Company in announcing Michael Abitago, Junior as the 50,000veteran or military spouse to have been hired by a company through the Joining Forces employment efforts this past year! Abitago literally left active duty in the Army last Saturday after 4 years of service (including 2 tours in Iraq) and starts work on Monday as a Conductor-trainee. He was hired by KCS in mid-March at a Joining Forces hiring event in Ft Hood, Texas.
And there’s even more great news. A couple of months ago when we first wanted to highlight this event, we had planned on announcing our 50,000hire. But as we approached our visit to Shreveport we had already hit that mark. By April another 8,000 veterans and military spouses were hired. And yesterday, Mrs. Obama revealed the news that the surge in hiring pushed the number of veterans and military spouses hired through Joining Forces to 60,000!
Through Joining Forces, American businesses have not only hired more than 60,000 veterans and military spouses to date, they have also pledged to hire at least 160,000 more in the years ahead.
More than 1,600 companies have been involved in this effort, including Microsoft, Comcast, Honeywell, Safeway and Sears. JPMorgan Chase and the 40 companies of the “100,000 jobs mission” hired more than 6,000 veterans — alone – in the January-March 2012 timeframe.
The private sector is stepping up in a real way to support veterans and military spouses. For a full list of companies and their commitments please click HERE.
- Read First Lady Michelle Obama’s message to military families
- See a gallery of highlights from the first year of Joining Forces
- Find out how you can get involved
Remarks by the First Lady at a Joining Forces Employment Event – Shreveport, LA
Kansas City Southern Railways
1:27 P.M. CDT
MRS. OBAMA: Well, hello, everyone. (Applause.) I want to thank Michael for that very kind introduction and for his service. We are very proud of him. We know he’s going to do well. And we’re just thrilled to be here — thrilled to be here with all of you.
I also want to thank Dave for his work and his introduction, for hosting us here today, and everyone else here at Kansas City Southern for hosting us as well. It is really exciting to be here as part of our first anniversary of Joining Forces.
I also have to recognize Shreveport Mayor Cedric Glover, who is here. (Applause.) Thank you for being here and thank you for your leadership and for joining us today.
Yesterday, we kicked off our tour to celebrate the first anniversary of Joining Forces, which is our nationwide campaign to honor and serve America’s veterans and military families. And I’m here today in Shreveport to make another big announcement about our effort to hire veterans and military spouses across the country.
And I have a little secret — because the truth is, is that when we started to plan this event a couple of months ago, we had planned on announcing the 50,000th hire. That’s what this was going to be. But by mid-March — because we were going to hit that goal by the end of — the middle of the year — but by the end of March we had already hit that mark. (Applause.) And then a week later, we added 5,000 more. And by April, another 3,000. (Applause.)
So today, I couldn’t be more excited to announce that America’s businesses have hired 60,000 veterans and military spouses in the past year. (Applause.) And that’s really the story that we want to celebrate here today. That’s the story of Joining Forces. Whenever we have asked Americans to step up, no matter who we were talking to, they have gone above and beyond our expectations — just above and beyond. And I want these veterans to understand that. America is stepping up in big ways.
When we looked to America’s health care providers, 135 medical schools, more than 500 nursing schools, more than 3 million health care providers stepped up to improve care for veterans and military families. (Applause.)
When we asked Americans of all kind to find ways to honor our military families, they answered by serving more than 13 million volunteer hours right in their own communities. (Applause.) That’s individual. That’s all volunteer work.
And of course, when it comes to businesses, when we approached the private sector, when we asked them to follow through on my husband’s challenge to hire or train 100,000 veterans and military spouses by the end of 2013, America’s businesses have overwhelmed us with their response. So just listen to some of what they’ve done, just some examples:
The Chamber of Commerce held more than 130 hiring fairs for veterans and military spouses all across the country. The Military Spouse Employment Partnership committed to 20,000 hires. The American Logistics Association pledged 25,000 hires. And the International Franchising Association committed to 80,000 more hires.
And just last week, a group of 11 companies said that they would devote 15,000 portable, flexible jobs to military spouses and veterans. More than 1,600 companies — from Sears and Siemens, to NBC and Disney, to Honeywell and Snap-On Tools — they’ve all joined this effort. Everyone is stepping up. And in total, they’ve committed to hiring at least 160,000 veterans and military spouses in the coming years. And that’s above and beyond the 60,000 that we’re talking about here today. That’s on top of it. (Applause.)
So I think it is fair to say that over this past year, this has just been one year’s worth of work. Over this past year, America’s businesses have truly answered the call to give back to the men and women who have given so much to this country. And all of these companies are joining this effort, as Dave said, not just because it’s the right thing to do, not just because it’s a patriotic way to show our support, but because it’s good business as well. That’s important. This is good business. (Applause.)
Right here at Kansas City Southern you all are seeing that. That’s why more than 10 percent of your American workforce has worn our country’s uniform. That’s why you hired 45 veterans last year alone. You have made hiring veterans a priority because you know that these folks are some of the most highly-skilled, hardest-working employees in this country. They have experience that simply cannot be created — or recreated in a classroom.
Today’s modern battlefield means that our 9/11 generation of veterans has served not only as soldiers or airmen or sailors, but as diplomats — they’ve served as social workers, as mediators, as educators. They’re directing dozens of their peers — so they’ve got the management experience. They’re executing highly complex, life-or-death missions, and they’re operating some of the most advanced technology on the planet.
Meanwhile, their spouses are getting more done in a day than most of us get done in a week. They are juggling everything — family schedules, keeping the finances in order, coordinating community drives — because they’re also volunteering outside of their own homes, all while earning degrees or trying to build their own careers. They are doing it all.
So make no mistake about it, our veterans and military spouses are some of the most able –- and employable -– people in the marketplace today.
But for so long, so many of these heroes have had difficulties finding jobs. Last year, the unemployment rate for post-9/11 veterans was over 12 percent — and that was significantly higher than the general population. And over the last few years, our nation’s military spouses have struggled to find employment as well, with an unemployment rate that nearly doubles that of civilian spouses.
But we have reason for optimism — because the unemployment rate of post-9/11 veterans has been trending downward for the past 27 months. (Applause.) Absolutely. So while we know that we haven’t solved this problem and we know that there is still a lot more work to be done, we are cautiously optimistic that we’re beginning to turn a corner on this employment issue and so many other issues that impact our veterans and military families.
And let’s remember that these are not simply numbers or plot points on a graph that we’re talking about. These are not just statistics that we’re dealing with. These are real lives that we’re talking about — real people with real struggles. These are families who won’t have to worry about where the next mortgage payment is going to come from. These are military spouses who can once again add a second income to the family’s finances. Correct? We are talking about veterans who can provide for their families and put their skills to use, and who can trust that this country has got their backs. That’s what this is about. (Applause.)
And that is really what Joining Forces is about. That’s why we’ve done this. It is not about words. And I said that from the very beginning: This is not about words or about false pats on the back, this is really about action. That is one thing I didn’t want to do when we started this initiative, is to have some family member look me in the eye and not feel the work that we were doing. This isn’t about what’s going on in Washington. This is about what’s happening on the ground. (Applause.) It’s about making a real, meaningful difference for these men and women and families who have given our country so much. And they’ve done it without complaint. They’ve done it without hesitation.
So to all of you here at Kansas City Southern and to everyone across the country who has hired our veterans and military spouses, I want to thank you for giving our heroes the opportunities they deserve. (Applause.) Thank you so much. (Applause.)
And this anniversary is about continuing to raise the bar. We can celebrate a little bit today, but there is more work to do. So to any company out there that needs dedicated, productive, and highly skilled professionals on their team, I urge you to hire a veteran or a military spouse. I urge you to do that. I am confident that they will serve you as well as they’ve served this country.
And also, to all of the veterans and to the military members here — and I know that includes the 30 veterans who were recently hired at KCS –- I again want to thank you for everything that you have done and continue to do for this country. You all inspire me. And one of this things that most people cannot do is that they don’t get a chance to visit a military base. They don’t get to see up close and personal what you all go through over the course of a day, a year, a career. They don’t see what happens when you come back. The challenges that you face for the service that you’ve provided.
I feel blessed to have had that honor. I am not from a military background — Jill Biden is, and she’s been a terrific partner in this effort. But we committed to be a voice for all of you in this position. We’ve committed to be a part of telling your story so that other Americans who don’t have that connection, who don’t have someone in the military can really understand the incredible lives you’ve lived and the debt that we owe you as a country for the sacrifice that you have so selflessly made. We are grateful.
And it is important for you to know that you live in a grateful nation. Everyone we have asked has wanted to step up. I think the only reason the connection hasn’t been made is that people don’t always know how to serve, because you all are so doggone competent — (laughter) — that you don’t ask for help, and you’re used to handling it all, keeping it all in, so people don’t always know how best to reach out, how best to provide that support.
But it is not just businesses that are doing this. This is church groups that are stepping out. These are teachers and classrooms, and again, nursing students and doctors and social workers. Joining Forces provides them a platform for help. We are not doing it; they’re doing it. And they’re doing it not because of us but because of you and your stories. And I want you to know that, because sometimes it takes a little time for that support to trickle down. And we are working — that’s why there is so much more work to do. We cannot stop until the unemployment rate among our veterans and military families is at zero. That’s a high goal. (Applause.) But that’s how much we need to do.
So I want to thank you all for what you’ve done for this country. This is a forever proposition. The goal is that Joining Forces, the concept of it — whether it’s in name or in spirit — is something that becomes a part of our culture as America forever.
So thank you, all. Good luck to you. Good luck to your families. And God bless you all. Thanks so much. (Applause.)
1:40 P.M. CDT
Remarks by the First Lady Honoring Young Women from Military Families
Jacksonville Naval Air Station
6:08 P.M. EDT
MRS. OBAMA: Oh! (Applause.) How are you guys doing? (Applause.) You guys sit down. Rest yourselves. Are you having fun? (Applause.) There is more fun to come. I am thrilled — thrilled — to be here.
I want to start by thanking Maddie for her poise and for introducing me not once, but twice. (Applause.) Well done, Maddie. She is amazing. She’s terrific. Very proud of her, so let’s give her another round of applause. (Applause.)
A few other people that I want to thank. I want to thank Representative Corrine Brown, who’s here, and Mayor Alvin Brown, who are here to — joining us today. Thank you both for your leadership and being here with us.
I also want to take a moment to recognize all of the extraordinary men and women in uniform who are here today. You’re amazing — and your amazing spouses. Yay for the spouses. Thank you for the service that you’ve given. Thank you for the sacrifices that you’ve made. You all are the very best this country has to offer, and I am thrilled that you could join us here today.
And finally, I want to thank our guests of honor, these amazing, beautiful, well-dressed, well-put-together young women we are celebrating here today. (Applause.) And on behalf of myself and my husband, I want to tell you all truly how proud we are of you. We are so proud of you. We are inspired by you, and we are grateful for everything that you do for this country every single day. That’s why we wanted to have you here.
You see, when we talk about how our men and women in uniform sacrifice so much and serve this country so bravely, we’re not just talking about your parents. We are not. We are talking about all of you. We’re talking about our military kids and our military families, because we know that when your parents are called to serve, you all serve right alongside them.
When your parents get that call to pick up and move halfway across the country, you pick up and move right alongside them. And then, just when you finally get settled in, just when you’re feeling comfortable and make friends and start fitting in, what happens? That call comes again, right? And you have to start all over again and make new friends, and settle in, yet again.
And I know that couldn’t be easy. That can’t possibly be easy for you. And I know it’s even harder when your parents are deployed, and you have to keep your spirits up through all those missed holidays, and missed birthdays, and times when you would give anything in the world to have them back home.
And I know that some of you here will be — for you, there will be an empty seat at graduation — I know this. And for some of you, when it comes time for the prom, mom might not be there to help you pick out your dress. Dad might not be there to see you out on your date. And I know that that can’t possibly be easy either.
But here’s something else that I know: Through it all –- through all the moves that you’ve had to make, through all those difficult moments, you all have stayed strong. I have seen it. I’ve seen it in so many kids like you across this country. You all have risen to the challenge.
You’ve become leaders in your schools. You’re excelling in your classes. You’re getting involved in all kinds of activities. You’ve become leaders in your communities, finding all kinds of ways to volunteer and give back. And many of you have stepped up at home as well, juggling activities and homework with chores and housework.
Many of you have had to put on a brave face for maybe a younger brother or sister, even when you were worried. You’ve had to reassure your parents that you were okay, even when sometimes you weren’t.
And you’ve done all of this because ultimately, you understand that your parents are part of something far bigger than themselves. You know that they protect and defend the freedoms that every single one of us holds dear. You know that their service keeps this country safe every single day. And you all are a vital part of that work. You truly are.
By working so hard at school and at home, and doing your part, you give your parents the peace of mind they need to focus on their mission. With your service, you make their service possible. And for that, we can’t thank you enough. We cannot thank you enough.
Now, I know that many of you have never known anything else, right? This is your life. So for you, this is no big deal, maybe. Maybe you think it’s nothing special, because this is just how you’ve grown up.
But I am here today — we are all here today, and we’re doing all of this today — because you should know that this is a big deal. You are special. You all have lived lives that make you incredibly special young individuals.
As military kids, you have learned lessons and had experiences that many people don’t have in their entire lifetimes. You’ve immersed yourselves in all kinds of communities and cultures. You’ve made friends with people from all different backgrounds. And you’ve gained the wisdom and the perspective to appreciate what really matters in life.
You see, unlike a lot of young people, you all don’t take your families for granted, right? A lot of times, you have to work to stay connected to your families — maybe through Skype. It’s a lot of hard work making the most of those precious weeks of leave, saying the things that we don’t nearly say enough to the people we love –- things like “I’m so proud of you,” “I don’t know what I’d do without you,” “I love you more than you will ever know.”
And that’s something that always strikes me about our military families –- how dealing with the challenges of military life actually strengthens your family bonds, rather than weakening them; how spending time apart oftentimes actually brings you closer together. And all of that is part of who you are. And you should know that.
And as you get older, you will see that growing up in a military family has prepared you for life in a way that nothing else can. Because that’s really what life is about –- it’s about weathering all sorts of changes and transitions, and bumps and bruises. But it’s also about savoring the good times, right? Treasuring the people that we love and appreciating the many blessings that come with living in this great country of ours. That’s what all of you do every day.
Like your parents, you all are the very best this country has to offer. You’re role models not just for kids, but for adults and for all Americans who want to see what patriotism, sacrifice and service really looks like. That’s why we’re here.
So I want to thank you all for everything that you do. I want to once again thank your parents for their service to our country.
And now — here’s where the fun begins — I would like to announce that we have a special surprise guest who is about to join us. She is someone that I am proud to call a friend. She’s a tremendous supporter and admirer of veterans and military families. And she’s so amazed by your service that she’s going to put you all on national TV right now.
So are you ready?
AUDIENCE: Yes! (Applause.)
MRS. OBAMA: So joining us live from the set of her TV show, I’m proud to introduce the one and only Ellen DeGeneres. (Applause.)
MS. DEGENERES: Hi, everybody!
MRS. OBAMA: They’re screaming.
MS. DEGENERES: Hello, Mrs. Obama!
MRS. OBAMA: Hey, Ellen.
MS. DEGENERES: We’re screaming here too! (Applause.)
MRS. OBAMA: What’s going on?
MS. DEGENERES: I hope I’m not interrupting anything.
MRS. OBAMA: No, we’re good. We’re just — good to have you here.
MS. DEGENERES: Good to be there. Congratulations on Joining Forces’ one-year anniversary. Tell everybody what it’s about, please.
MRS. OBAMA: Well, Joining Forces is our national initiative to make sure that all Americans honor our troops, veterans and families. This is the one-year anniversary. We’ve made some amazing strides, and we’re here with some great military kids to give them a special thank you.
MS. DEGENERES: And that’s why I’m there, too, to give them a special thank you. You’ve accomplished so much already. What do you hope to accomplish this year?
MRS. OBAMA: Well, we want to do more. We want to make sure that every American does something. We’re saying — our motto is everyone can do something. It can be something as big as having you on your show, but it can also be helping mow the lawn; it can be doing what you do best, but doing it on behalf of a military family — finding those families within your communities and reaching out to find out what they need.
So we want more of that to go on across this country.
MS. DEGENERES: So that is what you’d say if you — if somebody says how can I help, it’s all the little things. Just call up and say, what can I offer, what’s my specialty?
MRS. OBAMA: Yes. And people can go to our website, joiningforces.gov. And we’ve got thousands of wonderful ideas, suggestions, things that are going on in communities all across this country. That’s a good place to start.
MS. DEGENERES: Great. Great. Now, Mrs. Obama, before we go any further, I think it’s time we talk about the push-up situation. (Laughter.)
MRS. OBAMA: You’re still bothered by that, huh?
MS. DEGENERES: Oh! (Laughter.)
MRS. OBAMA: Still feeling the wounds of defeat. (Laughter.)
MS. DEGENERES: Let’s just make sure that everyone sees what we’re talking about here. You were here in February, we had a competition to see who could do the most push-ups. I did 20, and you did 25. (Laughter.) Now, let’s just watch the video for a second and then we’ll comment.
Anything you’d like to say?
MRS. OBAMA: I could have done 35. I stopped because I felt bad for you. (Laughter and applause.)
MS. DEGENERES: I bet you could have. I actually bet you could have.
All right, we have to take a break. And we’ll be back with the First Lady, Michelle Obama, and we have a surprise for a few lucky people there. We’ll be right back. I’m going to do some push-ups. (Applause.)
MS. DEGENERES: Oh! I’m exhausted. I just did 53 push-ups. (Laughter and applause.)
We’re back with the First Lady of the United States, Michelle Obama. She’s in Jacksonville, Florida right now with military families. (Applause.) Mrs. Obama?
MRS. OBAMA: Yes! (Applause.)
MS. DEGENERES: Mrs. Obama, tell me who you’re sitting with right now.
MRS. OBAMA: Oh man, we’ve got some great, beautiful young ladies. They’re just gorgeous. You want me to pass the mic? You want to hear from them? You want to hear who’s here?
MS. DEGENERES: Sure, let me meet them.
MRS. OBAMA: All right, we’ve got –
Q Hi, I’m Rachel.
MS. DEGENERES: Hi, Rachel. You excited to be there today?
Q Oh, I’m extremely excited to be here. I’m so honored. I’m here with all my classmates and my family members as well.
MS. DEGENERES: Well, it’s so nice to meet you Rachel. Who are you sitting next to?
Q I’m sitting next to –
Q Hey! My name’s Kianna. (Laughter.)
MS. DEGENERES: Hey, Kianna! (Applause.) Hey Kianna, I love your energy. And your mom is serving overseas right now, right?
Q Yes, she is.
MS. DEGENERES: And how do you stay in touch?
Q My mom calls our house a few times a week, and I always enjoy whenever she calls the house. I love hearing her voice, but it reminds me of her background.
MS. DEGENERES: I bet, I bet. And you’re sitting next to?
Q Hi Ellen. My name is Elise.
MS. DEGENERES: Hi Elise, how are you?
Q I’m good. How are you?
MS. DEGENERES: And your dad is a Navy vet? I’m fantastic, thank you. Your dad is a Navy veteran. What is the best thing about being a military kid?
Q I really think that it teaches you a lot of good characteristics and to have a lot of strength and courage. Because it’s really not easy when you have a family member out in deployment.
MS. DEGENERES: I know, it certainly is not easy, and that’s why you get so much love and support from all of us. We admire your strength and everything that your parents are doing for us. (Applause.)
So my question is, it’s almost prom. You’re looking forward to that, I bet, right?
Q Yes. Definitely.
MS. DEGENERES: Now, Mrs. Obama, I don’t think I’ve ever shown you my prom picture. I just wanted to — I want to show you my prom picture first. (Laughter and applause.)
MRS. OBAMA: That is an excellent picture. Love the dress. Love the dress.
MS. DEGENERES: Thank you very much. That was a tablecloth at one point. (Laughter.) Now, I heard you have a good one too, so I thought I would share yours. (Laughter.)
MRS. OBAMA: That split was a little high. I don’t know if I’d let my kids go out with a split that high, so let’s not show this to Malia and Sasha.
MS. DEGENERES: All right. Were you shopping at Pier One or something? (Laughter.)
MRS. OBAMA: You’ve never done the wicker chair shot? That’s standard.
MS. DEGENERES: No, I’ve seen the wicker chairs before but — I didn’t know it was standard.
All right. Well, listen, JC Penny knows that you guys are getting ready for prom. They’re a one-stop shop for all your prom needs. They have dresses, shoes, accessories — even a salon — all at great prices. So they’re giving all three of you a $250 JC Penny giftcard. (Applause.)
And I know there are 300 other students there with you all for the event today who need to get ready for the prom as well. So all of you students who are there in Florida with Mrs. Obama are also getting a $250 JC Penny giftcard. (Applause.)
Thank you so much for your time today, Mrs. Obama. You know I admire you, I think you’re an amazing, amazing woman. Thank you for all that you’re doing. We’re going to put something up on our website if anyone wants to get involved with Joining Forces. And we send our love and our support to all of you there. Thank you so much for all you do. And thank you, again, Mrs. Obama, for your time.
MRS. OBAMA: Thank you, Ellen. We love you. This is amazing. (Applause.) Thank you.
MS. DEGENERES: Love you, too. We’ll be right back.
6:30 P.M. EDT