Joining Forces Blog

  • First Lady Michelle Obama and Toys for Tots Team Up for the Holidays

    First Lady Michelle Obama participates in the sorting of toys

    First Lady Michelle Obama participates in the sorting of toys during a Toys for Tots service project at the Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling Toys for Tots Distribution Center in Washington, D.C., December 19, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)

    Yesterday, First Lady Michelle Obama visited Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling in Washington, D.C. to deliver hundreds of toys that Executive Office of the President staff donated to the United States Marine Corps' Toys for Tots campaign, an annual holiday toy drive. 

    While there, Mrs. Obama welcomed home a  group of Marines that just returned from Afghanistan:

    I hear that there are four Marines at this base that just returned home from Afghanistan last week, right in time for the holidays.  So I just want to take a moment to say on behalf of myself and my husband, your Commander-In-Chief, welcome home. 

    Then Mrs. Obama thanked military families for all they do throughout the year, while still finding time to run programs like Toys for Tots.  

    Most people don’t understand that you do all of this service on top of all of the challenges that you face as service members and as military families. And that’s the example that I think the rest of the country needs to see -- that even in the midst of your challenges, you find a way to give back to those less fortunate. 

    And that’s what makes me proud. That’s what makes me want to step up and do whatever I can to support this effort and to support you all as men and women, and as young men and women -- young heroes, our military kids, who do so much sacrificing. And I really don’t know how you all do it....But I am grateful that you are who you are, and that you make those sacrifices. 

  • Military OneSource Assists Service Members and their Families with Maintaining their Health and Wellness

    Ed. note: This is part of a series of blogs about wellness issues for Military Families, Veterans, and Service members. Check back for more Wellness Wednesday blogs, where we will cover topics relevant to the holistic health of the military and veteran communities.

    I know that at my home, and probably yours, the last few weeks of the year can be a busy and sometimes overwhelming time. Amidst the holiday craziness, making sure we pay attention to our health and wellness is more important than ever. Listening to our bodies, finding time to rest our minds and releasing our stress are critical aspects of achieving and maintaining wellness.

    As a military spouse, I understand the abundance of energy our military members and their families expend in service to our country. With the stresses that accompany both everyday life and military life, it’s important to have access to high-quality health and wellness resources to retain a sense of balance. A great wellness resource that active-duty, National Guard or reserve service members and their families have access to is Military OneSource

  • Operation Gratitude Assembles Its One Millionth Care Package

    During my time as a Task Force Commander in Baghdad, one of the organizations that I remember fondly is Operation Gratitude. They sent care packages to every one of my nearly one thousand soldiers arrayed across some of the most dangerous parts of Baghdad. The impact on our morale was immediate and it was nice to be reminded that we have a grateful country standing behind our efforts.

    Years after receiving those packages, I am excited to share that Operation Gratitude assembled its one millionth package over the weekend. Thousands of volunteers and supporters gathered at the Army National Guard Armory in Van Nuys, California to celebrate this landmark achievement in supporting our nation’s heroes.

    Through Operation Gratitude, more than 100,000 military service members deployed in hostile regions, veterans, caregivers and first-responders receive a care package annually. Each package is addressed to a specific individual and is filled with snacks, hygiene products, entertainment items and handwritten letters of appreciation.

    Receiving one of these care packages means so much to our deployed service members – and especially to those men and women who don’t receive packages from home. My soldiers were always so grateful for these care packages from Operation Gratitude.

    On behalf of the First Lady and Dr. Biden, I want to congratulate Operation Gratitude on their landmark achievement. Their efforts have touched the lives of a million individuals – that’s incredible. 

    Col. Rich Morales is the Executive Director of Joining Forces

  • Assisting Military Families with Special Medical and Educational Needs

    For our Family Friday blog series, Joining Forces would like to highlight the Exceptional Family Member Program, which supports military families with special medical or educational needs. 

    For those of us in the military community, we know that military life with its deployments and frequent moves, brings a multitude of challenges. We have two exceptional family members in our small family of three, so I know that locating and navigating formal programs and services can often be daunting — but thanks to Exceptional Family Member Program there is help. The program helps expedite a family’s connection to community services, education and outreach, and information regarding local school and early intervention services as well as non-clinical case management.

    In addition connecting families with special needs to resources and other support, the Exceptional Family Member program also helps connect families to one another. Installations frequently host events, such as resource fairs, training, and support groups for program participants and their family members. These events offer the chance for families to take part in fun activities, connect with others enrolled in the program, and build a community of mutual support.

    We all serve our country proudly and our families deserve the very best.  The Department of Defense provides critical support for those families who may have members with special needs, and as a result, we can remain mission-ready to meet the many challenges of military life.

    For more information on the Exceptional Family Member Program, please visit Military OneSource at

    Colonel Rich Morales is the Executive Director for Joining Forces


  • First Lady Michelle Obama Previews the 2013 White House Holiday Décor to Military Families

    First Lady Michelle Obama and children of military families participate in a craft project in the State Dining Room during the White House holiday press preview, Dec. 4, 2013. Executive Pastry Chef Bill Yosses helps children decorate Springerle cookie orn

    First Lady Michelle Obama and children of military families participate in a craft project in the State Dining Room during the White House holiday press preview, Dec. 4, 2013. Executive Pastry Chef Bill Yosses helps children decorate Springerle cookie ornaments. (Official White House Photo by Amanda Lucidon)

    First Lady Michelle Obama previewed the 2013 White House holiday décor to a crowd of military families who were the first of more than 70,000 anticipated visitors this holiday season. Mrs. Obama announced this year's theme, Gather Around: Stories of the Season, a celebration of the stories and traditions that bring us together this special time of year.  Mrs. Obama talked about how the theme inspires her to think about “the thousands of men and women in uniform serving abroad who wake up in the middle of the night in some remote part of the world to read a special holiday story to their children over Skype, or to be there on the screen to experience that special moment of joy when their kids open those presents from Santa.”

  • Volunteers from The Mission Continues Join the First Family for a Thanksgiving Service Project

    Today, continuing Obama family tradition, The First Family, their extended family, and many friends packed and handed out food bags at the Capital Area Food Bank in preparation for Thanksgiving. This year, the family was joined by volunteers from The Mission Continues, who exemplify the continuing service of our Nation’s veterans. The First Family will also be donating two turkeys and canned goods to the Capital Area Food Bank.

    For many of our Nation’s veterans, their desire to lend assistance to others extends well beyond their service in the military. Through The Mission Continues, post-9/11 veterans are awarded community service fellowships that allow them to engage in projects throughout the United States and continue the strong sense of purpose and mission they found in the military. These veterans are using their skills and leadership to take on tough challenges like homelessness, poverty, and educating our youth. Together, they are making a significant impact and building relationships with their local communities. Today, Joining Forces is proud to highlight several veterans from The Mission Continues who participated in the Thanksgiving service project with the First Family.

    Connor Mallon is an excellent example of a veteran who has answered the call of continuing service. Connor served as a squad leader during two deployments to Iraq. After completing his military service, Connor enrolled in college and applied for a Fellowship with The Mission Continues. Connor’s passion for wildlife photography helped him secure a fellowship with the Smithsonian National Zoo as a photographer. During his fellowship, Connor created a professional portfolio of images for the Zoo to use in news releases and digital media.

    Ryaja Johnson Rhone served for seven years in the United States Air Force and deployed to Afghanistan. After learning about The Mission Continues, Ryaja was eager to become a fellow. She earned a fellowship with Dress for Success, a non-profit organization that provides disadvantaged women the support they need to find meaningful employment. As a fellow, Ryaja’s goal is to provide more than 345 women with the services and support to put them on the road to great careers. 

    Vu Nguyen enlisted in the Navy during his senior year of high school and served for four years. Vu was crucial to the operational readiness of the Squadron during their deployment to Bagram Airfield in 2008. After his military service ended, Vu returned to school but had a desire to continue serving, which led him to The Mission Continues. Vu earned a fellowship at the National Veteran’s Center, which provides career-oriented employment and community-based job training to veterans with significant disabilities. He served as a program manager where he utilized the skills he learned in the military to keep the program organized, moving forward, and serving veterans.

    This Thanksgiving, the First Lady is thankful for our veterans who have chosen to continue their service at home as community leaders and volunteers through organizations like The Mission Continues. On behalf of the First Lady, we encourage every American to follow the example of these veteran volunteers and find ways to serve. From volunteering at a local charity, to sending a military service member a holiday card, there are many ways to support our military communities during the holiday season. To learn more about getting involved in your local community, visit   

    Commander Cara LaPointe, US Navy, is a White House Fellow in the Office of the First Lady