Remarks by First Lady Jill Biden for the Next Phase of Joining Forces in Virtual White House Event
11:38 A.M. EDT
THE FIRST LADY: Thank you, Ryzun. You know, when you joined us back in February, I felt like I knew you from the first words you spoke. You’re open and funny and sincere. In fact, it doesn’t surprise me at all that you managed to make friends when your family moved to Germany, despite not speaking any German. And then you became a mentor so that you could help others feel less alone. It’s that resilience and heart that makes military kids like you so special. So thank you, Ryzun, for joining us today.
You know, I’ll never forget the emotions that ran through me as I stood in front of the bow of the 2,000-ton USS Gabrielle Giffords to christen her, just praying the bottle I held in my hands would break when it was time. I was nervous and excited, and most of all, deeply proud to become an honorary member of the crew’s family—or as they say, “a shipmate for life.”
Surrounded by the sounds and shouts and cheers, I thought of the brave soldiers who would make up her crew and the families who stood by them. I felt a touch of longing in that celebration knowing that when the time came to bring this ship to life, spouses and children, parents and siblings would stay behind, but a piece of their hearts would sail away.
There’s no ribbon cuttings or showers of champagne to christen their journey, but it is that: a journey through the months apart, happy homecomings and more deployments that transition to life after the military.
In that moment, the Giffords seemed to represent our entire armed forces. Anyone could look at its bridge, its bow, its towering mast and know this ship will be steady in the harshest winds, strong enough to cut through the most violent seas, able to withstand any storm. Any yet, so much of its power is unseen beneath the waves: the engines, the anchors, the rudder that gives it direction and purpose.
The families of our service members and veterans; the caregivers who lift up our wounded, ill, and injured; the survivors who grieve those we’ve lost: You may not wear a uniform, but you serve and you sacrifice for us all.
Military families are as critical to our national defense as a rudder is to a ship, and we must always act upon that truth.
Today, we write the next chapter of a White House initiative that First Lady Michelle Obama and I started 10 years ago: Joining Forces.
This work is personal to me. Is it because of my dad? He was a Navy signalman in World War II and went to college on the G.I. Bill. His love for this country was a part of everything he did. And he inspired us—his five daughters—to see America through his eyes.
Or because of my son, Beau? When he joined the Delaware Army National Guard, you know, I felt the unique pull of both incredible pride and concern that every military mom knows so well.
Or perhaps it’s because of my grandkids. When Beau served for a year in Iraq, I saw how his children navigated his deployment. And I often wondered how people so small could be so strong.
Without a doubt, being part of this military community has shaped who I am. But that’s not why we’re here today. We’re here because of you, the people behind me on these screens; because of the stories that you have shared with me—your joys and your challenges.
From difficult PCSes, to the lack of childcare on and off bases; from fighting to keep your own careers and your identities, and to saying goodbye to beloved schools and friends; from caring for your loved ones to mourning those who have been lost—you are the rudder that steers our military. And supporting your physical, social, and emotional health is a national security imperative.
Every parent knows that when your child is hurting, nothing in your world is right. When your spouse is at home trying to make ends meet, or torn between taking care of your children and keeping a job, your heart breaks with them no matter how far away you are.
Our troops love their families with all that they are. Service members cannot be focused on their mission if their families don’t have what they need to thrive at home. And we can’t expect to keep the best and brightest if our service members are forced to choose between their love of country and the hopes and dreams they have for their families.
We have an all-volunteer force, and it continues only because of generations of Americans who see the honor, dignity, and patriotism of this calling. How can we hope to keep our military strong if we don’t give our family survivors and caregivers what they need to survive; if we don’t act on our sacred obligation? And that is why we’re here today and what Joining Forces is all about.
During the Obama-Biden administration, we made a lot of progress. And most of all, I’m proud that we helped lift up the stories like the ones I heard from those on the screens behind me. And now we’re ready to do more.
So here’s what you’re going to see us do over these next few years: We’re going to focus on military family employment and entrepreneurship. Before the pandemic, the Department of Defense estimated that the military spouse unemployment rate was about 22 percent.
Spouses: All of you deserve opportunities to do the work you love, whether that means keeping your job when you move from base to base or owning your own businesses.
And we need to make sure that you can get quality childcare when you need it so that you don’t have to feel like you’re choosing between your job and taking care of your kids.
We’re going to work on education for military children. There are more than 2 million kids whose parents are service members, National Guard reservists, or veterans. Our schools want to support all students, but they don’t always know how to do so. We’re going to work with educators and our government partners to make sure that you—our military-connected kids—have what you need to succeed.
And finally, we’re going to work on military family health and well-being. Just 1 percent of our country has shouldered the burden of 20 years of war. No one has more strength and grit and resilience than our military families, but you can’t do this alone. We have to help you carry this weight by improving access to mental health resources, ensuring everyone can put food on the table, and supporting caregiving families and survivors. So far, we already have commitments from the Departments of Defense, Labor, and Education. And this is just the beginning.
Our effort will take all of our government working together, and we expect every agency to step up and be part of it. This is a community bound together by love—love for our country, love for your service members, and love for the communities you build together. And it’s time that we match that devotion.
Your Commander-in-Chief understands that there is no greater honor than serving those who serve our country—everyone who serves. He’s going to make sure that you and your community are seen. And our goal is that this work will live on long after we leave as a permanent priority for every White House, because you deserve nothing less.
So thank you for all that you do. May God bless our troops and their families. Thank you.
END 11:49 A.M. EDT