Taking Care of Military Families is Critical for Our National Security
By: Sergeant Major Josh Woehr, U.S. Army
Josh Woehr is a White House Fellow in the Office of the First Lady
“Hardest worker in the room.” This expression shows up on t-shirts in gyms on most military bases across our country. This past week, the First Lady Dr. Jill Biden was able to spend some time connecting with the Army’s 1st Special Forces Command (Airborne) (1st SFC (A)), whom are among some of the hardest workers in the Army, though admittedly I am biased. 1st SFC (A) is made up of 11 units representing the Green Berets, Psychological Operations, Civil Affairs, and Sustainment Operations working in 70 different countries on any given day. These units have shouldered a lion’s share of our national defense over the past several decades; from the first Green Berets to enter Afghanistan after 9/11, to the more than 3,000 men and women they have deployed around the globe right now. Perhaps the most potent artifact of the work they have put in over the last 20 years is the number of deployments represented by those Dr. Biden met with last week at the 1st SFC (A) Commanders Conference ….. 316.
Even more exceptional than the hundreds of deployments was the focus of the conference and the foresight to invite the 20 spouses of the command teams to attend as well. These spouses were valued participants and thought partners, instrumental in helping 1st SFC (A) figure out how to take care of their greatest asset- their people. Workshops, panels, and roundtables on resiliency, family programming, manning, and talent management highlighted the importance of military families as a national security imperative. This ability to recognize that care of families is directly linked to national security confirms that our SOF units are on the cutting edge in more areas than just tactics.
Dr. Biden shared her gratitude and appreciation , specifically to the family members in the room. Afterwards, she went table to table to speak with each command team to hear directly from military spouses and soldiers about the challenges they are facing in their formations.
If you will allow me a moment to reminisce– my E-6 self that just showed up to my first Special Forces team 15 years ago, would have been proud to call them my leaders. They went straight to the good stuff, sharing about the struggles the families they lead are facing. They candidly shared with Dr. Biden the issues they face around lack of childcare and access to mental health providers, spouse employment, exceptional family member benefits, and compensation concerns.
In my 20-plus years of serving in the military, I have been a part of many a ‘dog and pony’ show, where we put on display all the great stories or capabilities we have as a unit. I would always wonder, “do these visits really matter? What will this visit change? The truth is, I helped coordinate this visit for the First Lady, and I still wondered “what would come of this visit? what will it change?” It was the next day when the authenticity of the visit sunk in for me. I realized that the statement, “I care about military families” was a very real sentiment for Dr. Biden.
The indicators were already there, in my first month serving as a White House Fellow with the Office of the First Lady, I have seen firsthand the impact Joining Forces is having and the work the team puts in. But it is a different story when the First Lady calls for an immediate after-action meeting- citing her desire to make sure we didn’t waste the time or valuable insights of the soldiers and spouses to whom she spoke.
After a full day of teaching at the community college, Dr. Biden assembled her senior advisors and the Joining Forces team to ensure we had a strategy to address the concerns that were raised. Many issues raised aligned directly with the focus areas of the Joining Forces initiative . I walked away from that AAR encouraged that we were not shying away from hard problems, but instead facing them head on and working to support military families, in big and small ways.