First Lady Honors Women Veterans as Champions of Change

March 19, 2013 | 10:56 | Public Domain

First Lady Michelle Obama honors women veterans as Champions of Change. These women have not only served our country in uniform but have continued to serve as leaders in our nation’s communities, businesses, and schools.

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Remarks by the First Lady at Champions of Change Women's Veterans Event

Eisenhower Executive Office Building
Washington, D.C.

11:39 A.M. EDT

MRS. OBAMA:  Hello!  (Applause.)  Good afternoon -- morning.  It's still morning.  How is everyone?  You all, rest yourselves.  (Laughter.)  I hear we've been keeping you pretty busy, right? 

Well, I'm really thrilled to be here.  I am just delighted to have the opportunity to stop by and say hello, and to add my thanks to the many thanks.  But I want to start by thanking Secretary Shinseki, not just for his kind introduction but for his stalwart service to this country.  And also, when -- I hear Patty is here, too.  Patty -- there is Patty Shinseki, who has been with you.  I want to thank you for joining us today, and for all that you've done as a partner, with Jill and I, through Joining Forces.  It's wonderful to see you, as well as everyone here from the Business and Professional Women's Foundation, for the exceptional work that they do every day for women's veterans.

And, of course, I want to recognize the 14 extraordinary women we're honoring as our Champions of Change.  I had an opportunity to take some quick photos and meet Joshua over there, who is -- (laughter) -- he's riveted by today's proceedings.  (Laughter.) 

And I want to thank every single woman in this room who has worn our country's uniform.  And I know there are a few men here, so I don’t want you to think I'm ignoring you, but this is really not about you today.  (Laughter.)  Not at all.  But you look -- you all look good.  You dressed up for your respective people.  You're not embarrassing anyone, which is good.  (Laughter.) 

But to our women veterans, you all are part of a long line of women who have broken barriers and defied expectations and served this country with unparalleled courage and determination.  You've been on the front lines, often in the line of fire.  And generation after generation, women like you have proven that you not only serve alongside men -- you lead them, as well.  Let's just take a moment.  (Laughter.)  Whether you're in combat or aboard a submarine or anywhere else service takes you, you're doing the job, and you're doing it with grace and poise and dignity. 

And the beautiful thing about our veterans -- and this is especially true for our women veterans -- is that long after you stop serving this country, you don’t stop serving it after you hang up your uniforms.  And that’s something that we say all the time about our veterans.  It's important for the nation to understand that you all keep working.  You make me tired -- (laughter) -- but you keep doing it. 

You are the leaders in our businesses and schools in our communities.  You're mothers raising your kids with that same sense of honor that defines your own lives every single day.  You're volunteers in your neighborhoods, on the PTA, your houses of worship, always finding ways to keep lifting folks up. 

And the 14 women we're celebrating today are truly the living embodiment of that spirit of service.  They're helping women veterans and military families start their own businesses.  They're fighting to promote gender equality in the military.  They're working to end homelessness and domestic violence and sexual assault. 

One of our honorees, Marsha Four, a former Army nurse in Vietnam, founded a transitional housing residence for homeless vets.  She started another program specifically for homeless women's veterans.  And she says she does it -- and these are her words -- she says, "When I die, I will know that I have spent some of my time here on Earth in a very important way; that I was part of something bigger than me."  Yes, we all nod to that. 

Being part of something bigger than ourselves -- that is the common thread that connects our 14 honorees, and, quite frankly, everyone in this room.  And Dr. Jill Biden and I have seen all of this occurring all across this country.  That is the thread that connects all our nation's veterans and our military families. 

And through Joining Forces, Jill and I, we are determined to match that extraordinary service with some extraordinary service of our own.  We're determined to ensure that all of our veterans and military families get the benefits, support and respect that they have earned and that they deserve. 

And this mission is particularly urgent today -- I spoke of this last week.  With the Iraq war now -- is over, and the war in Afghanistan drawing to a close, hundreds of thousands of veterans, particularly our women veterans, are going to be looking for work and are looking for work.  Right now, we have so many talented, highly skilled veterans who have so much to offer this country.  And they're going to need that opportunity to make that happen.  We need that service operating here at home.

And that’s why, last week, I went to the Business Roundtable to speak with CEOs from 80 of our nation's leading businesses -- companies like Walmart, and JPMorgan Chase, and UPS.  And at that meeting, I challenged them.  I challenged some of the biggest countries [companies] in this nation to hire and train even more of our veterans and military spouses in the coming years as the needs increase.

And this kind of challenge and call to action is really just one part of a much bigger effort by this administration to ensure that our veterans have access to the jobs they need and deserve when they return home.  For example, over the past few years, my husband has made tax credits available to any business hiring an unemployed veteran or wounded warrior.  We've also been working to help our troops translate their skills into civilian résumés and match them with careers that suit their experiences.

We've created an online jobs bank, and we're connecting companies across America to veterans in local communities through our American Job Centers that have been created.  And we're also working to streamline the credentialing processes so it's easier for military truck drivers and welders and machinists and medics to earn the certifications they need here at home so that they can get jobs and they're not bogged down in paperwork trying to make that happen.

And I have said this before, but this work couldn’t be more urgent.  With so many women hanging up their uniforms and looking for that next mission -- because that’s what you all are doing; you're just transitioning missions -- we know that right now is the time when you need us most.  And that’s what we've been talking to this nation about -- because everyone is grateful.  We live in a grateful nation.  People respect and value your service, but now is the time when we've got to step up on your behalf.

We know that right now, as this transitioning is happening for so many veterans, this is the time when they're feeling whether or not this country is truly there for them right at that transition point.  Now is the time.

So I just want you all to know that I'm not going to stop working, Jill is not going to stop working, my husband and the Vice President, we are not going to stop working until all of our veterans and all of their families feel the support of our entire country.  And we've got work to do.  (Applause.) 

Because here is the thing about our veterans -- every time this country has issued a call, our veterans and our women veterans in uniform have answered it.  And -- absolutely.  (Applause.)  And as the 14 women we honor today remind us, they continue to answer that call as veterans every single day in our communities.  And it is my hope that as Americans, the rest of us will step up to meet that example -- to be a part of something bigger than ourselves, and to serve all of you as well as you've served us. 

But here's the good news -- through Joining Forces, there has never been a "no."  There isn't a request that we have made, a challenge that we've issued that this country, from every sector -- private, non-profit, businesses, our houses of worship -- people are ready and willing to answer the call for you.  And I think that’s so important for you to know, because there are times that you don’t feel the gratefulness of this nation, but it is there.  It is truly there. 

There is more work to do.  There are more challenges to meet.  But as you go through the process and you come across young veterans transitioning, it's important for them to know that they're not alone.  We're going to get it right, and we're going to keep working hard.  And we are so grateful, and so proud.

This is one of the best things I do every single day, is work with our servicemembers, our veterans and their tremendous families.  Because none of you, I know, could do what you do without somebody having your back.  And that’s usually a spouse, or a son, or a daughter, or someone else who has sacrificed tremendously so that you could serve.  And I know a little bit about that.  (Laughter and applause.)

So thank you to our Champions of Change.  As I told them, just don’t get tired.  We still need you.  And to all of our veterans, not just in this room but all across this country, we are proud of you.  We are grateful.  And we're going to keep working.  Just keep working for our nation, because we still need you.

Thank you for being here.  God bless.  Take care.

11:50 A.M. EDT

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