the WHITE HOUSEPresident Barack Obama

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The White House
Office of the First Lady
For Immediate Release

Remarks by the First Lady at Illinois Spousal Licensing Bill Signing

Donnelly Armory
Chicago, Illinois

2:24 P.M. CDT

MRS. OBAMA:  Thank you, everyone.  Please be seated.  It is great to be back home in Chicago, especially on what is a very big, important day like today.

I want to start by thanking Governor Quinn, first of all, for inviting me here and allowing me to join in this celebration.  Thank you, Governor Quinn -- (applause) -- as well as everyone from the Illinois National Guard Armory for hosting us here, and for all of your service and work. 

I want to thank all of the elected officials who are here today, and all of those who worked in a unified way to get this legislation passed.  And of course I want to join in in thanking our men and women in uniform and their families who are here with us today and all over the country for what you do and what you give to all of us, and for the models of inspiration that you provide for me personally each and every day.   

And finally I want to thank Courtney for so eloquently sharing her story.  I got to meet her family just before coming onstage.  They’re beautiful, smart, handsome -- because there are boys in there, too. 

And just one thing I want to point out is, for all of the military parents here, I know that you all realize that your kids serve, too.  They are making huge, tremendous sacrifices on behalf of this country.  And it’s important for each of you kids to know that you are heroes, too, in huge ways.  Your parents could not do what they do without you being calm, responsible, focused, obedient, right?  I’m talking to you, kids, right?  You’re all that, right?  (Laughter and applause.)  You know, giving limited attitude, right?  (Laughter.)  All of that.  But we are very proud of you, and it has been a joy to get to know the military families all over this country.  Again, you all keep us inspired, and it has just been a privilege to be a part of shining a light on the work that you do and the lives that you live.

Courtney’s story is one that I have heard so many times over these past few years –- the story of the teacher who has moved 12 times, taking odd jobs to pay the bills. The story of the social worker whose skills go unused as she waits months for paperwork to clear.  The accountants, the psychologists, the real estate agents, child care providers, and so many others who simply want to provide for their families and get back to the careers that they love.  But far too often, they’re stuck in a web of bureaucracy.

And we have to remember who these military spouses are.  They’re folks who are giving their heart and soul to this country every single day.  Every time our country asks them to pick up their families and move across the country at a moment’s notice, they do it and they do it with pride. Every time their spouses are sent overseas for months, sometimes years, on end, they hold things together back at home without complaint or regret.  And on top of all that, they are some of the best volunteers in their communities.  They still find time to participate on the PTA, in their Parish Council, to support the Little League and the Girl Scouts.

So we owe it to these individuals to get this licensing issue right.  And that's why Jill Biden and I started Joining Forces.  We made addressing this issue one of our highest priorities.  

So as Governor Quinn said, earlier this year we worked with the Departments of Defense and Treasury on a report to give states some ideas on how to solve this problem.  We went to the Pentagon and we joined Secretary Panetta and General Dempsey to call on all 50 states to address this issue by the year 2014.  And again, when our nation’s governors came to the White House a couple of weeks after that meeting, we asked them to enact measures in their home states.  

And today, believe me, I am so proud to report that governors and legislatures across this country have answered this call.  Back when we went to the Pentagon, only 11 states had addressed this issue at all.  Only 11 states.  But in the four months since then -- so just since February -- 11 more governors have signed legislation or executive orders.  And seven more have legislation pending.  (Applause.)  That's good stuff.  (Applause.) 

And we are so proud that in just a few moments, the governor of my home state is going to make Illinois the 23rd state to take action on behalf of nation’s military families.  (Applause.)  Yes.  (Applause.) 

So this is a good reason to come back home, right?  So I want to thank Governor Quinn, Senate President John Cullerton, and to all of the Illinois legislators who worked so hard and so quickly to get this done.  Because of your efforts, more military spouses will be able to advance in their careers.  More businesses and hospitals and schools will get the talented, experienced workers they rely on.  And more importantly, more families will have the income they need and the financial security they deserve. 

So again, this is a banner day.  And we have come so far in just these last four months.  But we know we’re not finished yet.  We’re not finished yet.  We still have 27 states to go. 

So today, right here, I want to renew our call to action for all of the states out there, all of the legislators all over the country in the states that have yet to address this issue.  I ask you to help us finish this job.  This is something we can do.  I ask you to look at what they’ve done here in Illinois and states all across the country, and what you’ll see is that this is an eminently solvable problem.  This is something we can do. You’ll see that there are all kinds of solutions, and you can choose the one that’s best for your state.  There is no one-size-fits-all solution here.  And you’ll see that folks from every background and both sides of the aisle are eager to step up and help. 

And that is really the beauty of giving back to our troops and our military families -- it is something that we all agree on in this country.  This is one of them.  This is a good thing.  And it’s something we all can support. 

And that has been the story of Joining Forces from the very beginning since we launched the initiative.  In just over a year, we have seen more than 1,600 companies step forward to hire more than 90,000 veterans and military spouses –- and commit to hiring at least 170,000 more in the coming years.  We have seen associations of nurses and physical therapists and medical schools commit to providing better care for folks dealing with PTSD and traumatic brain injuries.  We have seen schools reach out to military students to help pave the way.  We’ve seen everyone from Oprah to Tom Hanks to iCarly, my girl, kids -- the old people, you don't know what iCarly is -- (laughter) -- and Sesame Street, they have shared the inspiring stories of military families with the rest of the country. 

And while we do have a long way to go, we’re just getting started.  So today, I want all of our military families to know that America does have your backs.  It is really a country that appreciates and cares about your service.  Whether it’s fixing this licensing issue, or helping you find a job, or making sure that you and your family have the health care and benefits you’ve earned, we are working hard every day to serve you as well as you have served this country.

So again, I truly from the bottom of my heart, I thank all of you here in Illinois for making this possible.  I want to once again thank the men and women in uniform and their families for their service.  And I look forward to many more days like today in states all across this country.  

Thank you all.  God bless.  And with that, I turn it over to the governor and we can get the bill signed.  (Applause.) 

2:34 P.M. CDT