White House launches major effort to support military families

Michelle Obama said it’s one of her “defining missions as First Lady.” Michelle Obama said it’s one of her “defining missions as First Lady.” Mandel Ngan/Newscom
The White House on Tuesday launched a national initiative that focuses on the employment, education and wellness of military personnel and their families.

First lady Michelle Obama and Jill Biden announced the Joining Forces initiative, which knits together a panoply of government agencies, businesses, nonprofit groups and media organizations in an effort to improve the lives of military families. The nonpartisan Center for a New American Security will coordinate the effort, led by Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who was relieved of his command in Afghanistan last year over controversial comments about administration officials.

"Joining Forces is a challenge to every segment of American society to take action to make a real commitment to supporting and engaging these families," the first lady said during a ceremony at the White House to launch the initiative. Obama and Biden are traveling across the country during the next few days to tout the initiative.

National employers, including Wal-Mart, Sam's Club and Sears, have pledged to provide job transfers where available for military personnel and their spouses when they move because of military service. Wal-Mart and Sam's Club also will continue to pay those employees called to active duty any difference in their salaries if they earn less money during their service. Siemens Corp., an electronics and electrical engineering company, will reserve 10 percent of more than 3,000 open positions in their clean tech industries for veterans.

Businesses and other organizations, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, also will provide job training, career services, mentoring and online tools to search for employment to military personnel and their families through a series of programs. Hewlett-Packard and Microsoft Corp. will offer training in technology to military spouses. On the education front, the National Math and Science Initiative is working with military education groups to expand AP-level math and science courses to 28 public high schools serving a large percentage of military families. Other programs would help make schools and teachers more aware of the needs of military children, who often move frequently because of a parent's service. In addition, financial literacy and consumer protection programs geared toward the unique needs of military families is part of the overall initiative.

"This will remain one of my defining missions as first lady," Obama said, of Joining Forces.

Organizations such as the American Heart Association and WebMD are onboard to offer health and wellness information and guidance targeted at military families, while the YMCA, National Military Family Association and the Sierra Club Foundation will provide free camps to thousands of military kids this summer. The wellness component of the initiative also includes mental health services and outreach.

President Obama and Vice President Biden spoke during the event, a sign of the initiative's importance within the administration. "It's a federal government priority," said the president. Earlier this year, the administration released a report highlighting the commitment of nearly 50 agencies to improve support services for military families. The report enumerates four governmentwide priorities: improving education for military children, enhancing families' psychological health and well-being, developing career and educational opportunities for military spouses, and increasing child care availability and quality.

Television networks and cable companies will feature a host of public service announcements and special programming to raise awareness of military families and encourage support for them. Celebrities including Oprah Winfrey, Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg also will participate in upcoming Joining Forces PSAs.

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