In the July issue of ESSENCE Magazine, our First Lady Michelle Obama wrote a note to the military families serving our country.
As First Lady, I’ve had the chance to hear so many stories from moms and dads, sons and daughters, and grandparents and siblings about what life is like if you’re in a military family.
They’re the kids who put on a strong face to tell me that they’re proud of what their dad or mom is doing for our country.
They’re the teenagers who have to switch schools and find new friends every couple of years, all while caring for their younger siblings and wishing Dad or Mom could come to more of their soccer games and school plays.
They’re the spouses who balance work, family and a career, yet still find time to run the neighborhood car pool and organize the school bake sale.
They’re the parents, grandparents and brothers and sisters who hope and pray for just one simple thing: that their loved one will come home safe.
And, of course, they’re our incredible troops and veterans who have answered this country’s call over and over again. These families come from all backgrounds and walks of life, and African-Americans comprise a vital core of our military, serving in combat, as officers and in every branch of the military. Today African-Americans comprise a higher percentage of our active duty forces—17 percent—than they do of the general population, and nearly a third of enlisted women in the military are African-American.
No matter where they’re assigned or what their duties are, when our service members step up to serve, their families do as well. And through it all, one thing I’ve never heard from these folk is a complaint. I never hear that their sacrifices are too great or that they wish their family had chosen another path.
No, these brave individuals are proud to be part of a military family. They’ll do whatever this country asks of them. And it’s that kind of courage and commitment that has inspired me to do everything in my power to ensure that these families get the honor, recognition and support they have earned.
So one year ago I launched the Joining Forces initiative with my friend Dr. Jill Biden. Joining Forces is about raising awareness and making a meaningful difference for these strong, brave families. Today only 1 percent of Americans serve in our military, but our goal is to make sure that 100 percent of our country is rallying around them.
And so far we’ve been overwhelmed by the response: Businesses have hired more than 50,000 veterans and military spouses already, and have pledged to hire 160,000 more in the coming years. Companies like Sears have vowed to make it easier for military spouses to stay with the company if their family is transferred to a new duty station.
Nonprofits and schools are working together to bring rigorous Advanced Placement math and science classes to public high schools serving children of military families. Medical schools have pledged to train their faculty and students to diagnose and treat post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injuries. And faith communities, neighbors and community groups of all kinds have found all sorts of large and small ways to show their support.
The best part about serving military families is that everyone can do something. Each of us can ask ourselves, What can I do to give back to these families that have given us so much?
You might want to send messages of thanks or share your family’s story of service or get involved in your community. To do all that and search through more than 50,000 service opportunities, please visit us at joiningforces.gov.
But that’s just one place to get your ideas flowing. You might contact a local service organization or find your own unique way to show your gratitude. Whatever you do, I hope you’ll find a way to make a difference for our nation’s veterans and military families. If we all do something—if we all join forces—then we can truly serve our nation’s military families as well as they have served us.