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Pledging Allegiance: First Lady Calls on Americans to Help Military Families

Kimberly Johnson
May 26, 2011

Military families have friends in the White House, say the First Mom-in-Chief Michelle Obama and Second Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

The presidential pair underscored a tone of solidarity with those in uniform and their loved ones when they invited military spouses for tea at the first family residence to mark Military Spouse Appreciation Day and Mother's Day 2011.  The First Moms launched the initiative "Joining Forces" as an open appeal asking Americans - everyone from non-profits to the largest of corporations -- to recognize and support military families.

"We're joining forces across this country, and we're calling on all Americans to ask themselves just one simple question: How can I give back to these families who have given me so much?" Obama said.

The nation's top two ladies know all too well that the distinction between the vast majority of Americans and those directly affiliated with the military is stark.  Even though the U.S. has been engaged in combat for the past decade, less than 1 percent of the more than 300 million Americans serve in the armed forces.  By comparison, an estimated 16 million Americans served during World War II.

"The government is working hard doing its part to support our military families -- but each American also has the ability to make a difference in the life of a military family -- that's what our Joining Forces initiative is all about," Biden explained.

Taking Care of Families and Children

Military families appreciate the "spotlight of recognition that has been shone on their experience," by the Joining Forces initiative, Kathleen Moakler, government relations director of the National Military Family Association, told the Senate Armed Services Committee's military personnel subcommittee last month.  "Military families have been supporting their warriors in time of war for 10 years."

And in the past decade, the military and the Pentagon have responded with programs and policies to address the changing needs of families, which they have in turn come to rely upon, she said.  It's those tools and programs that families turn to "to become more resilient with each deployment."

And as long as Congress provides the funding, the families will continue to tap into the resources, she said.  "Even in a time of austere budgets, our national needs to sustain this support in order to maintain readiness. Our military families deserve no less."

Some resources for military families are in desperate need of expansion, such as medical therapies for children with special needs like autism, said Karen Driscoll, a Marine Corps wife and mother to an autistic son.  "I would love for the military family with special needs to be an agenda item for that organization [Joined Forces]," she said. (Learn more about the battle for autism therapy within the military.)

Stepping Up: What Some Companies Are Doing to Help

Organizers say Joining Forces aims to mobilize all aspects of society to focus on helping military families' mental health, education and development of their children, employment opportunities for spouses and improving child care availability.  

Gyms are stepping up.  The International Health Racquet & Sportsclub Association (IHRSA) recently announced that beginning this summer its members would be giving free memberships to the immediate family of deployed troops.  And Care.com, the nation's largest online resource for finding care, is offering discounted membership for military families and gave away free memberships for the month of May in honor of military spouses.

"We know that finding quality childcare can be stressful for all families.  But for military families who are regularly moving and leaving their network of friends and family, it can be overwhelming," said Sheila Marcelo, CEO and co-founder of Care.com.  "We want to do our part to ensure that we help military families get the care they need in all aspects of their lives from childcare and senior care to special needs."  Learn more about military family care services.

How You Can Help

And it's not just businesses joining the cause.  The First Lady has called on all Americans to support military families as well.  Here are some things you can do.

1.  Stitch up a hug.  Operation Kid Comfort asks all quilters (and quilter-wannabes) to make children of deployed service members a homemade quilt.  This program, created by the Armed Services YMCA, addresses the grief young ones feel from being separated from their parent.  The best part: the quilts feature photos of the deployed parent.  Volunteers are taught how to quilt and how to add the special photo transfer fabric.   

2.  Prep job seekers.  Unemployment is high, and it's statistically higher for vets of Iraq and Afghanistan.  Have resume-writing skills? Know some interview tricks? You might be the very person who could mentor job candidates.  Contact your local base to connect with service men and women transitioning to the civilian world.

3.  Babysit.  Care.com is reaching out to Military Families to set them up with babysitters and nannies near basecamps.  Create a profile and consider offering a reduced rate or free services to military families.  Everyone needs a date night or alone time, especially after a vet comes home.  You might even be helping a military family during a job search.

4.  Be a chauffeur.  You and your car can make a big difference. Older vets are increasingly in need of transportation to get to services provided by the VA Medical Centers, but numbers of volunteer drivers are receding.  The Volunteer Transportation Network will help you get started.  You can also sign up for Personal-assistant Care Gigs on Care.com

5.  Say thanks.  Honoring a military member is simpler than ever.  Send a soldier or a sailor a heartfelt thank you message at Joiningforces.gov.

6.  Post a new idea.  Have an idea for a military service project?  The Corporation for National and Community Service makes it easy to send new ideas.  Use online tools to search for volunteer jobs in your area - based on your hobbies and interests - or post a new military project at Serve.gov.

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