When their husbands teamed up on the 2008 presidential ticket, it didn’t take long for Jill Biden and Michelle Obama to connect over a shared priority: supporting military families.
“It was something we both were – and still are – very passionate about. It was an instant bond that continued throughout our administration,” Dr. Biden said.
A military daughter and mom, Dr. Biden had worked closely with Delaware Boots on the Ground, and Mrs. Obama had met countless military families on the campaign trail. The former First Lady and Second Lady of the United States eventually created the Joining Forces initiative, partnering with the private and public sectors to get service members, veterans and their families the tools needed to succeed throughout their lives.
“We traveled the country, meeting and listening to military families and learning about their needs,” said Dr. Biden, a lifelong educator. These first-hand learnings inspired Joining Forces’ three core pillars – employment, education and wellness.
Earlier this year, Dr. Biden and former Vice President Joe Biden launched the Biden Foundation to continue to support military families. We spoke with Dr. Biden – who will be the keynote speaker at a special Veterans Day program at
You’ve long focused on bringing attention to the sacrifices of military families. Why are these unsung heroes so near and dear to your heart?
The Bidens are a military family. My father served in the U.S. Navy in World War II, and my son, Beau, was a member of the Delaware Army National Guard. My father was very patriotic. Growing up, we always had an American flag on our front lawn, and we went to the Veterans Day parade every year. It was a big part of the fabric of my family as a child, and I made it a part of the fabric of the Biden family while raising my own children.
Why, on Veterans Day, is it important to celebrate both our servicemen and servicewomen and the families who love and support them?
Because it’s not just the men and women in the military who serve our country. Their families serve, too. When Beau was deployed to Iraq, I saw the effect it had on his family – on his wife, who had to keep their family together, and on his kids, who were missing their father. They were serving in their own ways.
When Michelle and I got together, we decided we needed to recognize the families and how important they are. Because if the families are not happy, then our servicemen and servicewomen are not happy. And we saw how important it was for people to support our military. When Beau came back from Iraq after serving there for a year, he told me a story of getting off the plane in New Hampshire and seeing people – including many veterans – lined up to give soldiers hugs and hand them their phones so they could call home.
Those little acts of kindness mean so much to all people, but especially to military families. Most members of the military are deployed for some time during their service and are away from their families. So it’s important to recognize them on Veterans Day and every day.
What about the Joining Forces initiative are you most proud?
Our team created an initiative called Operation Educate the Educator. We went to 100 teaching colleges across the country and developed a curriculum to make teachers aware of what military families go through and what it feels like to have a mother or father in the service. As a teacher, this was very personal and very important to me.
In 2012, following Beau’s deployment to Iraq, you published a children’s book titled Don’t Forget, God Bless Our Troops, about how your granddaughter dealt with the experience. Was there a particular memory or event that inspired you to write the book? And how did writing it help you cope with Beau being overseas?
It was hard for our family. We’d look at the chair at our dinner table where he always sat, and see it empty. Those were tough times every military family has to go through. You sort of have to smile through it. I specifically saw what it meant to my grandchildren, Hunter and Natalie, when Beau wasn’t there for a birthday, school play, or when they lost a tooth. I did some research, and there were no books about the effect deployment has on military families and children. So I thought I needed to make others aware of what military families experience, and how difficult it is for children when their parents are deployed. I interviewed Natalie and wrote the book, which includes a few pages of back matter for teachers or school librarians, and suggestions and resources for families on how to help and organizations to support. For example, stuffing stockings for service members at Christmas, which our family always does. There are so many things we can do. When Beau was deployed, Natalie’s teacher put a picture of his unit by the front door of the classroom. So every day when the kids walked in, they knew Natalie’s dad was fighting a war. Making military children feel special and loved is really important.
For more than 75 years,
Coca-Cola has supported service members and their families around the world through veteran-focused programs, financial contributions and volunteering. And just this week, The Coca-Cola Foundation awarded more than $1 million in grants to organizations that support and empower veterans across America. What role does the private sector play in supporting veterans and their families?
Coca-Cola has done an extraordinary job of supporting our military. Everyone and every sector in this country has a part to play. That’s an important message to send to families: “You’re fighting for us… we’ve got your back.” Hiring vets is important, of course, and I’m working now to help military spouses find jobs. We also have to work to get veterans better health care. There are many segments the private sector can work on, depending on their strengths and what they have to offer.
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