Sunday, July 24, 2011

First Lady Michelle Obama, Dr. Biden Host Cookout For Military Families In New Hampshire

Thanking military families, "the very best of America," and announcing the "Joining Forces Community Challenge"...
On Sunday afternoon in Concord, New Hampshire, First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden hosted an indoor cookout for military families at the state's National Guard Headquarters, in a continuation of their Joining Forces campaign. Guests were Granite State National Guard Active Duty and Army and Navy Reserve members and their families, as well as Gold Star Families. The First and Second Ladies spoke about their efforts to raise America's awareness about the many issues facing those who serve on the home front, the "force behind the force," as Mrs. Obama has called military families. Dr. Biden announced the Joining Forces Community Challenge, a new initiative for the campaign, which was first launched in April. (Above: Mrs. Obama and Dr. Biden greet guests)

Mrs. Obama was clad in a red and white sleeveless summer dress, her hair pulled back, as she stood in front of a big armored vehicle, back dropped by flags, and greeted the crowd. Guests were seated at round tables with rough wildflower centerpieces, and were already enjoying their meals. Mrs. Obama gave a shout out to the steak being served before beginning her formal remarks.

"Can we give the steak a hand? I mean, come on, good stuff," Mrs. Obama said, to laughter and applause. "I only had two bites, but I guarantee you after this I’m having some more."

The Meat House, a national chain of butcher shops and grocers, donated the steak tips, chicken, hot dogs and hamburgers that were on offer. Mrs. Obama dubbed the meal "delicious." Bottled water and soda were served, too.

Joining Forces is changing military policy...
The First Lady said that in her travels across the US she has personally seen the struggles military families experience as they are forced to relocate and change schools and jobs, deal with the absence of a family member, and deal with post-deployment challenges, including psychological trauma and the need for ongoing medical care. (Above: Mrs. Obama speaks with a young guest)

"We have a very simple message, and that is to say: Thank you. Thank you for your service. Thank you for your sacrifice. Thank you for everything that you have done for our country," Mrs. Obama said.

She hailed the group as "the very best of America."

"You’ve gone through unprecedented deployments. You’ve helped to defend our security through a decade of war," Mrs. Obama said. “We want America to know your stories, know your challenges, know your successes, because you make us all proud.”

Mrs. Obama stressed that the Joining Forces campaign is not just for show, pointing to the corporate and nonprofit commitments the campaign has rapidly garnered, as well as major grassroots support, and changes in Department of Defense policy that have made things easier for military families. The campaign has also enjoyed celebrity support, and the support of the Hollywood creative community. Mrs. Obama will make a TV appearance in October of 2011 that supports her campaign: She has a cameo on Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, which re-built a veteran's shelter, and was filmed earlier this week in North Carolina.

"We’re working hard to take meaningful steps that make a real difference for you and for your families," Mrs. Obama said, adding "and most importantly reducing the stigma around mental health issues."

President Obama recently announced a significant change in the Department of Defense's condolence letter policy; family members of combat deployed military who have committed suicide will now receive formal letters of condolence, a major change from the previous practice of ignoring these tragic deaths. This week, the President announced that the certification requirements for the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell have been met, and it "will end, once and for all, in 60 days—on September 20, 2011."

The Joining Forces Community Challenge...
Dr. Biden, in her remarks, said it was important for all Americans to understand the sacrifices military families make to support loved ones. She announced the "Joining Forces Community Challenge," which will "recognize individuals and groups around the country who are making a difference in the lives of military families." She invited those attending the event to make nominations.

"The idea can be large or small, new or old, as long as it demonstrates in some way the tremendous gratitude all of us feel for our military families," Dr. Biden said.

Dr. Biden is a Blue Star Mother; her son, Beau Biden, is a captain in the Delaware Army National Guard, and was deployed in Iraq.

"Like you, I come from a small state with a strong National Guard that has shouldered a tremendous burden over the past decade," Dr. Biden told the crowd.

After, the First Lady and Dr. Biden went from table to table and chatted individually with the roughly 100 Armed Forces members and family members, shaking hands and giving out hugs. They spent about 90 minutes at the event.

Mrs. Obama and Dr. Biden in a new video about the challenge:

The cookout impressed the NH troops and their families, according to New Hampshire's WMUR9.

"It is good to see the families get acknowledged, they usually just see the soldiers,” said Sgt. Richard Whiltshire, who was deployed to Iraq when his son was only 3 months old. His wife, Shannon, said it was a trying time.

“There was a lot of strain and stress and it took a took a lot when my husband came home to acclimate to life,” said Shannon Whiltshire.

Earlier in the day in Portsmouth, Dr. Biden met with New Hampshire National Guard family support providers. She attended "Operation: Thank You!," a military family appreciation event at the Red Hook Ale Brewery, at the Pease International Tradeport. (Above: Mrs. Obama greets a guest and her baby)

*The full transcript of Mrs. Obama's remarks is here.

Visit for more information; Twitter is @JoiningForces.

*Top two photos by Samantha Appleton/White House; others by Robert Michaelson, Concord, NH

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