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By Karen Jowers
Military spouses and dependents are the inspiration behind an initiative launched Tuesday by first lady Michelle Obama.
The mission of "Joining Forces," launched by Obama and Jill Biden, is to make more Americans aware of the challenges facing military families, and to highlight ways communities, organizations and businesses are helping these families. Obama and Biden also will travel across the country to highlight the service of military families.
Military families "just want to feel recognized. They want to know the rest of the country even knows they're out there and will lend them a little bit of a hand," Obama told reporters.
Michelle Obama and Jill Biden have worked for several years to connect with military families, listening to their needs. Military families have responded positively to their efforts, Obama said.
Many have been "in tears, just saying, 'Thank you, thank you for knowing we're there,' " she said.
Many members of military families have told Michelle Obama and Jill Biden that "even with the huge outpouring of support for our troops over the last decade, the truth is that as a country, we don't always see their families, our heroes on the home front," Obama said.
A military mom "wrote to me and said, 'Please don't let Americans forget or ignore what we live with,' " Michelle Obama said.
Earlier Tuesday, "Joining Forces" was unveiled during a ceremony in the White House's East Room. More than 200 people attended, including President Obama and Vice
President Biden, and many military families.
President Obama said "Joining Forces" will build on his directive that makes the well-being of military families a federal government priority.
Nearly 50 specific commitments have been identified to improve the lives of military families, ranging from protecting families from financial scams to improving education for military kids and spouses, and increasing efforts to end homelessness.
"This can't be the work of government alone," he said. "Our military, and our military families, can't be the only ones bearing the burden of our security. ...
"The United States of America is the strongest — and as Americans, we are at our best — when we remember our obligations to each other ... when we remember that the price of freedom cannot simply be paid by a select few."
Jill Biden noted that National Guard and Reserve families often have different challenges because they may not live in a military community.
Biden recognized two sets of grandparents who "decided to circle the wagons" and together take care of their three grandchildren under the age of 10 when both parents were deployed.
The grandmothers, who attended the event, "aren't wearing uniforms. They don't live on a base," Biden said. "But they are serving. They could be your neighbors. ... Their grandchildren could be in your child's classroom. They could be members of your church or synagogue or customers at the hardware store you manage."
Michelle Obama said one of the campaign's goal is creating awareness of the challenges facing military families. "We need to engage everyone. ... It's going to take a heavy lift to make this part of the public consciousness."
The first lady said it wasn't until she hit the campaign trail that she became aware of the challenges military families face. She said she's typical of many Americans who may not have a personal connection to the military.
"It's not that the country doesn't care," Obama said. "People respond to these stories if they hear them, if they know them. I just didn't know them.
"I got hooked into these women after the first stories. I said, "I'm going to fight for you." These people are real and they're good. They're doing what we've asked them to do. Why are they struggling when there are so few of them and so many of us?"
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