Remarks by the First Lady and Dr. Biden at Mother’s Day Tea for Military Spouses

Washington, D.C.–(ENEWSPF)–May 6, 2011 – 3:15 P.M. EDT

DR. BIDEN:  Thank you, Patty, for that warm introduction and for all you do for military families, and especially the children.  I always love seeing you, and I’m so delighted to see you here today.  Thank you.

Good afternoon.

AUDIENCE:  Good afternoon.

DR. BIDEN:  It’s so nice to see so many friends here.  I’m Jill Biden, and I’m a proud military mom and grandmom.  And it’s a special honor to welcome you all to the White House today.

This has been quite a week, hasn’t it?  (Laughter.)  Yesterday I joined my husband at the Pentagon to commemorate the victims of the attacks on 9/11.  None of us will ever forget that day.  But the heroic actions in Pakistan earlier this week reminded all Americans of the extraordinary courage that our military service members and their families demonstrate on a daily basis.

On Sunday night, as I was — after the President made his announcement, I was — it was late, and I was outside waiting for my husband.  I had on my bathrobe, and I was sitting on the steps of our residence, and I could hear in the distance — because there were so many people that were outside — and I could hear them at the gates that opened to our driveway, and there were people there singing, “God Bless America.”  And it really just renewed what we all know — just really — it just brought this country together.  And I think it was such a great feeling.

We and the entire nation are so proud of all of you.
Michelle and I are thrilled to have you here at the White House today as we express the thanks of our entire nation for those who serve.  You are all heroes — from the moms who keep their families together while your loved ones are serving overseas, to the grandparents who step in with much needed support, to the siblings and children who are strong and brave while mom or dad is away.

Just last month I attended a deployment ceremony where I met some folks I now call, “The Grandparents.”  Both parents of three children under the age of 10 were deploying, and these grandmothers decided to circle the wagons and take care of those children.  What a relief it is for those parents to know that their children are being taken care of by their grandparents, and what a gift to the children to be surrounded by love while both of their parents are deployed.

Last summer, I traveled to Iraq with my husband, Joe, to visit our troops during the Fourth of July.  I had lunch with several female soldiers, many of whom were mothers.  These women were managing all the challenges of parenting  — arranging health care, childcare, and education — thousands and thousands of miles away from their homes and loved ones.

One woman across the table fought back tears as she told me that she was missing out on taking her youngest daughter to college.  I was at a loss for words.  All I could do at that moment was just reach across that table and grab her hand.

Michelle and I have both been struck by these women fiercely proud to serve their country and never complaining, but still struggling with some of the everyday challenges we all face in managing a home and a family.

You here today, and all the women we have met in our travels, are doing your part.  The government is working hard to do its part.  And 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.

And now, it’s my honor and privilege to introduce a woman who is doing her part as a strong leader and a constant advocate for our service members, veterans, and military families.  I have had the privilege of traveling with our First Lady to meet military families across this country, and I’ve seen firsthand how committed she is to doing everything she can to support them.  I feel so fortunate to have her as a partner in this effort and to have her as my dear friend — our First Lady, Michelle Obama.  (Applause.)

MRS. OBAMA:  Thank you, everyone.  Thank you.  (Applause.)  Thank you all so much.  Please rest, enjoy the tea.  Welcome to the White House.  Isn’t this great?  It’s fabulous.  (Applause.)  And everyone looks amazing.  (Laughter.)  It’s like a room full of bursting flowers.  And we have our little ladies — you guys have your pinkies up, everyone’s pinkies up?  (Laughter.)  Or something like that.  (Laughter.)

We’re delighted to have you here.  Let me start by recognizing my partner in so much — and I didn’t know that this woman would be not just a partner but a friend, a Blue Star mom herself who has been sending out the call, educating this country long before she stepped into this role, focusing the nation on the sacrifices of the families — Dr. Jill Biden.  Let’s give her a round of applause.  (Applause.)

And Patty.  Patty has been a tremendous advisor to Jill and I throughout this entire process, and she is amazing and knowledgeable, and she is going to be a critical component of Joining Forces.  And we are so proud of her and her service.  Let’s give Patty a hand.  (Applause.)

And finally, I want to thank all of you.  Thank you.

I know it’s pretty exciting to be having tea at the White House in the East Room.  But believe it or not, we are just as excited, and probably more excited, to have you all here.  I mean, it is really — we love you all.  We really, really do.  And that’s because over the last two years, as Jill said, we have been inspired by all of you in so many ways.  Spending time with our men and women in uniform and their families has been the highlight of our work in these roles.

We’ve been moved by your strength and your spirit, by your courage and, more importantly, by your sacrifice.  And as you have opened your arms and your hearts to me — which you have so fully, and I feel it and I know it.  I’m not a Blue Star mom or a Gold Star mom, but you all have scooped me up in ways that I wouldn’t have imagined.

You’ve also opened my eyes to what being part of a military family is truly all about.  You’ve shown me what it takes for one parent to do the job of two — juggling the carpools and the soccer practices on top of many of you handling the work of a full-time job and all the rest that goes into running a household; caring for a loved one who’s been injured, or mourning a spouse or a child who never made it home.

And I know that there are people in the room today who feel a little sad because this Mother’s Day is a little less than what you’d hope.  And all we can do is hug you and tell you that we are thinking and praying and working for you all, and we are proud of you.  And some of you are, as Jill said, grandparents caring for a grandchild.  And others of you have served in uniform yourselves.

You’ve shown us what it takes to be a military child, many of you — changing and leaving friends behind every few years; trying to keep up with homework and activities; and trying to lead the life of a normal kid while worrying about a parent or a sibling who is in harm’s way.  And as Jill reminded us just this past week, as Americans everywhere stood in awe at the bravery of the soldiers who carried out that daring operating in Pakistan, it was also a moment for all of us to remember that everyone who serves is able to do so because of the love and support of their families.

And what you do is not easy.  I won’t even say it’s not always easy.  I don’t think it’s ever easy.  I know that every day you deal with things that most of us can only imagine.  But I also know that along with incredible challenges come incredible strength.  That’s something else that I know from you all.

Roseanna Yamashita and her daughter Tyler are some of you who know what I’m talking about.  With a father serving in the army, Tyler is only a junior in high school, but she’s already attended 10 schools on three continents.  And next year, the Yamashitas are moving to Germany.  But Tyler and Roseanna never complain — as none of you do.  They know it’s part of serving their country.

And then there’s Helen Norberg and her daughter Julia.  They know a thing or two about what I’m talking about.  When Julia had to deploy to Iraq, Helen was there every day to help take care of their three-year-old grandson Isaiah.  She enrolled him in gymnastics, probably just to settle him down.  (Laughter.)  She took him to his first dentist appointment.  And since the only time Julia and Isaiah could speak was during the day, Helen would often leave work, drive to Isaiah’s school with her cell phone, just so he could hear his mom’s voice.

And then, last year as Julia’s deployment was coming to an end, Helen’s house was destroyed by a tornado.  Helen jumped on top of Isaiah to protect him.  She broke two vertebrae in her back.  When the storm died down, Isaiah had nothing but a small scratch on his arm.  And as Julia said, she has been the best grandmother and mother any soldier could ask for.  (Applause.)

And there are stories like this at every table, in every one of your households, in every one of your lives.  I know that.  These are only examples of what you live every day.  So make no mistake about it, even if you’re not the ones wearing the uniform, every single one of you is serving our country.  And every single one of you deserves our support — not just with words, but with deeds.  Now, words are good.  They help.  Deeds are better.  (Laughter.) Real concrete actions that make a difference for you at your workplaces, in your schools, and in your communities.

And that’s why last month, Jill and I — with Patty’s help and so many others — we started Joining Forces, a nationwide campaign to rally this country to recognize, honor, and support our 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?

We’re joining forces across the federal government, building on over 50 commitments that departments and agencies have made for how they can better serve military families.  We’re going to be joining forces with cities and states, encouraging them to adopt policies that will help you all.

We’re joining forces with organizations like the national PTA and the Military Child Education Coalition, to improve school outreach to military kids.  We’re joining forces with businesses and nonprofits, getting commitments from companies like Walmart and Sears to help military spouses find and keep jobs.

And we’re joining forces with families and communities.  We’re urging people to do whatever they can as neighbors, colleagues, and classmates to lend a hand to military families.

We believe that this is what you deserve from us, because showing our gratitude to those who serve our nation whether it’s on the battlefield or at home, is something that every single American can do.  And it’s something that every single American should do.

So, to everyone here, I just want to say thank you.  This is a very small way to say thank you.  Thank you for your strength, your commitment.  Thank you for setting an example for the rest of us.  It has been such a pleasure getting to meet all of you.

So let’s stop crying — because I’m about to cry again.  (Laughter.)  Let’s just stop now.  (Laughter.)  And remember, it is Mother’s Day.  So today is a non-“Let’s Move!” day.  (Laughter.)  Eat all the cookies you want.  (Applause.)  And enjoy this weekend.  Continue to take care of each other.  We love you.  We are proud of you.  And we will keep working.

So thank you all.  Take care.  (Applause.)

3:30 P.M. EDT