First lady Dr. Jill Biden compared military families to U.S. Olympians during a visit this weekend to Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam in Honolulu, Hawaii, on her way back from attending the Tokyo Olympics.
"Every few years, our athletes have the chance to show the world the heart, determination, and courage of our country," she said at an outdoor barbecue for families from all six military branches. "But every day, you show the world who we are as well."
And it's not easy. The first lady acknowledged that military life has been especially hard during the pandemic.
"Military life is never easy — and that’s especially true with the challenges of a pandemic," she said. "(Military moves) are chaotic, child care is hard to come by, and our military-connected students feel especially isolated."
As the daughter of a Navy signalman and mom to Beau, who served in the Delaware Army National Guard, Biden recognized the sacrifices of not just military members, but their families. Beau Biden was a captain in the National Guard who deployed for a year to Iraq; he died in 2015 at age 46 of a brain tumor.
"Military families may not wear a uniform, but you serve as well. You stand beside your spouse or parent, through every deployment," she said, adding that family sacrifice is often crucial to readiness. "That’s why supporting your physical, social, and emotional health is a national security imperative."
Biden said that "Joining Forces," the White House initiative to support military and veteran families, caregivers, and survivors, is one of her top priorities.
"Our troops can’t focus on their missions if their families are struggling," Biden said. "We simply cannot expect to retain even our most dedicated service members if they are forced to choose between their love of country and their love of family."
The Department of Defense surveyed active duty spouses in 2019 and found 22% were unemployed, a number that has likely increased during the pandemic and recent recession.
"We’re working to increase military spouse employment and entrepreneurship, ensure you can get quality child care when you need it, and provide the education your children deserve," Biden said.
Joining Forces was launched in 2011 with former First Lady Michelle Obama.
This is the second trip to Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam for Jill Biden, who visited in July 2013 and attended a USO-affiliated event for approximately 500 service members and their families.
"It means the world to me; wherever I travel, I try to visit military and their families, because the Bidens are a military family," Biden told TODAY Parents. "It means a lot to me."