We believe you, Mrs. Obama
Published: May 7, 2012
The Pentagon conference reached a consensus: We believe Michelle Obama and Jill Biden really do care about the needs and issues of military families.
No doubt the first and second ladies would breathe a sigh of relief. But they weren’t there. And we weren’t exactly in the Pentagon. We were in a mall across the street at Starbucks. Oh, and no one around the table was in uniform because each one, like me, was a military spouse.
We met near the Pentagon, not for military or political significance, but because the mall was the nearest thing to a crossroads for our separate paths that day.
Army wives Holly Scherer and Kathie Hightower, authors, speakers and military spouse advocates, were bound for a meeting with a DOD staffer to discuss military family issues. Navy wife Jacey Eckhart was headed to work as editor of Military.com’s SpouseBuzz. Kristin Henderson, journalist and author of “While They’re at War,” was on her way to work at a nonprofit supporting wounded warriors. Kristin’s Navy husband serves with the Marines, so I guess they needed an Air Force wife, and I was glad to fill that seat.
Our conversation that morning ranged over the issues of our community and came to rest on the first lady’s initiative to support military families. We asked each other what we’ve been asking ourselves: Is Joining Forces an example of genuine concern or public relations savvy?
“I have to believe that Michelle Obama and Jill Biden met all these military spouses on the campaign trail and after and were blown away by what they deal with and how amazing they are,” said Kathie, “and they decided that they needed to bring attention and assistance to that group.”
Well, military spouses are pretty spectacular, so why wouldn’t the first and second ladies be impressed? Naturally, these compassionate women would want to channel the power of their positions to engage our nation’s support for those who bear the toll of our wars.
“If I were the first lady,” began Jacey, and then informed and entertained us with her hypothetical meeting with the Joint Chiefs of Staff and their wives. Jacey admits she wants to see some improvements. Now.
She’s not alone. Many military spouses I’ve talked to say, on the record, that they are thankful for Joining Forces’ efforts to bring attention to military spouses. Off the record, they have questions. They want the bottom line on Joining Forces: Is anyone truly listening? What difference is it making?
Kathie pointed out that Joining Forces has brought about some changes that are commendable and should get more publicity than the numbers of call center jobs they've offered.
“Call us, and we will answer,” Mrs. Obama told a military audience, including me, earlier this year.
That’s a good policy. Any effort to help military families should start with good communication. I can’t speak for anyone else in that audience, but my emails and questions regarding Joining Forces have gone unanswered. So I still have questions, but around the table that day we decided we'd rather be believers than doubters.
After all, Mrs. Obama never promised to improve our military lives, nor should she. Joining Forces was established to bring attention to the needs of the military community, to highlight our contributions and to strengthen ties between our world and the civilian population. The rest is up to us.
When we get the civilian world’s attention, what will we do with it? Will we lament the trials of moving and deployment, or will we declare how much we’ve learned and how strong we are because of them? Will we show everyone we can do any job and that we’re proud to serve our nation? Do we want their pitying looks, or do we want them to wish they could be like us? I know what I want.
First, I want the highest priority on returning troops, their health care and their caregivers, not out of pity but out of the respect their country owes them.
And I want to keep meeting brilliant military spouses for coffee and great ideas. The first and second ladies are welcome to join forces with us any time. If I were the first lady, I’d come.