Michelle Obama helping military families: launches “Joining Forces”

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WASHINGTON–First Lady Michelle Obama, in launching “Joining Forces” on Tuesday, is using her considerable bully pulpit to do for the cause of helping military families what she has done with her “Let’s Move” anti-childhood obesity drive: shine a light on a national problem and seek public-private partner ships to find solutions.

“I want every military family to know, Michelle hears you,” President Obama said in introducing his wife at the White House kick-off.

Mrs. Obama said companies are making “major, new committments” to help military families while urging individuals to “do something as simple as mowing the lawn, shoveling the snow” to assist.

“Joining Forces was created to recognize and serve our nation’s extraordinary military families who, like their loved ones in uniform, serve and sacrifice so much so that we can live in freedom and security,” said Mrs. Obama in her prepared text. “This is a challenge to every segment of American society not to simply say thank you but to mobilize, take action and make a real commitment to supporting our military families.”

The White House kick-off, with Mrs. Obama, President Obama, Vice President Biden and his wife, Jill–plus a number of military officers, cabinet members, members of Congress, military families and executives of corporations and non-profits in partner programs– comes after months of planning.

The effort involved a “huge staff” of aides drafted from the East and West Wings and various federal agencies, an administration official said on background during a briefing call Tuesday morning; the cost to run the program, the official said, is “minimal,” but did not provide a figure.

Retired Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the Afghanistan commander who was fired by President Obama last year after his aides bad mouthed civilian leaders in a Rolling Stones interview, is an unpaid advisor to the “Joining Forces” initiative,along with Patty Shinseki, wife of Eric K. Shinseki, the Veterans Affairs Department Secretary.

They were selected jointly by Mrs. Obama’s team and the nonpartisan Center for a New American Security, a Washington national security think tank, the official said Tuesday. The Center will be in charge of “mobilizing ongoing” support for the initiative.

Mrs. Obama took on military family assistance as a signature issue during the 2008 presidential campaign, and, with Dr. Biden, have visited a number of military installations in the past two years and have spoken out on the stresses facing families with the U.S. engaged in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan–not to mention new fighting in Libya. The nation has been at war for years, yet the impact is mostly on the lives of people on active duty or in the reserves and their families.

Her “Let’s Move” initiative–an outgrowth of the WhIte House garden–was started in February, 2010, also with much fanfare and support from the White House. While the goal of “Let’s Move” is long term–to end childhood obesity in a generation–the military families Mrs. Obama wants to help need assistance now.

Many of the “Joining Forces” programs to help soldiers and their families–jobs are a major issue–are already ongoing; the point is to “pivot” forward,” the official said in the briefing, who called “Joining Forces”–in one sense a clearinghouse of many ongoing and potentially new programs “unprecedented.”

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Check out the Joining Forces website: www.joiningforces.gov

The kick-off comes as Obama has put potentially more strains on military families, committing U.S. military resources to Libya in addition to carrying out wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Mrs. Obama and Dr. Biden have already done a number of interviews with high-profile outlets, who featured the two women in exchange for devoting editorial resources to supporting the “Joining Forces” drive.

Some of the specific programs:

*Sears, Walmart, Sam’s Club have been and will help spouses employed by them married to active duty soldiers get job transfers to other stores when duty stations change.

*Siemens Corp. Goodwill, will reserve 10 percent of open clean tech industries jobs for veterans.

*Microsoft and HP will offer training in new technologies.

*Best Buy’s Geek Squad will host seminars at 17 military base “cutting edge” technology.

*Intel will provide access to protected sites where military personnel and spouses can get job training skills.

*Oprah Winfrey, Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg will star in Joining Forces commercials.

*Other free media deals were made with Nickelodeon, County Music Television, Disney, ABC, Walt Disney Studios, Major League Baseball, Sesame Street and AOL Huffington Post Media Group.

After the launch, Mrs. Obama and Mrs. Biden head off to Colorado, North Carolina, Ohio and Texas–the first three swing states critical to the Obama 2012 re-election bid–for a media blitz on Wednesday and Thursday bolstered by celebrities: Jessica Simpson, Nick Jonas of the Jonas Brothers; home arts guru Martha Stewart and Sesame Street’s Elmo.

Get all the details on corporate partnerships here:

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