How exciting to be invited to the White House to meet with the First Lady about military family issues! The First Lady’s office, specifically Trooper Sanders, had put a great deal of thought and consideration into the meeting, and dedicated an almost unbelievably impressive amount of talent to the afternoon. This is already the White House the first identified military families even as an issue – but they really went above and beyond with this day.
We had three and a half hours of peoples time at this gathering. Extremely busy and consequential people – of course the First Lady, but also Dr. Biden. It reminds me of the song we sing on Passover – Diyanu (die-yai-new), which means ‘enough’. We say, if you had freed us from Egypt and not parted the Red Sea, it would have been enough. If you had parted the Red Sea but not sustained us in the desert, Diyanu. If you had sustained us in the desert but not given the Ten Commandments, Diyanu. You get the idea. Well – if they had invited us to the White House, Diyanu! Brought the First Lady but not the National Security Advisor, Diyanu! Brought General Jones but not the Vice Chariman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, or the Director of OMB (the adorable Peter Orzag), or the Assistant Secretary of the Treasury, or the Deputy Chief of Staff to President Obama, and on, and on, and on – Diyanu!
The ambitious program included about thirty of us representing or serving military families. The connections began even before we walked in the door. Kristy Kaufman Turner, who wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post about the struggles so many Army families have with underfunded FRGs during deployment, and I met before-hand at Teaism, just around the corner from the Old Executive Office Building, and had a lovely, very non-Beaufort-SC lunch of vegetarian bento box and iced green tea (no one asked ‘sweet or unsweet’!). Then in the first security screening post before we entered, I met the director of the Purdue Military Family Research Institute, which I’d heard so much about. I’m going to try to visit them this summer when I drive my children cross country to see their cousins in Indiana.
Sherri Brown from the Red Cross was there – we are great fans of hers, and her interest and help with our survey. We certainly hope to do more projects with them. Frank Gallo, another of our partners from our survey, the director of the Armed Services YMCA. I had been lucky enough to see him a couple weeks prior when my daughter won an award from them for a poster she drew (look for it in November – month of the military family!) Ross Cohen, who we are partnering with was there, he runs a service program called Be The Change you will be hearing more about soon. Holly Petraes, the general’s wife, was there, she is a director for the Better Business Bureau – shows the range of things we military wives may do. The passionate Ken Fisher of Fisher House was a great addition. Barbara van Dahlen Romberg, a psychologist who founded Give an Hour, who Laura Dempsey has been in touch with was there, also very articulate and focused on her issue of mental health. I met the outgoing national president of Gold Star Mothers – her son was a Medal of Honor winner in Vietnam – its impossible not to be moved by a story like that. She sat next to me. On the other side was Phil Riley of the American Legion, a real gentleman, who asked to see more about our survey, so I will send that to him. Claire and I had just met the elegant and gracious Patty Shinseki the day prior, along with the president of Military Child Education Coalition Mary Keller, who is so smart and focused. I have admired them from afar for awhile, and am very excited at the prospect of partnering with them for some projects – particularly for ways that we may be able to take advantage of the incredible work they’ve done, and work on getting it out to the bases. Joyce Raezer was there of course, with NMFA, our unofficial godmother we think of her. It was particularly terrific to meet Brittany McKee, the military representative from Sierra Club who wants to get more involved with us, and the Operation Homefront Rep, Nancy Tarr, who we expect to enjoy good partnerships from as well. Finally, I spoke briefly with Sloan Gibson of the USO, another of our survey partners, and a very charismatic guy.
The afternoon was set up as a series of briefings, with opportunities for questions. We were welcomed, got an overview of the stimulus package, the President’s budget, how the White House works. We heard specifically about education, youth, and communities in one session, about veterans, wounded warriors and disability policy in another, about economic affairs in a third, and about White House engagement and public service in the last session.
The highlight of course was the First Lady. In a letter included in our packet she said, “…this Administration is committed to reducing the stress on servicemembers and their families. I truly believe that this is a cause that calls each of us to serve… It is my great hope that all Americans will honor our men and women in uniform by never taking the blessings of freedom for granted and by doing our part to support the families of our military.”
When she spoke, she said she was committed to making sure that military families have a home in the White House no matter who is president. She quoted the ‘survey by Blue Star Families’ saying that 94% of military families feel disconnected from the larger society. She said that figure shocked her, and she says, if we do nothing else, she wants to lower that percentage. How amazing and gratifying it was to hear that our voices reached her, and made a difference. In fact Patty Shinseki and others have told us they have heard her say this all over town. So for all of you who participated in the survey, please feel that you have made a difference, and thank you.
There is certainly opportunity for follow up, and more work with them. This meeting was a great start, and Trooper and the others who worked on it deserve a lot of credit. We will continue to ask for input from Blue Star Families folks around the country for what we can do to help keep them up to date about our issues, challenges, and great ideas.
Founder and President
Blue Star Families
Filed under: BSF, Heidi D, Kathy R-D, Military Families | Tagged: Armed Services YMCA, Be The Change, Blue Star Families, First Lady, Fisher House, Give an Hour, Jill Biden, Jim Jones, Kathy Roth-Douquet, Kristy Kaufman Turner, Michelle Obama, Military Child Education Coalition, NMFA, Peter Orzag, Petraes, Red Cross, Shinseki, Sierra Club, USO |