April 12, 2011

National Campaign Seeks To Give Military Families A Hand

The Obama administration on Tuesday launched a national campaign for U.S. military families that calls on companies, individuals, civic and religious groups and schools to find ways help veterans, reservists, spouses and their children when it comes to navigating work, school, psychological stress and day-to-day life.

Think of the new Joining Forces initiative as the military version of first lady Michelle Obama’s campaign against child obesity. It’s a largely non-legislative effort that puts the imprimatur of the White House and Cabinet agencies behind a nonpartisan cause and rewards organizations that step up by publicizing and praising their efforts.

The initiative is meant to outlast the war in Afghanistan and Obama’s presidency, and to create a permanent support network for a volunteer force that these days is only about 1 percent of the U.S. population.

Walmart, Sam’s Club, Sears, Kmart, Siemens, Sears Holding, Best Buy, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other groups announced commitments as part of Tuesday’s launch. These include promises to hire service members and spouses and facilitate job transfers for those who must move as part of their service. They also include initiatives for job training and financial assistance.

The president’s wife and Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden, announced the effort at an event at the White House with their husbands.

Michelle Obama said the initiative is “a challenge to every segment of American society.”

Bill Biden said individual Americans can do their part by arranging carpools, recreational activities, free professional services, compassion and small acts of kindness to the military families in their communities. “Each American has the ability to make a difference in the life of a military family,” she said.

The women are taking the campaign on the road starting Wednesday with events scheduled at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, followed by stops later this week in Texas, Colorado and Ohio.

The initiative is to be coordinated through the Center for a New American Security, a Washington-based think tank. An advisory board will include retired Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who was forced from his post last year as commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan after he and aides mocked administration officials in remarks published by Rolling Stone magazine; and Patty Shinseki, a longtime military spouse and the wife of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki.

Siemens Corp. said it would reserve at least 300 job openings in its clean technology section for veterans and help train them.

The Society for Human Resource Management said it would urge its quarter-million members to create workplace environments supportive of military spouses.

Cisco and Futures Inc. are expanding a pilot project called the U.S. Military Pipeline initiative, to connect veterans and spouses with education, mentoring and job resources. An online service, Indeed Military, also is to serve as a jobs board for military families.

The initiative also is working with PTAs, children’s publishers and schools on a variety of partnerships, including expanding advanced placement and math and science courses to high schools with a large percentage of military families.

WebMD will build online resource centers for military families and their health care providers.

Best Buy’s Geek Squad will host sessions on military bases to teach military families how to use technology to communicate while separated because of deployments. And television and cable networks, AOL, celebrities, NASCAR, Major League Baseball and other organizations will take part in public awareness campaigns related to the initiative.