First lady Jill Biden told a group of senior military spouses the first steps in reviving the Joining Forces effort for military families will be to host “listening sessions” with military families, government leaders and experts.
“There’s still so much work to do. The needs of this community are evolving,” she said. With the listening sessions, she said, “We’ll figure out where we need to improve, and create strategies and timelines to get there.” Biden spoke during a meeting that was dubbed a “virtual tea” with spouses of senior DoD and military leaders Wednesday. “We’ll be working with partners like you,” she told the group, which included Charlene Austin, wife of the defense secretary, and Hollyanne Milley, wife of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and a number of others.
Charlene Austin, wife of Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, noted the Bidens are a military family and described the first lady as a highly visible advocate for military families. The original Joining Forces under the Obama administration “enhanced public and private sector awareness of military families nationwide,” she said. That initiative focused on wellness, education and employment in the military community.
The first lady didn’t take questions or comments from the spouses in the event, which was a 15-minute introductory meeting to discuss the administration’s support for military families, and was open to the press.
While Biden didn’t provide information about the schedule of these listening sessions, she’s already held one session with a group of military teens.
She wants to be able to “lift up students like these, and military families like yours, and tackle these challenges together,” she said.
During the Joining Forces effort in the Obama administration, she said, “Mrs. Obama and I made a commitment that we wouldn’t tell military families what they needed. We would ask them and listen to what they said. That will be true for our administration.”
During the Trump administration, second lady Karen Pence also held listening sessions with military families at many bases in the U.S. and around the world. She launched a campaign to highlight issues of military spouses, including employment issues, and to highlight the resources available to help military families.
Biden looks to the senior spouses for a partnership and a dialogue, she said. “I’m excited to get to know you and work with you. There is no one who knows this community better. For so many years, you’ve brought your time and talents to the cause of supporting military families….
“We can’t visit every base and meet every family, but you can tell us what you see on the ground and what your community needs,” Biden said. “I hope you help us make this initiative reflect your lived experiences so we can truly serve the military families who serve us all.”
Karen has covered military families, quality of life and consumer issues for Military Times for more than 30 years, and is co-author of a chapter on media coverage of military families in the book "A Battle Plan for Supporting Military Families." She previously worked for newspapers in Guam, Norfolk, Jacksonville, Fla., and Athens, Ga.