NATIONAL HARBOR, Md., Oct. 14, 2011 – Two staunch military family
advocates today spoke on behalf of military children, citing the
challenges and stresses they endure to an audience of child support
professionals from across the nation.
Speaking at the Office
of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention's national conference
here, Dr. Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden, and Army
Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond T. Odierno noted the importance of
mentorship and support for military children as they navigate the
frequent moves, deployments and separations brought on by more than
a decade of war.
“As a teacher and a military mom and
grandmother, I have seen firsthand what a big difference a great
mentor can make in the lives of our nation's military children,”
Biden told the audience of juvenile justice and child protection
professionals. Her son, Beau, serves in the Delaware Army National
Biden cited a new program that's already making a
difference in military children's lives. Earlier this week, she
explained, the Justice Department announced a partnership with the
Defense Department to award $20 million to organizations that
provide mentoring programs and services to children with a military
parent. Among the award recipients are the Boys and Girls Clubs of
America, Big Brothers Big Sisters, and the National 4-H Council.
“These mentors and so many other individuals and groups across
this country are showing all Americans that there are countless ways
to help our military families -- some large and many small, but all
important,” Biden noted.
Last year, President Barack Obama
directed federal agencies to work together on a governmentwide
approach to supporting military families, Biden said, and “this
mentoring initiative represents a powerful response to that call to
It's also a fitting example of agencies “Joining
Forces,” she said. First Lady Michelle Obama and Biden launched that
initiative earlier this year to encourage all sectors of society to
honor and support military families.
Military children need
and deserve this support, she said, as they endure unique challenges
and stresses, from multiple moves and schools to deployments and
Biden recalled meeting a teenager whose father
had deployed to Afghanistan with the Illinois National Guard. The
girl gave Biden an essay she had written about that deployment.
In her essay, the teen said a teacher called her to the office
one day. Her first thought was something bad had happened to her
dad. “When I got to the office,” she wrote, “I saw my mom was there,
and she was crying, which made me start crying right away. I asked
what was wrong, and she told me that my dad was okay, but we had
lost four of our soldiers. ... I remember crying for days.”
teen and her brother, Biden noted, were the only military children
in that school.
“Unfortunately, their story is not unique,”
she said. “There are approximately 700,000 children throughout the
country who have parents serving in the National Guard and reserves
-- and so many of them do not live anywhere near a military base.
“As a mom of a National Guardsman,” she added, “I know just how
important it is for a teacher, a counselor or a fellow classmate to
reach out and show support and understanding.”
encouraged the audience to reach out to military families. “Think
about how you can take part in bringing some stability, guidance and
friendship into their lives,” she said.
Biden's call to support military children and their families. The
military has shouldered the burden of multiple deployments and
separations for years now, he said, which affects the family members
just as it affects the service members.
The nation must
maintain its commitment to these families, the general said,
especially the families of the fallen and those who are caring for
service members wounded in combat.
Odierno noted that more
than 4,500 soldiers have died while serving in Iraq and Afghanistan,
and more than 32,000 have been injured, with 9,000 of those
requiring long-term care.
“The one thing I'm always concerned
about with these factors -- repetitive deployments, casualties,
death -- is the impact it has on our children,” he said. “What are
we doing to help them to cope? What are we doing to help them to
Programs such as the Defense and Justice
departments mentorship partnership will help to ensure military
children adapt and excel in the years ahead, Odierno said, but still
more help is needed.
“We need engagement from organizations
not normally involved in military issues,” the general said, “to
help us, to provide us expertise, to fill the gaps between where our
government programs are able to help our families and where they
Community support also is needed, Odierno noted,
particularly for reserve forces that are geographically dispersed
throughout the nation. “We need to be able to reach out to them, to
reach out to their children to help them,” he said.
said he'd also like to forge a relationship with nonprofit
organizations that support military families so there's better
access and coordination, and to other departments and agencies that
provide care for children to ensure they're incorporating military
family members in their programs.
The general noted his
career, which spans 35 years, has spurred 23 moves. His oldest
child, he added, attended four different high schools. “First and
foremost,” he said, “we need continued assistance to school-age
children to support seamless transitions between schools.”
While much work remains to be done, Odierno said he's grateful for
the support Americans have so freely given over this past decade of
war. “I've been so impressed by the generosity of American people,
that [they] want to reach out, they want to help, they want to
assist,” he said. “They want to do whatever they can to help our
Meetings such as this one, he told the audience,
will help to channel this goodwill toward families and “organize
ourselves so we can take that generosity, that commitment, that
willingness to help ... to get it synchronized and integrated so we
can provide best care for all of our children,” he said.
By Elaine Sanchez
American Forces Press Service
Comment on this article