photo of Karen Pence

Remarks by Second Lady Karen Pence to Military Spouses at Fort Carson in Colorado Springs, Colorado

September 13, 2018

MRS. PENCE: Thank you so much. What a great welcome here. Good afternoon. Thank you, Brigadier General Thigpen and Mrs. Patty George, for that kind introduction. I applaud you both for your service and your leadership.

Hello, Colorado! (Applause.) As you heard, we traveled from Washington, D.C. with some very, very special guests today. And as I call their name I want them to stand.

Join me in thanking Mrs. Leah Esper, wife of Secretary of the Army. (Applause.) Hollyanne Milley, wife of the Army's Chief of Staff. (Applause.) Mrs. Dawn Goldfein, wife of the Chief of Staff of the U.S. Air Force General. (Applause.) Mrs. Sally Lengyel, wife of the Chief of the National Guard Bureau General. (Applause.) Mrs. Dawn Schultz, wife of the Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard. (Applause.) Mrs. Karen Kelly, wife of the Chief of Staff at the White House, John Kelly -- (applause) -- a Marine mom. So there's more than just one of us here today. (Laughter.)

So thank you for all that you spouses do for our country. But I think it says so much that these military spouses wanted to come today and give their day to come and support you.

I also want to thank Mrs. Jeanie Lamborn, wife of Congressman Doug Lamborn, for joining us today. (Applause.)

Before I begin, I just want to say a few words about a matter that we are all watching very closely today and I know that it's on the hearts of many Americans, and that is Hurricane Florence. So our thoughts and prayers are with all of those in the path of the storm.

And we've been encouraging people to leave their homes and listen to their local authorities. So I know all you have that on your hearts today as well. And I know thousands of National Guard soldiers and airmen are gearing up to provide that support.

The men and women who wear the uniform and bravely serve and protect our country cannot be thanked enough.

But today, I come to Fort Carson to pay a debt of honor and gratitude to a very special group of people. It is an honor and privilege to be here at Fort Carson, also known as the "Mountain Post" and the "Best Hometown in the Army -- Home of America's Best." (Applause.)

And the men and women here are certainly making our country proud. So thank you for your countless sacrifices and tireless devotion to our great nation.

You know, military families hold a special place in my heart. As you heard, I'm a proud mom of a Marine. And I'm just going to clue you in on something, because I think normally you would think this is very rude and I would never do this, except right now -- right this very minute -- my son is flying his very last flight of flight school. (Applause.) Right now.

And he and I share the pilot thing; I'm a pilot as well. And so every time he finishes a solo flight, for the last two years of flight school, he lets his wife know he's safe but he calls me first. (Laughter.) And so, if he finishes while I'm speaking, I'm taking the call. (Laughter.) I thought you guys would appreciate that.

But anyway, he and his wife are stationed at their Naval Air Station in Meridian, Mississippi. In a couple of weeks, we'll get to go and see him get those wings of gold. So we're very proud.

But I'm also the daughter of an Air Force airman. I was born on McConnell Air Force Base in Kansas. I didn't live there long because my dad ended up retiring from the military and we moved back to Indiana. And my father-in-law, Ed Pence -- you'll be happy to know -- served in the U.S. Army in the Korean War. (Applause.) I thought you might like that.

But I can say without a doubt that the strength of our nation does not just come from the people in uniform who fight to protect our freedoms. The spouses and the families, who serve alongside them, also make tremendous sacrifices to the greater benefit of our country. Most military spouses do not wear the uniform, but they honorably serve our nation, frequently without their loved ones standing beside them.

I understand that, here at Fort Carson, three 4th Infantry Division brigades, the 10th Field Hospital, and members of the special operations community are currently deployed, and a fourth brigade is getting ready to deploy later this year.

Fort Carson, as you well know better than I do, has a distinguished history and serves as one of the busiest divisions in the Army with a high operational tempo.

To honor those families, today we're giving out kits called "With You All the Way! Dealing with Deployment" Comfort Kits to children who have a parent deployed from Fort Carson.

Let me show you what they look like. They look like this. These are the kits. But inside we have a teddy bear.


MRS. PENCE: Isn't he cute? His name is Cuzzie. But we also have, inside the box, a journal, a guide for families, postcards, suggestions for ways to stay connected while that family member is deployed. And it's just a little something that we can do.

Last week we had about 30 spouses of congressmen come to the Vice President's Residence -- bipartisan -- and we assembled 500 of these boxes, and we brought them all with us here to Fort Carson. (Applause.)

Those spouses packed each kit with care and respect for the sacrifices that military families make. And later today, it will be my honor to give these out to those children.

I want to thank Comfort Crew for Military Kids for collaborating with us and helping us to make this happen. Ronda and Woody Englander, please stand so that we can recognize you. (Applause.) Ronda lost her dad in the Vietnam War, and she and Woody started this organization. And she told a great story to the congressional spouses that I'm going to share with you.

She said -- and this was a little girl who emailed her, and said, "You know, I wrote in my journal while my dad was gone. And when he came home, he wasn't the same and I didn't know where my dad was." And she said, "I gave him my journal to read, and he started reading my journal and he started to cry." And she said, "I knew then that I had my dad back, because he was starting to show his feelings again." So these are powerful kits that we're handing out today.

But I also applaud Fort Carson for the support that you provide to spouses and their families during what can be a very, very stressful time. For example, the pre-deployment fair that you hold here helps prepare soldiers and their families by offering a multitude of resources to help mitigate stress.

And I know during deployment, the family readiness groups and the family readiness liaisons frequently set up trainings for specific issues that arise and work to hold special events and share information, like Ivy Update.

After deployment, the Army Community Services provides relationship enhancement classes, financial readiness classes, and employment opportunities. You have a strong reputation here for supporting spouses and families during all seasons.

In the Trump administration, we feel it is imperative that we support our military spouses and their children, because you play a significant role in the defense of our country. Spouses do so much and ask for so little. And I admire your selfless support, your volunteer spirit, and the great contributions to our armed forces and the communities.

You experience frequent moves -- that's nothing new for me, I can tell you -- job changes, periods of being a single parent while your loved one is deployed, all while exhibiting pride, and strength, and determination. You are the home front heroes.

And that's why -- I get emotional looking at all you guys; you're so great. I really do. But as your Second Lady, I love to elevate and encourage you, and thank our military spouses wherever we go. And I couldn't think of a better place to start off than Fort Carson.

So, since starting my role as the Second Lady, I've participated in roundtable discussions with military spouses all over the country. You heard that we did a lot with art therapy in the beginning, and a lot of groups would come to me and say, "Will you champion our cause? Will you champion this? Will you champion that?" And I didn't see anyone who really was championing the military spouse. And I just thought, "You know, I'm a spouse who had to move because of her husband's job." So I kind of get it. I'm a volunteer now because of my husband's job. So I understand a little bit of what you go through.

But we decided, "You know what? We really don't know what it's all about. It's important for us to go -- (inaudible) -- have an adventure of a lifetime. You form lifelong friendships. You have unique experiences that only those in the military community can understand. And you take great pride in contributing to something greater than yourselves.

Military spouses are incredible. And I just want to stop right here -- and if you are now, or ever have been a military spouse, please stand. (Applause.) Thank you so much.

You are competent, smart, well-educated, flexible, hardworking, and tremendous assets to our country and your communities.

You know, I've heard it said, "Anyone can give up; it's the easiest thing in the world to do. But to hold it together when everyone else would understand if you fell apart, that's true strength."

Your stories of strength and tenacity, courage and generosity, inspire me and so many other Americans.

Like the story of Donna Handoe. Is Donna here? Stand up, Donna. (Applause.) Donna was recognized as one of the 2018 Volunteers of the Year. And her son, Ryan, was also recognized as a Youth Volunteer of the Year. She's very involved in the community here, and she serves as the president of the Mountain Post Santa's Workshop. And each year, they give toys and books and games to more than 1,200 children here at Fort Carson.

I know that Donna is not the only spouse in this hangar with a heart of gold. Have you heard of MILLIE? Well, it's a web-based, startup business focused on easing the stress that frequent moves can have on military families.

Kelli is an Army spouse at Fort Bragg, and she is the COO for MILLIE. The business offers valuable resources, and many military spouses work for MILLIE. There is also the MILLIE Journal with stories from military spouses about how they have overcome the challenges of military life.

We know that military life is not easy. Spouses have shared their stories with me about the difficulties of being hired, the inconsistent professional licensing requirements in each state, and childcare. We are listening, and the Trump administration is addressing your challenges.

I am excited to tell you that the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act requires the Department of Defense to implement a new policy to reimburse service members for relicensing and recertification costs up to $500 incurred by their spouses when they have a permanent change of station. (Applause.) I know. I know. You're sitting there saying, "Put your money where your mouth is." And I get. Because those -- licensing is expensive every time you move.

And LinkedIn has teamed up with the Department of Defense to help with employment opportunities. Military spouses can now access a free, one-year upgrade to LinkedIn Premium with each permanent change of station.

Military spouse employment is a very important aspect of a strong and resilient military family. Our service members are fulfilling their jobs, but we want our military spouses to experience fulfillment as well. Whether you decide to be a stay-at-home mom, volunteer, work in your career field, we are working hard to improve employment opportunities for you.

In May, President Trump signed an executive order to enhance opportunities for military spouses who are looking for employment in the federal government. And it directs agencies to recommend ways to improve license portability and remove barriers to the employment of military spouses.

So the federal government will do its part. They're requiring agencies to hire a certain number of military spouses, and that can be sometimes a portable job that goes with you.

We're trying to work now with more American businesses to find ways to hire and keep military spouses employed as they relocate.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation's Hiring Our Heroes just recently launched Hiring 100,000 Military Spouses. It's a three-year national call-to-action campaign for companies and businesses of all sizes across America to make a collective commitment to hire, over the next three years, 100,000 military spouses.

This initiative already has the support of some of the country's top employers, including Microsoft. Other businesses, such as Comcast, La Quinta, Deloitte, and Booz Allen Hamilton are also making it an important priority to employ military spouses through programs that they have developed.

And have you heard of R. Riveter? Yes. (Laughs.) I love this company. The other day, I was just flipping through the TV and Shark Tank came on, and it was the episode -- that was just starting -- with R. Riveter. It was so great to watch that. They sell lovely canvas bags and leather handbags made by military spouses. And it was started by military spouses to employ military spouses.

And what makes this company even more special is that you can work for them from anywhere. I happen to know, and just met one spouse here at Fort Carson who does this -- Jocelyn Velazquez. She's worked with R. Riveter as a Remote Riveter since 2014. Jocelyn? Where did -- can you stand? Where are you, Jocelyn? She's over here. (Applause.) And did you see her lovely bag? (Laughter.) There it is.

We're excited because we're actually going to visit Fort Bragg next week, and we're going to see the warehouse where they make these. The great thing about R. Riveter is that you can make whatever part of the bag from wherever you live. And you just ship it to them, and they put the bag together. So when you move, you keep that same job.

And I'm grateful for these employment opportunities, but I hope to see many more businesses participate in this important initiative to employ military spouses. It's the right thing to do.

The Department of Defense, through the Defense State Liaison Office, is working with states and occupations to develop a way to expedite licensure requirements. They contracted with the University of Minnesota to evaluate licensure -- a three-year study -- in each of the 50 states. And just two weeks ago, I had the opportunity to go to Minnesota and meet with that research team. And they identified specific ways to improve licensure for military spouses.

Great news for Colorado: The Department of Defense considers this state one of the leaders on the issue of occupational licensing.

But compacts have been approved for physical therapy, emergency medical services, nursing, and psychology. Also, Colorado has acted to extend temporary one-year certificates for military spouses who are teachers. That touches my heart.

And a DoD State Liaison Office is now asking states to hold their boards accountable for revising websites, training their staff, and modifying license applications. The thing that was troubling to me when I visited with them is that they said lots of work is being done with the legislatures all around the country, but the person who answers the phone doesn't know. The person who answers the phone says, "No, we don't have anything special for military spouses." And it's very, very frustrating.

So we're not only wanting to keep working with our legislatures -- because every state does not have this -- but we also want to work with those particular occupations so that the people answering the phone give the right information.

We're also working with the National Governors Association. The Department of Labor has also created an interactive U.S. map, and you can look at that and identify what the licensing laws are in each state.

Within the Office of Military Community and Family Policy, the Department of Defense is also funding the Spouse Education and Career Opportunities -- often called SECO -- a program which supports military spouses with information, r?sum? assistance and employment opportunities, and associate degree scholarships up to $4,000. You can learn more about the spouse scholarship program through the Military OneSource Program.

OneSource is -- I know some of you saw today -- is a one-stop shop to support military families with just about any problem or issue that you may have. It might be non-medical counseling, information for a new duty station, help for special needs children, elder care, tax help, financial counseling, adoption consultations, and much, much more.

The great thing about OneSource is that their call center and their website, and their chat line are available 24/7, 365 days a year. So if you have trouble going through their website, call them. Call them to get help from them.

And I'm grateful to Military OneSource for joining us today. They're here to answer your questions. They brought tote bags, which each of you should have. And there's great information in the bag.

These are just a few things that we've been made aware of as we start this campaign to help military spouses. It is by no means an end-all. We haven't answered all of the questions that are out there.

But I feel like it's such a privilege for me to travel the nation and to meet with military spouses. Spouses have shared with me the challenges that you face, and we know they are many. And we're focusing on one or two or three that maybe we can do something about in our short term. But there are a lot of other wonderful experiences to celebrate, and we've had the privilege of sitting with spouses all over the world who have shared some of their stories.

A spouse at Fort Detrick told me last week: "Deployments are hard, but homecomings are great." She said when her husband comes back home, she gets butterflies all over again, and she said, "You know what, how many spouses get a chance again for that first kiss?"

I asked one specific spouse to tell me something positive about being a spouse of a soldier. She got very emotional, and she just said, "I have never been more proud of any person than I am of my husband." A spouse on the military wife and mom blog said, "Every minute feels like an hour, every hour feels like forever. But I will wait forever and a day for you."

About a month ago, I hosted the Military Family Advisory Network at the Vice President's Residence. Chris, who's an Advisory Board Member, is an Army spouse and he is a stay-at-home dad. He says his greatest contribution to the military community is caring for his four children. And you can tell that he takes great pride in that, and that gives his spouse great comfort knowing that that's taken care of.

A spouse at Luke Air Force Base shared with me, "We've been serving in the Air Force for almost three years now, and the pay and benefits for us have been a game changer. My husband's mentor always told him that you can serve God first by taking care of your family. And it's true. We are proud to be a military family, and my husband is in his element serving the airmen as a chaplain."

She also shared that they applied for and were awarded a scholarship that is open to active-duty military families. This scholarship has allowed their daughter to attend a Christian school near the base. The important thing is it was the other spouses that told her about that scholarship. Where there's a will, there's a way. And who knows that better than military spouses?

Your network is immense, and your networking skills are to be admired. We are so proud of each and every one of you.

You are the backbone of military families. You contribute directly to the strength and readiness of our armed forces.

It's important to us that we take care of you and your children so that service members can stay focused on their missions and remain ready to fight and protect our freedoms.

From the bottom of my heart, thank you for everything that you do. We can never thank you enough for the sacrifices that you make. Your service to our nation cannot be overstated.

May God bless you. May God bless Fort Carson, the Mountain Post, home of the Ivy Division. And may God bless the United States of America. Thank you. (Applause.)

Karen Pence, Remarks by Second Lady Karen Pence to Military Spouses at Fort Carson in Colorado Springs, Colorado Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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