Michelle Obama photo

Remarks by the First Lady, Dr. Jill Biden, and Captain Rolona Brown at the Joining Forces Veterans Day Luncheon

November 11, 2015

DR. BIDEN: Happy Veterans Day! And we're honored to welcome so many amazing women to the Vice President's Residence.

I'd like to start by thanking A&E for everything that they have done to highlight women in the military community. Some of you may have seen the documentary on Lifetime that premiered on Monday night. Did you see it? (Applause.) Joe and I watched it; it was really amazing. And I can't think of a better way to start off Veterans Day than to shine a spotlight on all the different ways that women are connected to the military community —- whether they're active duty or veterans, spouses, caregivers, mothers or wives.

Their stories, like the stories of so many of you here today, show us how bravely you've met challenges that most Americans never have to face, or even imagine. All of you are resourceful. You can handle any situation. You are some of the most dynamic women that our country has to offer. (Applause.) And your resilience and your grit should be celebrated.

It's because of women like you and military families like yours that Michelle and I started Joining Forces in the first place. And today, we want to thank all of you for your service. We are honored to celebrate you, the incredible women we've had the opportunity to get to know and to see in action -- like Major Angela Nelson. Where's Angela? Oh, Angela, hello! (Applause.) I met Angela in 2012 at a women's history day reception here at the Naval Observatory. And Angela is with us here today.

And during a deployment to Iraq in 2007 and 2008, Angela served as one of the Marine Corps' first Lionesses, a female servicemember specially trained to interact with Iraqi women. The Lioness program was incredibly successful, and led to a broader effort to mobilize our female servicemembers called Female Engagement Teams, also known as FETS. And I had the opportunity to see FETs train at Camp Pendleton.

Due to cultural restrictions -- and many of you may know this -- interacting with Afghan women is off limits to our male soldiers. So when the FETs were deployed, they worked to build relationships with Afghan women, to gain their trust and better understand their needs, and to help bring them access to education and health care.

Most of the FETs I met were young women just like Angela, starting out on their lives. But they were doing something that none of their male counterparts could do: they were sharing their knowledge and education with women halfway around the world, in a country that -- where engagement was desperately needed.

Today, we're also joined by the first two female soldiers to graduate from the Army Ranger School. (Applause.) So this is Captain Kristen Griest at my table, and Captain Shaye Haver. So you women should stand up and be recognized. (Applause.) That gave me chills, so I know you have chills. (Laughter.)

MRS. OBAMA: I know, I know! (Laughter.)

DR. BIDEN: What an incredible accomplishment for anyone, man or woman. Of the 400 soldiers who entered their class at Ranger School, only 96 completed one of the most challenging military training programs in the world. Through it all —- every obstacle, every parachute jump, every sleepless night and exhausting trek through mountainous terrain —- Kristen and Shaye never quit. They were determined to ensure future generations of women would have the same opportunity.

Another trailblazer with us today is Ricki Selva. Ricki? (Applause.) She was in the first class of women at the United States Air Force Academy. Like Kristen and Shaye, Ricki's success paved the way for so many generations of women who wanted to attend a military academy. Now, as a veteran and the spouse of the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Ricki has continued to serve our country through volunteer work and mentorship of military spouses. Thank you, Ricki. (Applause.)

And finally, I would like to introduce a woman that you may have seen in the Lifetime documentary. Rolona Brown enlisted in the Army when she was only 18 years old. She served multiple deployments, the most difficult being her tour in Iraq. She worried about her son and missing important events and milestones in his life.

But like many of you, Rolana persevered and prevailed as both a mother and a soldier. Today she is a proud company commander of Echo Company, 266 Quartermaster Battalion at Fort Eustice -- (applause) -- and she is the beaming mother of a 19 year old who enrolled at Thomas Nelson Community College this fall. Go, community colleges! (Laughter and applause.)

Please join me in welcoming to the stage Rolona Brown. Thank you, and God Bless our troops.

CAPTAIN BROWN: Good afternoon. My name is Captain Rolona Brown, and I'm honored to be a part of a program that recognizes veterans, women and families. When Mary Robertson approached me about the Lifetime "Women of Honor" program, I had no idea how it would shape up. I decided simply to tell my story. Mary and her team did an amazing job, and I'm proud of the documentary. (Applause.)

My walk through military life has allowed me to wear many hats. I've been a single soldier living in the barracks. I've been an enlisted soldier. I've been a spouse of a servicemember -- military, and a single mother. It has allowed me amazing perspective on military life. Each role gave me an opportunity to seek resources. And in seeking those resources, I was able to stay resilient. And resiliency is important.

That is why it brings me great joy to know that Mrs. Obama and Dr. Biden and Joining Forces initiative will provide families and veterans with wellness, education and employment resources. Military families need opportunities to remain resilient after relocation, a deployment or a life-changing injury. And I'm so thankful for the initiative.

The First Lady is truly an inspiration. Her passion for community and families is evident in everything she's done. Mrs. Obama's Let's Move! campaign took on the challenge of childhood obesity, the public school lunch nutrition program, and the physical fitness of our youth. She launched Reach Higher to inspire the youth to take charge of their future.

She is an inspiration to me. Joining forces with Dr. Jill Biden, she's an advocate for veterans and their families. It is an honor and a privilege to introduce someone I admire and aspire to emulate -- the First Lady, Michelle Obama. (Applause.)

MRS. OBAMA: Thank you. (Applause.) Thank you so much. Thank you all. Rest yourselves, rest yourselves. Thank you, Rolona, for that amazing introduction. I just keep saying that about you and Jenn and Kat -- you guys are amazing. You all want to take that in? It's hard -- and it was interesting, as Jill introduced all of the servicemembers, the veterans, all of you responded the same way. It's like, oh, no, I don't want to. (Laughter.) But you all are awesome. And it is just an honor to be able to lift you up, and to shine a light on the great work you all are doing for this country. So try not to be too bashful. You've earned every accolade and more, so thank you. (Applause.)

It is a pleasure and an honor to be here this afternoon to celebrate Veterans Day. I want to thank our hosts, the Vice President, that guy Joe over there -- (applause) -- as well as my dear friend Jill Biden, who let Joe come. (Laughter and applause.) It's so funny to be behind the scenes with these great men who just sort of tiptoe around their wives. (Laughter.) It's like, Joe, you coming to lunch? He's like, if Jill says I can. (Laughter.) He's all walking around -- we're like -- don't touch anything! It's really wonderful. (Laughter.) I know, I know, that's why you're a great man. (Laughter.)

But you all are not just tireless advocates for veterans and military families, but you all, as the world knows, are dear friends of ours. And this partnership, the partnership that we've built between our families is amazing. And it wouldn't happen without these two extraordinary people. So I am thrilled to be here with them today. I love you both.

I also want to recognize our many distinguished guests, including Secretary McDonald, who is here. There you are. (Applause.) And as Jill mentioned, we want to thank A&E for honoring women who serve. Thank you to the entire crew for A&E. Thank you. (Applause.)

But most of all, we're here for you all -- you all. That's why we do this stuff, because of you. And I hope you feel special. I hope every time we pull one of these luncheons together -- you come to the VP's residence or the White House -- that you feel it. We have so many incredible women with us today. As Jill mentioned, we have servicemembers who are here. We have military family members who are here. We have caregivers who are here. And we're missing Kat, who is the third part of the trio. She couldn't be with us today, but we send our love to her.

And of course, we have two of -- as I said, of the stars, Rolona and Jenn -- and hey to Kat. You guys have -- you guys were incredible. That piece -- that Lifetime piece was -- I was crying through the whole thing, and I knew what was going on. (Laughter.) And it was because of your stories, and the way that you just shared every last bit of your lives. I mean, it's truly going to change the way this country sees our military, our families, our veterans. So thank you. Thank you for being so brave and so open. We are truly grateful. (Applause.)

But that thank you goes to all of you. That's why we're here today -- to keep saying it. Can't say it enough: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you for your service. Thank you for your sacrifice. And thank you for helping to break down barriers and raise the bar for our military across this country and, quite frankly, around the world. Because the stuff that we're doing is resonating around the world with leaders all across -- everyone is asking the question, how are we dealing with our military family members? How are we dealing with our caregivers? How are we dealing with our veterans?

But we also know that expressing our gratitude simply isn't enough. Words are never enough. And that's why Joining Forces is about action. It's about making real, concrete changes that you and your families can feel every day in your lives. That what Jill and I have said.

When we first met to talk about Joining Forces, we said, we don't just want show, we want something that's going to move the needle. And that starts by ensuring that every single American understands what it means to be a woman in uniform or a member of a military family. That's why we're so thrilled with the Lifetime piece -- because it shines a bright light on some of our women and what they do. And we're so grateful to these women for their courage, their willingness to tell their stories -- because their stories represent the stories of countless women all across this country.

They represent the stories of women who wear the uniform during the day, and then still find time to run the PTA meeting at night, to sew that Halloween costume, to go over homework -- everybody's "amen." We can say it. (Laughter.) They represent the stories of women who care for our wounded warriors, and for their kids, and for their aging parents –- and they do it all at the same time. And they're the stories of women who endure those constant moves from base to base, those constant deployments, all while somehow managing to continue their careers and to keep their education first and foremost on their priority list.

But the truth is that so many folks in this country still don't know these stories. They still don't know that we have over 2 million female veterans in our country, or that women are serving at some of the highest levels of our military as four-star generals and so many other leadership positions. They don't know. And many folks still don't know that countless military spouses and caregivers are serving and sacrificing without putting on a uniform. We can't identify you, but you're out there getting it done.

That's part of the reason why we started Joining Forces. And over the past four years, Jill and I have seen that once we tell your stories; once we shine that light; once we say to people, look at this wonderful program, the "Women of Honor" -- once they see it and they learn about what you're going through, they're eager to honor and support all of you. That's the good news. Once people know, they step up.

And since we launched Joining Forces, we've seen folks step up in so many very important ways. Governors and state legislatures across this country have stepped up and they've changed laws to make it easier for military spouses to get jobs when your families move from state to state. Doctors and nurses, hospitals and medical organizations have stepped up to improve health care for you and your families. Mayors have stepped up to work to end veterans' homelessness in our cities -– and many of them -- some of them -- more to come -- they've already done it, and many are working on getting it done. And since 2011, companies across America have stepped up by hiring or training more than 850,000 veterans and military spouses. (Applause.)

So we are making progress, and we're proud of what we've achieved through Joining Forces. But I want to be very clear that we are nowhere near satisfied, and we are nowhere near finished. Because as long as a single veteran in this country has no place to call home, or a single military spouse struggles to care for their family or continue their career, or a single military family can't get the health care they need, then we still have work to do. We still have work to do.

So we're going to keep on working to ensure that you and your families get the jobs and the benefits you've earned, and the support and respect that you deserve. That's our vow to you on Veterans Day and every day, while we're in the White House and long after we're gone. We're going to be working on this issue. Yes. (Applause.) Jill and I are proud of you. Your Commander-in-Chief and your Vice President are proud of you. And we are so grateful for everything that you have done and will continue to do for this country. And we will never stop working to serve you as well as you have served this country.

So thank you again for your outstanding service. And thank you for taking the time to spend Veterans Day here with us.

God Bless you all and your families. God Bless America. (Applause.)

Michelle Obama, Remarks by the First Lady, Dr. Jill Biden, and Captain Rolona Brown at the Joining Forces Veterans Day Luncheon Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/321796

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