NAVAL AIR STATION WHIDBEY ISLAND, Wash. - First Lady Jill Biden arrived in Washington state on Tuesday to met with military families at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island and Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM).
Dr. Biden met with local military families at JBLM. This was her first tour of any military base since her husband became president.
JBLM officials said there are currently about 100,000 people associated with the military bases, including family members of active military members. The First Lady focused her in-person meetings with those spouses and children during her tour.
"We want to know the challenges you face what’s getting in your way," Biden said on Tuesday.
Biden toured the new Children’s Museum of Tacoma at JBLM, set to open in April. She also spoke privately with military spouses. It was an event used to revive Dr. Biden’s Joining Forces Initiative, a program she launched back in 2011 with the Obama administration.
The initiative hopes to increase employment, education, and support networks for military spouses and children. A need that has also grown amid a pandemic.
"I see how resilient you are, whether it’s changing jobs or a new school, becoming the default parent, and moving yet again," Biden said.
Biden said many Americans don’t know the unique challenges military families are facing, something the first lady can relate to since she comes from a military family herself.
It was a rare opportunity for local military people who got a chance to speak directly to Biden. Lt. Col. Rebecca Christi, a mother of four was one of them.
Christi said two of her children are on the autism spectrum and that resources and support at JBLM have been crucial.
But educational plans for special needs children are often disrupted every time a family has to relocate as she and her family prepare to move out of state again this summer.
"Yes, they accept incoming IEPs [Individualized Education Programs] but with a month you are getting re-evaluated which has the potential to change your services, we aren’t just dealing with relocation and normal military issues, here it’s compounded," Megan O’Day said.
O’Day oversees a federal program aimed at helping thousands of kids with special needs at JBLM.
O’Day lobbied the First Lady to create an interstate system for military families so they can have a smoother transition without all the educational delays.
That exchange and push for a better system bringing tears to some military families who attended Tuesday’s event.
"From the comments she made, I am glad her take-home message is focusing on our military family who has special needs children," Christi said.
Biden also visited Naval Air Station Whidbey Island as part of her tour of military bases in Washington and California. The First Lady said her goal of the visits is to learn more about the challenges military members, veterans and families face and what is needed to better support them.
As soon as the First Lady’s plane, EXEC1F, landed at the naval station, Commanding Officer Captain Matt Arny and his wife Samar Arny greeted her.
"Today your voice will be heard and validated by an exceptional leader dedicated to empowering military families," said Samar Arny while speaking to spouses of military members during her introduction of the Biden.
Pilots gave the First Lady an up-close look at US Navy EA-18G "Growlers," an electronic warfare attack warcraft.
"We know that too often this community hits roadblocks along the way," said the Biden. "Whether it’s changing jobs or a new school, parenting through a deployment, moving yet again or saying goodbye to family and friends—military families just make it all work."
Spouses listened as the First Lady told a personal story about her father, who was a Navy Signalman in World War II. She said his service paved the way for opportunities for her family.
"Thanks to my dad’s military service and the G.I. Bill that it earned him, he was able to go to business school in Philadelphia. And then he eventually became a bank manager while my mother stayed home to raise five daughters. And that was my family’s American dream—a life where military service meant educational opportunities. Where the proud daughter of a veteran pursued her own dreams because her dad paved the way," said Biden.
Dr. Biden called the obstacles military members, veterans, and families deal with today a "national security imperative." It is one of the reason’s why she visited the military bases in Washington state, to learn from families directly about the challenges they face.
"We certainly never imagined how a global pandemic might affect circumstances ranging from access to childcare to having a safe place to live to keeping food on your table to building a career. The men and the women of our armed forces can’t be at their best when they are worried that their families are struggling," Biden said.
The conversations will help in efforts towards relaunching the Joining Forces initiative later this year.
"They know that life comes with challenges, but it shouldn’t be harder than it needs to be. So, your Commander in Chief, my husband, and I will continue to lift up your experience and rally the support that you deserve. And that’s why I’m here today. To hear from you and just to understand what’s on your mind. We want to know what challenges you face—what’s getting in your way? And just as importantly we want to know what’s working at places like Whidbey. And what has made your path a little clearer and how can we bring these solutions to military families across the country. The experiences and the needs of military families constantly evolve and change," said the First Lady.
After her visit at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, The First Lady boarded EXEC1F to travel to Palms, California to continue her tour.