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Moms on a Mission

Michelle Obama and Jill Biden rally support for military families

Michelle Obama and Jill Biden discuss joining forces at the White House

Jill Biden and Michelle Obama say it's time for Americans to show more love for the families of those who serve. — Photo by Art Streiber

Q: The attacks set off the hunt for Osama bin Laden. Did either of you have an inkling that the mission that killed him was in the works?

JB: I didn't have a clue. Joe left early and was gone all day. Didn't come home for a meal — nothing. So I knew something was happening, but I thought it was about Libya. [When I heard,] I was grading papers and watching TV.

MO: I knew something was happening, but when it gets down to that level of secrecy, there's just a small number of people who know anything.

Q: So when did you find out?

MO: I was actually out to dinner with girlfriends, and I didn't know until I walked in the door. It was later in the evening, and Barack had his suit on, because he was going to the press conference. And I said, "What's going on?"

Q: And your reaction?

MO: I was, like, "Wow." Then I wanted to know the details: "How did it happen? Then what? And then what happened?" I was probably like every media person.

"You don't have to wait until 9/11. We've got military families who are in need now ... We're telling Americans to do what they do best." — Michelle Obama

Q: Was he too hurried to explain?

 No, he sat down. And then I sat down and talked to Malia to make sure she was aware, because the crowds [outside the White House] were starting to form.

JB: We sat down, too. It was about 12:30 a.m. I had been waiting outside in my bathrobe, sitting on the steps of our residence, and I could hear people singing "God Bless America" in the distance. When Joe came home I said, "Did you call our kids?" And we just talked through it.

Q: There's the now-iconic picture of everybody gathered around the television screen in the Situation Room. What do you see in your husbands' expressions that others may not?

MO: You send 24 young men on a mission that you can watch but you can't do anything about. It probably felt —

JB: Surreal.

MO: Surreal. And they probably felt as helpless as parents feel when they send their kids off to war.

Q: You said you sat down with Malia [who's 13]. What did you say, when all around her, people were celebrating a death?

MO: I think kids instinctively feel that ambivalence — is this good or is this bad? And then you have to explain in a way that says it's not good, but it's good. The older kids, I think, get it. It's a convoluted set of concepts. But I think they understand, when it's placed in context.

Q: The President has declared September 11 a National Day of Service and Remembrance. How do you get people to embrace it as more than a one-day wonder?

JB: Well, I think Barack has always said that this should be commemorated as an opportunity for service.

MO: And the population that AARP serves has some of the highest numbers of people who volunteer. But you don't have to wait till 9/11. We've got military families who are in need today, and our Joining Forces call to action is a way to use that wonderful time and energy and direct it toward some of these families.

Q: So how can people support Joining Forces?

MO: We're telling Americans to do what you do best. People don't have to reinvent themselves. If you live near a base, there are plenty of opportunities, whether it's throwing a baby shower for expectant mothers or doing things at the schools with military kids or offering to drive a car pool. Those things matter.

Next: On their White House roles. >>

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