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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: Add to all that your teaching, Dr. Biden. Do people treat you differently, thinking you will have political sway?

JB: No, they don't. And the students don't treat me differently. A student came into my classroom and she said, "Dr. Biden, this weekend I saw you on a magazine cover, and you were with our First Lady!" [Laughs.] So she had no idea. And I have a lot of students like that. I mean, there are a lot who do know, but you know what? They know I'm in that classroom as their English teacher, and they respect that.

Q: When people talk about you, Mrs. Obama, they often note how comfortable you are in your own skin — that you don't try to play down your roots. How important is this to your legacy?

MO: When we did a Sesame Street event in Columbus, Ohio, we did an event for military kids, and there were a lot of African American young girls out there — little black girls who were just proud because they see themselves in somebody who they think is great. And it means something. You can see it in their eyes. You can see it with the hugs and the way they hold on so tight. It matters. So I do embrace it. That said, I feel that same connection with every little child that I meet. I know so many young kids of all colors for whom Barack Obama is "their" President. I don't care what [ political] affiliation their parents are; there is something about that connection. And I think it's more than race. I think it's our age. It's our family. It's the fact that we have young children. I think there are people who see me as a mom, and they connect with that. And, yes, that's a hugely important legacy to leave. When kids feel a connection, they start to imagine their world is a bit bigger.

"The impact of war lasts forever. So we can't turn our heads when things feel good and we feel safe. This is a forever initiative." — Michelle Obama

Q: Back to your Joining Forces campaign. How will you reach people whose views about war and the military establishment have put them at arm's length from this community?

MO: I think we've learned an important lesson as a nation over the decades: that no matter what our political views are about war, any war, we must always rally around the troops. I think we've grown in that respect. So we don't run across people who say, "I won't help because I don't buy into this or that." People understand that this is a national responsibility, and as long as we enjoy the freedoms that 1 percent of the population protects for the other 99 percent of us, then the rest of us need to step up and make sure that their lives and their families' lives are secure. Because when soldiers come home, that's when the hard work for those families begins. We're talking about the mental health issues that come with post-traumatic stress disorder, with spouses dealing with reconnection. Someone comes home wounded, with severe burns, a lost limb. The impact of war lasts forever. So we can't turn our heads when things feel good and we feel safe. This is a forever initiative.

Q: But some of these are really big problems that the average person can't even begin to address. How does the campaign deal with those?

MO: We're reaching out to corporations. Jobs are key for the spouses, who often struggle to create a coherent work track because they move so much. Imagine if you're trying to maintain or develop a career or finish a degree. National companies like the Walmarts and the Sears have found ways to make sure spouses working within their companies can retain a post if they move within the country. Those are the kinds of creative things that every institution can do.

Q: How will you know if your campaign is a success?

MO: This will be successful if military families feel the change all around. We're not into platitudes. This is about real change on the ground. And whether it's for another two years or another six years , that's a short period of time to have impact. So we don't want to waste it.

Q: Okay, last thing — I've got to ask. There's a video of you, Mrs. Obama, doing the Dougie [a celebratory dance popularized by athletes] at a Let's Move! event. How long did it take you to learn that?

MO: Hey, I've got little kids. They're always trying something. And I happen to be very good at dance-mimicking. [Laughs.] For some reason, if I watch somebody do a move for a while, and it's not too hard or complicated or requires me to throw my leg over my head and flip, I can sort of figure it out.

JB: And I can do the twist! [Laughter.] See? It's generational. [Laughter.]

You may also like: Homes for military families in crisis. >>

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