Back when my husband first decided to run for President, and I was preparing to go out on the campaign trail for the first time, I was a little bit nervous – afraid that I would say the wrong thing, or be asked a question I couldn’t answer – so I decided I would focus on what I knew. As a working mom, I thought I knew a thing or two about balancing a full-time job with the round-the-clock needs of my family, so I decided to start by meeting with groups of working women to listen to their concerns and tell them how my husband could help.
For the most part, I was prepared; in the stories I heard, I recognized my own story. But there was one group of people whose stories were new to me – and whose questions I often couldn’t answer. I met them in just about every community all across the country. They were military spouses – mainly women, but a few good men as well – whose husbands and wives were serving our country, putting their lives on the line to keep us safe.
Their stories took my breath away.
They talked about what it means to move every couple of years, find another new job and help their kids adjust to yet another new school. They told me about spouses who were on their third or fourth or fifth deployment, away from home for months at a time. They told me about missed birthdays and anniversaries and answering those questions from their kids about when mommy or daddy would be coming home.
When their spouses did come home, their families often went through months of readjustment: renegotiating roles, rebalancing responsibilities, rekindling a relationship when both people have changed. Then there were the women whose spouses came home wounded – often seriously – who quit their jobs to become round-the-clock caregivers, doing their best to make the person they loved whole again.
Many of these women were much younger than I was, with far less support and far fewer resources than I had, and every day they were confronting challenges that I could barely even imagine.
Like all Americans, I’ve always been awed by our men and women in uniform and inspired by the sacrifices they make for our country. But I had no idea about the sacrifices their families make too, and I kept asking myself, how is it possible that I – and so many other Americans – know so little about the challenges they face?
The answer is simple: military families don’t complain. They’re proud of their service and more than willing to make the sacrifices that come with it. And no matter how tough it gets, because they’re so strong and resilient, they somehow keep everything together. They succeed in their jobs, run their households and somehow even find time to serve their communities as well. In a recent survey, 81 percent of military family members reported volunteering in the past year, versus just 27 percent of the general population.
So this Thanksgiving, I’m feeling tremendously thankful for our military families. And as First Lady, I’ve made it my mission to not just support them, but to highlight all they have to offer us as colleagues, community leaders, neighbors and citizens.
That’s why, back in 2011, Dr. Jill Biden and I teamed up to start Joining Forces, a nationwide effort to recognize, honor and support our veterans and military families. And this Thanksgiving, I hope you’ll join us in expressing your gratitude to our military families, not just with words, but with action. If you’re a teacher or a PTA member, work to support military kids in your school. If you’re a lawyer, an accountant or a counselor, offer your services pro bono to military families. If you own a small business or do HR for a big one, try to hire more military spouses. There are so many ways to give back: go to www.joiningforces.gov to find out more. And if we all do our part, I’m confident that together, we can serve our military families as well as they serve this country.
Michelle Obama is the First Lady of the United States.
Tell us what you’re thankful for on Twitter using the hashtag #TIMEthanks
Next Rick Warren