Speech given at Fort Liberty, Fayetteville, North Carolina.
THE FIRST LADY: Thank you, General Donahue. And thank you for your leadership here at Liberty.
Through Joining Forces — my White House initiative to support military and veteran families, caregivers, and survivors — I’ve traveled to bases across this country and across the world. And I’ve sat with military families just like yours to learn about their experiences and their challenges.
Even though every story is unique, again and again I hear the same thing: that you’re proud of your family’s service, but you miss the careers that you’ve had to leave behind; that you’re stuck looking for work that doesn’t put your education and your experience to good use; that you take the jobs you can get even if you don’t want them because, well, there are bills to pay.
You told me that the life of a military spouse is rewarding in so many ways, but it isn’t easy.
And as I was having these conversations, Joining Forces was working with military spouse employee resource groups at agencies across the government to figure out the solutions that could make the difference in your lives.
And when we brought these stories back to Joe, he listened. He understands — (the President makes the sign of the cross) — (laughter) — he understands that we can’t ask our service members to choose between their love of country and their love of family. He knows that the supporting military spouses is a national security imperative.
And in the last two years, he’s done so much to respond to the challenges that you all face. He’s committed all agencies to partner with the — the Department of Defense to hire military spouses. And he’s signed an executive — a historic executive order to improve care for hardworking families, including military and veteran families.
Today, thanks to you, Joe is helping our country take yet another step forward with an executive order that addresses the challenges for those in the federal workforce, those looking to take a job with them when they PCS overseas, or spouses trying to start their own business.
And this will not only benefit active-duty spouses, but veteran spouses, caregivers, and survivors as well.
This moment — this moment belongs to your community.
So, I want to thank all the military spouses everywhere who made it possible. Thank you for sharing your stories. Thank you for trusting us to make this right.
Of course, we know that this order won’t solve the challenges of spouse unemployment on its own. So we’re in — calling on employers everywhere to do their part. Recruit military spouses. Offer flexible work opportunities so that you can retain their talent no matter where in the world they are working.
Yes, it’s vital for the future of our nation. But it’s also a great way to find the dynamic talent that your businesses need.
Spouses bring experience and adaptability that — that really can’t be taught.
And when they get the opportunities that they deserve, our service members can do their duty knowing that those they love most are able to thrive. We all benefit.
So, with all my heart, thank you for your service and your sacrifice.
And now, I’m proud to welcome someone who knows why this executive order is so important, because it’s made for people like her.
Tiffany, thank you for your service as an Army spouse and as a proud Womack Army Medical Center employee.
Here’s Tiffany. (Applause.)
MS. ZOELLER: Thank you, Dr. Biden.
My name is Tiffany Zoeller. I’m a military spouse of five years, and my husband is Sergeant First Class Lee Zoeller. We have two handsome sons: Jaden, who’s nine, and Jackson, who’s three.
I’m also a federal employee. I work for the dental department at Womack Army Medical Center for the Advanced Education in Gen- — General Dentistry Program. It’s a two-year residency clinic here at Fort Liberty.
I love what I do, as a secretary of the program, and I appreciate the people I work with.
I was able to get the opportunity to support this program due to the Military Spouse Hiring Authority. I may still be looking for employment if that door was not opened for me.
I’m personally grateful for the recognition and support the Biden administration is giving to military spouses and their families. This allows — this support is so important to allow families like mine to thrive while our loved ones are serving in uniform.
And it is now my honor to introduce the President of the United States, Joe Biden. (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: Hello, Fort Liberty. (Applause.) It’s great to be back at “the center of the universe” — especially with all you crazy guys that jump out of planes. (Laughter.)
Tiffany, thanks so much for that introduction and for your family’s service to our country.
General Donahue and Command Sergeant Major Holland; general officers; the governor of the great state of North Carolina, who’s here with us; congressman from the district, who’s here with us: It’s an honor to be here with you this afternoon. (Applause.)
I’m not going to take a lot of your time.
You know, people like to joke that when the President calls 911, the phone rings at Fort Liberty. (Laughs.) Well, that’s not too far from the truth.
When — when you answer, you answer freedom’s call every time. You — it’s you who take on so many of the nationals — the nation’s toughest missions.
You deploy quickly and quietly. You risk your safety and protect the safety of Americans all across the world and all around the world. I’ve been in over 80 countries seeing how you work, and you’re incredible.
We literally have the single-finest fighting force in the history of the world. That is not hyperbole. That’s a fact. (Applause.) That is a fact.
And as the English poet John Milton once wrote, “They also serve who only stand and wait.”
In the years — my — our son was in Iraq for a year — before that, in Kosovo. I get up in the morning, see my wife, who teaches school — she’d start earlier than I would — and she’d be standing there at the — at the sink, drinking her coffee, mouthing a prayer. Every one of your spouses knows what happens — what possibly can happen when your son, daughter, husband, wife are deployed.
Jill and I never forget that military spouses, caregivers, and survivors serve and sacrifice as well. We never forget that you’ve also answered the nation’s call.
And together, Jill and I and my entire administration, has never stopped working to do right by your service. You know, we’re with — with you at the — here at Fort Liberty — “All the way” — Fort Liberty.
And I tell you what: As a nation, we have many obligations, but we have only one truly sacred obligation. And I used to get criticized years ago, as a young senator, when I’d say this, but not anymore: We — the most sacred obligation America has is to prepare those we send into harm’s way and care for them and their families when they come home or deploy.
Today, we’re taking an important step to fill — towards fulfilling that obligation. This new executive order establishes the most comprehensive set of administrative actions in our nation’s history to support the economic security of military families, veterans’ spouses, caregivers, and survivors.
Actions that boil down into three main goals: more flexibility, more support, and more resources.
I’ll start with the flexibility piece. This executive order encourages all federal agencies to do more to retain military spouses through flexible policies. Policies like granting leave when their partner has to PCS, improving remote work opportunities for military spouses, including when they’re stationed overseas.
And it’s just common sense to keep families together. It keeps a talented workforce together. And, look, it enables our government to carry out its global mission.
Second, the executive order means more support for military-connected families.
Changing duty stations is already hard enough. You shouldn’t have to navigate a complicated tax regulations or work requirements but — all by yourself just to do that. If you — if you’re certified in one state and you’re military, you should be certified in every other state when you move to that state.
The first time this executive order will enable spouses to seek advice on overseas employment issues through military legal assistance offices.
It also — you also need support to navigate challenges unique to military families. Challenges like jug- — like juggling childcare and work while your partner is deployed or when you’re caring for an injured loved one.
Too often — too often, the people you work with, they just don’t know. Not they don’t care; they don’t know. They don’t know what you’re going through. They don’t know how it works. They don’t understand everything you go through. That can be tough, and it can be even isolating.
That’s why this executive order establishes new training for federal human resources and hiring personnel to ensure that all our military and veteran spouses, caregivers, and survivors feel seen and supported.
And finally, this executive order means more resources, especially when it comes to improving military families’ access to quality,
defendable [dependable], and affordable — affordable childcare. (Applause.)
Today we’re accelerating the implementation of the Dependent Care Flexibility Spending Account, which will give military families the option to receive a pre-tax benefit for daycare, preschool, and summer camps, and much more.
This order also focuses on providing resources — resources for military spouses who are entrepreneurs, like some of the folks up here on this stage that will be here in a moment.
That includes exploring new funding options like grants and loans to help military spouses start and sustain their businesses, and developing new resources that are going to make it easier for entrepreneurs to relocate their businesses if they have to PCS.
Folks, let me close with this: Next month, we’ll cel- — we’ll celebrate 50 years of the all-volunteer force. At the time, there was some debate about whether or not we could draw in talent — the talent we needed, about whether Americans would answer the call to serve.
But 50 years on, we see so clearly all of you who raised your hand. All of you who volunteered are the reason that our military today is the greatest fighting force in the history of the world, bar none. And that’s the reason. (Applause.)
And the reason — the reason we’ve been able to sustain that force year after year, decade after decade is because military spouses, caregivers, and survivors have answered the call as well.
You have your loved ones’ backs just like they have the country’s back.
So the only way — the only way to keep this force strong for the next 50 years, and 50 after that and the 50 after that, is if we keep our promises — if we uphold the sacred obligation we bear to our military members, our veterans, our spouses, caregivers, and survivors.
So today, I’m here as Commander-in-Chief to sign this executive order because it matters. It matters to our military recruitment and retention. It matters to our troops’ readiness and resilience. And it matters to our nation’s safety and security.
Supporting our military and veterans’ families is not just a moral imperative, it’s a national security imperative. And I’m not joking. It is. And that should unite all of us — public and private sectors.
And together, we’re going to keep doing everything we can to make sure if you receive the flexibility, support, and resources that you deserve, things are going to get better. That’s my promise to you.
And to all military and veteran spouses, caregivers, and survivors: May God bless you all. And may God protect our troops.
Now I’m going to go over and sign this executive order.
And thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you for your service. (Applause.)
Who else? (Baby cries.) You got it, kid. (Laughter.)
THE FIRST LADY: Wow. That’s a little baby.
THE PRESIDENT: Come on up here.
PARTICIPANT: Twelve days.
THE FIRST LADY: Twelve days?
MS. ZOELLER: Twelve days.
THE PRESIDENT: Come on up.
THE FIRST LADY: Does anybody want to stand over here?
THE PRESIDENT: Everybody here?
THE FIRST LADY: Yep. I think everybody is here.
THE PRESIDENT: All right.
“Advancing Economic Security for Military and Veteran Spouses, Military Caregivers, and Survivors.”
(The executive order is signed.)
It’s now the law. (Applause.) (The First Lady gives the signing pen to Tiffany Zoeller.)