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Military family support a 'national priority,' Obama says

WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama today made caring for military families a national priority, calling to action his entire administration and communities across the U.S. on their behalf.

"The strength and the readiness of America's military depend on the strength and readiness of our military families," the president said. "This is a matter of national security. It's not just the right thing to do. It also makes this country strong."

President Obama made the remarks at the White House, accompanied by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, along with other senior officials, as he announced a national initiative aimed at increasing support for the families of U.S. service members.

The initiative will focus on employment, education and wellness, and aims to raise awareness about the sacrifices and needs of military families. First lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden, will this week launch a national tour as part of the initiative.

The president praised the efforts of today's military, but added that no troop serves alone.

"Behind every American in uniform stands a wife, a husband, a mom, a dad, a son or a daughter, a sister or brother," he said. "These families, these remarkable families are the force behind the force. They, too, are the reason we've got the finest military in the world."

In President Obama's travels to military installations since taking office, he said, one theme recurs in his conversations with service members.

"There's one thing they request more than anything else: Take care of my family. Take care of my family," President Obama said. "Because when our troops are worried about their families back home, it's harder for them to focus on the mission overseas."

The president cited his recent directive to establish a coordinated federal approach to support military families. Released in January, the report detailed nearly 50 commitments from cabinet agencies to reform, strengthen, or better coordinate the federal government's efforts.

The efforts range from protecting families from financial scams, to improving education for military children and spouses, to helping end homelessness among veterans.

"As commander in chief, I'm not going to be satisfied until we meet these commitments," President Obama said. "Across this administration, we're going to keep doing everything in our power to give our military families the support and the respect that they deserve."

But, the president said, national support for military families cannot be solely a government function. Support needs to be at the community level.

"Our military and our military families can't be the only ones bearing the burden of our security," he said. "The United States of America is strongest, and as Americans, we are at our best, when we remember our obligations to each other; when we remember that the price of freedom cannot simply be paid by a select few, when we embrace our responsibilities to each other, especially those who serve and sacrifice in our name."

Mr. Biden, whose son deployed for a year to Iraq, said he understands firsthand the value of family support to deployed service members.

"We learned at that time how much it means to those who are in a war zone thousands of miles away, knowing that their family is being cared for, that their next-door neighbor has offered to cut their grass while their husband is overseas or that the next-door neighbor will give a jumpstart on that cold morning when they're trying to get their daughter or son to elementary school," Mr. Biden said. "They know that those little things are the things that make every day work or not work. It matters. It matters because it's one less thing they have to worry about in theater."

Mr. Biden said a little support at the community level goes a long way toward easing the burden of both the families and the deployed service members.

"All Americans should know that one act of kindness extended to a family of (an Airman), a Soldier, a Sailor, a Marine, a Coast Guardsmen, reverberates across the water, over the mountains and through the desert into the heart of the warrior who's standing there alone thinking as much about his family as his family's thinking about him or her," he said. "I promise you, I promise you, all those of you who are listening on the television or radio, it matters. It matters."