This community is well aware of the sacrifices of the volunteer military force that protects the rest of us. Right now, even at a time of overlapping wars, about 1 percent of the population of this country is doing all the fighting, and sometimes dying, for the other 99. Yet America’s treatment of its veterans, both young and old, and of soldiers’ families has too often been a shameful failure on multiple levels.
President Obama earlier this week kicked off a new national program to change that. And if this new, mostly non-governmental initiative is done right and can enlist broad-based support, it could turn out to be a more lasting and important legacy than any purely political achievement most presidents can claim.
Appropriately dubbed Joining Forces, the campaign looks to help service people, vets, reservists and their families deal with day-to-day situations that pose challenges non-military families might never face, or even be aware of.
Take for example a fact familiar to many current and former Army families here: moving. Most of us probably don’t pull up stakes in a lifetime as often as a military family might in just a few years. Joining Forces involves commitments from, among others, Kmart, Walmart, Sears, Best Buy and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to hire more soldiers and their families; to make more job transfers available for those who have to move; and to provide more job training and financial assistance. Also in the works are the U.S. Military Pipeline, to provide vets and families with education and job opportunities, and Indeed Military, and online employment resource.
The unifying idea behind Joining Forces is for businesses, civic groups, faith communities, school systems and individuals to create a coordinated support network that can remove some of the hurdles and bureaucratic hassles confronting families already making huge sacrifices on our behalf. First Lady Michelle Obama called it “a challenge to every segment of American society,” and she’s right.
Deborah Bonito, daughter of a Vietnam vet and wife of the mayor of Anchorage, Alaska, has come to know many of the families stationed at nearby Fort Richardson. “Unless you’ve served in the military, or have family in the military,” she told reporters, “you don’t have an understanding of what these kids or families are going through.”
Nor, in the era of the all-volunteer military, do most Americans – and that’s becoming a bigger problem all the time. If the defense of the United States is no longer a matter of shared sacrifice, and the overwhelming evidence says it isn’t, Joining Forces can at least provide ways for us to show some shared appreciation.