First Lady Michelle Obama wants Americans to recognize the sacrifices of the nation's veterans by contributing to a grass-roots volunteer and community service network that will expand services for veterans and, supporters say, enrich American society.
At a Veterans Day event Wednesday, Mrs. Obama announced a new military-oriented community service organization called Mission Serve, an offshoot of the public-service group ServiceNation.
Since arriving in the White House, Mrs. Obama has been using her star appeal to bring new focus to the lot of military members and their families after eight years of war. Her efforts are seen as genuine but also politically astute. She is drawing on deepening concern that the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan could create a generation of veterans like Vietnam's – some nursing war afflictions, others lacking opportunity, and all potentially feeling alienated from the rest of society.
Only 13 percent of veterans returning to civilian life say the transition is going well, according to a new study released Wednesday, and nearly 2 in 3 veterans say they have skills to offer but that no one in their community has reached out to them. At the same time, a higher percentage of veterans are unemployed.
The idea of Mission Serve is to join groups already engaged in community service programs with veterans who have a desire to perform public service. A former Marine, for example, could have leadership skills to volunteer or work at a high school. A retired soldier could work with troubled youth. But there is no organized group bringing the skills to the need.
"We need that energy," Obama said to a rousing crowd of students and veterans at George Washington University Wednesday. "Whether it's running a rural health clinic or rescuing a community struck by a natural disaster, our veterans have what it takes for success."
There is a positive flip side to the effort as well – giving regular individuals in the community an opportunity to work with veterans, providing them the help they need, like offering a free summer camp for military kids or pushing initiatives to create jobs for veterans. Vice President Biden's wife, Jill, who accompanied Obama at the event Wednesday, is active in a group called Delaware Boots on the Ground which "matches services to needs" for military members and their families.
"There is a role for each and every one of us in supporting our military families," said Mrs. Biden, whose son, Beau, is a captain in the Army National Guard.
Earlier in the day, President Obama paid tribute to fallen veterans at Arlington National Cemetery, highlighting how few Americans choose to serve in uniform, choosing a pursuit greater than themselves.
"In this time of war, we gather here mindful that the generation serving today already deserves a place alongside previous generations for the courage they have shown and the sacrifices they have made," Mr. Obama said. "In an era where so many acted only in pursuit of narrow self-interest, they've chosen the opposite."
In paying tribute to veterans, Obama appears to be laying the groundwork for the uphill struggle that lies ahead in Afghanistan. After Obama returns from a trip to Asia next week, he is poised to announce his strategy for Afghanistan and the troops needed to pull it off. Reports indicate that he is considering a troop increase of about 30,000 or more.
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