11:26 A.M. EST
MRS. OBAMA: Thank you, everyone. (Applause.) Good morning. I want to start by thanking Kevin for that very kind introduction. And I want to thank him for his service as a Marine, and for all that he does for veterans here at the Chamber. And I also want to say hi to his mom -- (laughter) -- who is watching.
I also want to recognize Administrator Karen Mills from the [SBA] for being here today, and for all of the Small Business Administration’s efforts to create jobs for our veterans. (Applause.) Absolutely.
And of course, I want to thank the U.S. Chamber of Commerce for organizing today’s conference, and to all of the business leaders that we have here today. Thank you all for joining us today. (Applause.) Thank you all so much.
Now, I have to say, I am excited to be here because this is a big day. This is unprecedented. Joining me here today are representatives from some of our biggest brand names and our most vibrant small businesses. We have leaders from service organizations, technology companies, and agencies from all across our government.
And we’re all gathered here at the home of the world’s largest business federation to send one simple message to our veterans and military families: America has your back. America has your back.
Today, America’s businesses have stepped forward with pledges to hire 100,000 veterans and military spouses by 2014. That’s right: 100,000. (Applause.) That’s 100,000 jobs. That’s 100,000 veterans and spouses who will have the security of a paycheck and a good career. That’s thousands of families that can rest just a little bit easier every night.
Now, these jobs will come from two organizations: the International Franchising Association -– the IFA -– and the Military Spouse Employment Partnership.
Now, the IFA, which includes franchisees like UPS, Guidant Financial, Data Doctors, Mr. Rooter, has committed to hire 80,000 veterans and military spouses -– which will include 5,000 of our wounded warriors -– by 2014. Absolutely. (Applause.) They’re also going to offer a program that helps veterans learn how to run their own businesses.
And then the Military Spouse Employment Partnership has committed to hire 20,000 military spouses at companies like Microsoft, Citi and Home Depot.
So like I said, this is big. This is really big, and it makes me very proud. But I have to tell you, as big as this announcement is today, there was never a guarantee that a day like this would happen. See, back when Jill and I started our Joining Forces initiative to recognize, honor and support our military families, we knew we had our work cut out for us. We knew that there were too many of our troops who bravely served our country overseas, only to return home to fight for a job. We knew that too many of our military spouses struggled to build careers as they moved from base to base every couple of years.
So one of the first things that Jill and I did was to issue a challenge to all of you, our nation’s businesses, to hire more veterans and military spouses. Now, we knew we would get some response, but quite frankly, we had no idea what that response would be because we were asking for your help during the toughest economy that most of us have ever seen.
We knew that many of you were fighting every day just to keep your own businesses afloat. So we tempered our expectations. But I am proud to say that your responses have been simply overwhelming.
From day one, companies large and small have stepped up to hire, retain and train our veterans and military spouses. The Chamber has led the way by taking all of the actions that Kevin mentioned earlier, especially the veterans hiring fairs that have already resulted in more than 3,400 veterans hired all over the country. Companies like Sears and Siemens, Kmart, Sam’s Club, have expanded their efforts to hire and retain even more veterans and military spouses.
Just a few weeks ago, the American Logistics Association committed to hiring 25,000 veterans and military spouses. And today’s commitment of 100,000 more jobs gives us our biggest step forward yet.
So what is happening here? Every week, someone new is getting involved. Every day, we’re gaining more and more momentum. And all of these commitments come on top of the steps my husband’s administration is taking at the federal level.
In the American Jobs Act, he proposed tax credits for businesses that hire unemployed veterans or wounded warriors. This proposal is in front of Congress right now. They’re voting this afternoon, and I want to urge Congress to act on behalf of our heroes.
My husband has also launched a Veterans Gold Card program that provides personalized job search services for our veterans, as well as an online Veterans Job Bank with more than half a million job listings from companies committed to hiring veterans.
And there is also this fantastic service called My Next Move for Veterans where vets can enter their military experience online and instantly receive a list of jobs that they’re qualified for.
Each of these steps is going to make a real difference, not just for a veteran, but also for your businesses, and more importantly, for this entire nation. And that’s really what all of these efforts are about.
This commitment of 100,000 jobs isn’t about making headlines. These wonderful programs don’t just provide a good opportunity for a press conference. All of these efforts are about upholding our sacred duty to our veterans and their families.
This is about who we are as individuals and as a country. This is about making sure that every person who wears our uniform knows that their fellow citizens have their backs.
Just take Edzavier Reese, who’s sitting behind me today. Edzavier spent eight years in the Marines. He did five tours in the Middle East, serving in Baghdad, Kuwait, Fallujah. He has leadership experience as a squad leader, a communications chief, a motor transport chief, an assistant training chief. He knows how to manage logistics and schedules and to work with all sorts of people.
But after his military service ended last summer, he bounced between jobs. He had trouble finding a career that suited his skills. So a couple weeks ago, he walked into one of the Chamber’s hiring fairs in Atlanta. And fortunately, he walked out with an interview.
And now he’s a manager-in-training at a retail store.
And this is exactly the kind of story that all of us are working for. In fact, everyone sitting behind me today has a similar story. They’ve all been hired by an organization or business that’s partnering with the Joining Forces campaign.
But while we are thrilled for these men and women, we all know that there are thousands more veterans and military spouses out there looking for jobs, folks who just need a little help to connect with a hiring fair, to find a career that suits their skills.
So we still have a very long way to go. And we were reminded of just how far we have to go. We were reminded of that last week, when the overall unemployment rate dipped, yet the rate of Iraq and Afghanistan’s veterans continued to rise.
And that just doesn’t seem right. And hearing something like that, it drives me to want to do more. But fortunately, I am not alone. That has been the most inspiring part of this entire endeavor. Every time we have asked someone to get involved -- anyone -- we always get the same answer: “Absolutely.”
And today, as Veterans Day approaches, that is really what I want all of our veterans and military spouses to realize about this country. I want you all to know that there are millions of Americans, of all walks of life, all across this country, who are working hard every day to find new ways to honor your service.
Executives and generals building new things, huddling together around conference tables. Veterans organizations and tech companies building new platforms together. Your neighbors reaching out to each other. Your President asking questions and demanding results. And all of these efforts are starting to add up.
It’s like a wave of support stretching across the country; a wave that is washing over new people and through new communities every day.
And to the veterans and spouses who might not feel these efforts in your own lives just yet, those of you who might be wondering if this wave will ever reach you, I want you to know today that I won’t stop, and all of the people joining me here today won’t stop. We will keep working until this wave of support reaches every single veteran and every single military family in this nation.
That is my solemn promise as First Lady. (Applause.)
And I am comforted to know that it’s a pledge shared by millions of Americans, including so many of you here today.
So to our veterans and military families, thank you again. Thank you for your service. Thank you your sacrifice. Thank you for your enduring commitment to our country.
And to the businesses and organizations who have led the way so far, thank you for carrying the banner.
And to everyone here, God bless you all, and may God bless the United States of America. Thank you so much, and congratulations.
11:48 A.M. EST