National 4-H Youth Conference Center
Chevy Chase, Maryland
As Prepared for Delivery
Good Morning. Thank you, Stephen, for that kind introduction. Thank you, Secretary Vilsack, for your terrific leadership. Dr. Lauxman, thank you for hosting this conference and for your great work.
It is great to be with 4-H-rs from all around the country! I wanted to come here today to thank all of you for the tremendous work you do to support our troops and our military families.
As some of you may know, I’m a military mom. My son Beau is a soldier in the Delaware National Guard and he was deployed to Iraq for a year. That was a tough year for our family.
Beau has two young children, and, of course, they missed their dad terribly. But one of the most wonderful things that happened to them that year was the support and love they got – from family, from friends, from teachers, and neighbors. Our family knows firsthand just how important it is for children to have that kind of support when a parent is deployed.
That is why First Lady Michelle Obama and I started our Joining Forces initiative. We want to encourage all Americans to find ways to support our military families. Individuals, groups, and businesses have risen to the challenge in so many wonderful ways.
The work of 4-H is a perfect example of what we hope people all across our country will do. You have a long history of supporting our military.
Whether it’s through the Military 4-H Club Program directly serving military kids on bases or through programs like Operation: Military Kids helping non-military youth support kids impacted by deployment, 4-H has provided a sense of community for military-connected children for decades.
4-H has given military-connected children an outlet – a chance to use their talents and helped them reach their full potential – even while they face some unique and difficult challenges.
Children like Kyle Hoeye, an Arizona teen who started “Speak Out Military Kids” to help other children cope with deployment.
When Kyle’s own father was deployed to Iraq, Kyle made videos to keep in touch with his dad while he was away. Then he started teaching other military kids to use video production to tell their stories, too. What a great idea!
Community support can be especially important for children of our troops who serve in the National Guard and Reserves.
These families typically live in regular, non-military neighborhoods and often don’t have the built-in support of a military community. Sometimes their neighbors don’t even know that they have a service member in their midst. That is why I am so pleased that 4-H is focusing some attention on children in the National Guard by helping them develop leadership and communications skills.
I want to take a moment to recognize the National Guard youth participants here today.
Teens like Kirsten Morris from Georgia.
Last year, Kirsten met with her State School Superintendent to share some of the unique challenges that military kids face, including frequent transitions and the challenges of readjusting to new schools and communities. Kirsten saw a need and stepped up to address it.
You are all here today because of your extraordinary leadership, and your commitment to service. You are role models and mentors. As you continue to achieve, we will look to you to keep making a difference in your communities and across the country.
A few months ago, we marked the end of combat operations in Iraq, bringing home the last American troops serving there. Since 2003, hundreds of thousands of men and women have served multiple deployments in Iraq, enduring long and challenging separations from their loved ones. Our troops continue to serve in Afghanistan. As a nation, we have asked so much of them and their families – while they ask so little of us.
The challenges don’t end when our troops come home. They – and their families – should always feel they are just a handshake away from a caring and supportive neighbor or friend who has their back.
All of you share a very important trait with our troops and veterans – the desire to serve your country. It is as deeply ingrained in them as it is in all of you.
While they lead on the battlefield, you lead in your communities.
While they protect their brothers and sisters in uniform, you find ways to support your classmates and peers.
You are part of the same fabric.
And, over the next few decades, you are going to continue to need to rely on one another.
One of the tasks that will define leaders of your generation is supporting our veterans and military families as they have supported us.
So thank you for all that you are doing. Thank you for having me here today and have a great conference!