FORT DRUM, N.Y. (WWTI) — First Lady Dr. Jill Biden paid a visit to Fort Drum, the home of the 10th Mountain on January 30.
The First Lady was greeted after touching down at the Army Wheeler-Sack Airfield by 10th Mountain Division Commanding General Major General Gregory Anderson.
Along with Deputy Secretary of Defense Dr. Kathleen Hicks, her visit was a part of the Joining Forces Initiative which aims to increase employment opportunities, child care and resources for military families.
The leader’s first stop was at the USO Fort Drum, where a luncheon was held for military families. Over 80 participants were chosen from across the 10th Mountain Division’s brigades, as well as the 91st Military Police Battalion.
During the luncheon, both Dr. Biden and Dr. Hicks spoke with soldiers, families and their children regarding the army lifestyle.
The First Lady carried the sentiments and issues she heard from the luncheon to her next event which was a roundtable that discussed changes needed to improve employment opportunities for military spouses.
“The needle really has not moved on spousal employment,” the First Lady said. “I don’t think it always has to be the spouse whose giving up everything to follow someone else into their career.”
According to recent data, the unemployment rate for military spouses is around 22%.
“Spousal unemployment is one of those issues that we see run across all of the military as a challenge area,” Deputy Secretary of Defense Hicks added.
Additional roundtable participants included Amanda Root, the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Jefferson County executive director; Chantee Collins, an active-duty military spouse and Fort Drum USO transition specialist; Meredith Taylor, active-duty military spouse and Hiring Our Heroes Military Spouse Professional Network program lead; Leticia Zielinski, the Fort Drum Transition Assistance Program transition services specialist; and the Honorable Rory Brosius, the Executive Director of Joining Forces and Special Assistant to the President.
The group said that solutions to the employment crisis must be flexible and understanding of the transient military life.
“With them transitioning often, you know they’re not able to get the skills that are needed to be able to advance their career,” Chantee Collins explained.
As the First Lady’s visit also included a stop at Fort Drum’s South Riva Ridge Child Development Center, leaders said child care is another obstacle military families face.
“It’s worse for military families because of their need to move more regularly, reestablish themselves in new places and receive childcare,” Dr. Hicks explained.
And the First Lady said she plans on bringing these issues back to the White House and improvements are crucial in maintaining readiness among military installations such as Fort Drum.
“We will only be able to maintain a strong military if you don’t have to choose between the love of country and the love of families,” Biden said.
Read more on the White House’s Joining Forces initiative here.