Remarks by the President and the First Lady on the American Jobs Act and Joining Forces

By:  Barack Obama II
Date: Oct. 19, 2011
Location: Hampton, VA

MRS. OBAMA: Hey, everyone! (Applause.) This is really cool. I'm very thrilled, very honored to be here. Number one, I never get to do anything with my husband. (Laughter.) I haven't seen him in three days. This is a nice date! It's good to see you. You're looking good. (Laughter and applause.)

And you all are looking good as well. We are just proud to be here -- proud of you all.

First of all, let me thank Melissa for her service and for that wonderful introduction and for everything that she has done, along with her family, for this country.

Truly one of my greatest pleasures as First Lady has been meeting folks like Melissa and all of you here today, hearing your stories, truly seeing your strength. And I can't tell you how much you inspire me, and all of us. It's just something to watch. You've inspired me not just to sit back in awe but to move forward in action.

And all of you are the reason why Dr. Jill Biden and I started our Joining Forces initiative. We want to rally this entire nation around our veterans and military families because we know just how incredible all of you are. Truly. Yes. (Applause.)

We want America to know that your veterans who have completed missions with enough variables involved to make most people's head spin -- that you're trained in state-of-the-art technologies; that you've managed dozens -- if not hundreds -- of your peers. And when the stakes are the highest, that's when you're at your best.

And your spouses, your families, are just as amazing. And I have met them -- (applause.) Yes, for the military spouses. (Applause.) Military spouses pack in a full day of work; many of them then get back to get the kids to piano lessons; they volunteer at fundraisers; Skyping with loved ones who are deployed overseas; whip up dinner; put the kids into bed, and then crack open the textbooks to study at night.

That's an average day. To a military spouse, that's just Wednesday. (Laughter.) So I'm just exhausted thinking about them. But so very proud, so very proud. For most folks, that's the kind of day that leaves us sprawled out on the couch, too exhausted to move. But that's not a big thing for our military spouses.

So, for all of you troops, veterans, and military spouses here today, we're proud of you, and we want people to know that you have so many skills that are just second nature to all of you -- things like time management, organization, people skills, complex decision-making, and so many other incredible skills.

And that is really the reason why we're here today -- because those are precisely the skills that we need in workplaces across America. But the truth is that sometimes employers may not always know about all that you have to offer. They might have trouble understanding a military resume. Or they might see a spouse who's lived in five cities in seven years as a red flag rather than a reality of military life.

But today, I am proud to announce that the American Logistics Association has said they're going to step up and do something about that. So today they're committing to hiring 25,000 veterans and military spouses in the next two years. (Applause.) They do not want to miss out on your potential. They want America's businesses to have the best, most talented, most hardworking employees around.

Now, this announcement is a huge deal -- which is why the President is here. It's huge enough for you to even be involved. (Laughter.) This commitment includes 270 companies of all shapes and sizes, which makes this the largest coordinated effort by the private sector to hire veterans that we've seen in years. (Applause.) And this commitment puts us a quarter of the way toward reaching the President's challenge to the private sector to hire or train 100,000 vets and military spouses by the end of 2013. (Applause.)

The businesses making this pledge include name brands like Proctor and Gamble, Tyson Foods, Hewlett-Packard -- but also smaller companies like Prime Team Services, which is planning to hire hundreds of military spouses and veterans next year alone.

And today's announcement really builds on the efforts of businesses and organizations already underway all across this country. Siemens has hired hundreds of veterans already this year. Sears is increasing the number of veterans and military spouses in their workforce by 10 percent. We just made that announcement this week. The Chamber of Commerce has hosted job fairs for veterans in cities across the country.

And then companies like Kmart and Sam's Club have promised us that if a military spouse who works at their stores has to move to a new duty station, they will do their very best to have a job waiting for them when they arrive. (Applause.)

So these are bold commitments. And these are companies that are making these pledges not just because it's the right thing to do or because it feels patriotic. They're also doing it because it's good for their bottom line. It's good for business. Because they know that veterans and military spouses, like all of you here today, represent the best our country has to offer, and they want you on their team.

And really that's what Joining Forces is all about. It's really about tapping into all of that goodwill that's already out there all across this country in every sector of society. And it's important for you all to know that, because I know sometimes it feels like a struggle, like sometimes we don't know as a nation what you sacrifice, what your families have sacrificed. But know that people are stepping up. They're doing it every day, and they're doing it with pride and with pleasure. And channeling all of that energy into making a real difference in the lives of our veterans and military families is really what we want to do for you. And truly, it is a win-win for everyone.

The motto of Joining Forces is very simple: Everyone can do something -- everyone can do something -- to honor and support the brave men and women who have served us all so well.

In fact, that's what the man I'm about to introduce -- this guy here -- (laughter) -- that's really what he does every day. During his presidency, he's directed the federal government to help with childcare in military families, to address veterans' homelessness, to step up on mental health issues, and to provide unprecedented support to our military families.

So now, it is my pleasure to introduce a man who is fighting for you every single day -- yes, get the cameras ready. (Laughter and applause.) It is your Commander-in-Chief -- and my husband -- the President of the United States, Barack Obama. (Applause.)

THE PRESIDENT: Hello Joint Base Langley-Eustis! (Applause.) Thank you very much.

I hate following Michelle. (Laughter.) She's so good. How lucky am I to be married to Michelle Obama? (Applause.) See, for you men out there who are not yet married, let me explain. The whole goal is to marry up -- (laughter) -- to try to improve your gene pool. (Laughter.) And we're lucky to have her as First Lady of the United States of America, I think. (Applause.) I am thrilled to be here. I want to thank the outstanding leaders who welcomed us here today: Secretary of the Air Force Michael Donley is here. (Applause.) General Mike Hostage is here. (Applause.) Colonels Kory Auch and Kevin Robbins and Reggie Austin are here. (Applause.)

I want to give a shout-out to your outstanding senior enlisted leaders, including Chief Master Sergeants Kevin Howell and Marty Klukas. (Applause.) I want you to give a big round of applause to the Air Combat Command Heritage of America Band. (Applause.)

We've got a lot of folks in the house today. We've got Air Combat Command. (Applause.) We've got the 633rd Air Base Wing. (Applause.) We've got the 1st Fighter Wing -- (applause) --- with our amazing F-22 Raptors. (Applause.) I want to ride in one of those some day. (Laughter.) We're going to have to set that up.

We've got the 480th Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Wing. (Applause.) They can cheer, but they can't talk about what they do. (Laughter.) They'd have to kill you. And I see we've got some Army, too. (Applause.)

I want to salute Melissa Lee. Thank you so much. I want to salute Kathy Hostage. I want to salute Kristin Auch and the extraordinary military spouses who are here as well. (Applause.) We are inspired by them. Michelle is an honorary military spouse because she has to put up with me. (Laughter.) But she and I both share such incredible admiration for the families of those who are serving in uniform.

We are grateful for our veterans who are here, including some very special airmen who taught the nation the true meaning of service and honor and equality. We are honored to be joined by several of the legendary Tuskegee Airmen in the house. (Applause.) That's what heroes look like right there.

Finally, I want to acknowledge your Governor, Bob McDonnell, and his lovely wife, Maureen, for joining us here today -- (applause) -- as well as Congressman Bobby Scott, who's in the house. (Applause.) And I want to thank all the business leaders who have committed to hiring our nation's heroes.

Those of you here today who have worn the uniform of these United States have done so with honor and have done so with distinction. In some of the most dangerous places on the planet, you have heroically performed and done everything that's been asked of you. Already, your generation has earned a special place in America's history. For that, you've got a grateful nation. As Michelle said, don't forget how everybody understands what you've done for this country.

Over the past decade, nearly 3 million service members, like many of you -- our 9/11 generation of veterans --- have made the transition back to civilian life. They've taken their leadership experience, their mastery of cutting-edge technologies, their ability to adapt to changing circumstances, and they've become leaders here at home. They've become leaders in businesses all across the country.

Just think about how many veterans have led their comrades on life-and-death missions by the time they were 25. That's the kind of responsibility every business in America should want to take advantage of. Those are the Americans every company should want to hire.

Now, of course, as Michelle mentioned, there are far too many veterans who are coming home and having to struggle to find a job worthy of their talents. There are too many military spouses who have a hard time finding work after moving from base to base and city to city.

That's not right. It doesn't make any sense. It doesn't make sense for our veterans. It doesn't make sense for our businesses. It doesn't make sense for our families. And it doesn't make sense for America. (Applause.)

If you can save a life in Afghanistan, you can save a life in a local hospital or in a local ambulance. (Applause.) If you can oversee millions of dollars of assets in Iraq, you can help a business balance its books here at home. (Applause.) If you can juggle the demands of raising a family while a husband or wife are at war, you can juggle any demands of any job in the United States of America. (Applause.)

We ask our men and women in uniform to leave their families -- our Guardsmen and Reservists to leave their jobs. We ask you to fight, to sacrifice, to risk your lives for our country. The last thing you should have to do is fight for a job when you come home. Not here. Not in the United States of America. (Applause.)

So this has been one of my top priorities as your Commander-in-Chief. That's why we are fully funding the post-G.I. -- 9/11 G.I. Bill, which is helping more than 600,000 veterans and their family members pursue a college education. (Applause.)

It's why we fought to make sure the bill included non-college degrees and on-the-job training. It's why I directed the federal government to lead by example and hire more veterans --- including 100,000 as of this summer. (Applause.)

And it's also why we're here today. As Michelle mentioned, back in August I challenged American businesses -- I challenged them to hire or train 100,000 post-9/11 veterans or their spouses by the end of 2013. (Applause.) And now, just a few months later, thanks to the many extraordinary companies who are here today, we're already a quarter of the way there. Already, they've committed to train or hire 25,000 veterans and spouses in the next two years. (Applause.)

And this is incredible. It's a testament to their good business sense. It's a testament to their sense of patriotism. It's a testament to the fact that these veterans and military families are some of the most talented, trained, and experienced citizens that we have. It's a testament to these businesses' commitment to this country.

We're still living through an economic crisis that partly came about because too many individuals and institutions were only thinking about their own interests -- because they embraced an ethic that said, what's good for me is good enough. Well, the men and women of the United States Armed Forces, they've got a different ethic. You believe, your families believe, in something greater than your own ambitions. You've embraced an ethic that says the only thing that's good enough is what's best for the United States of America. (Applause.)

And by making a commitment to these brave men and women, the companies who are represented here today have shown that they've got that same ethic. They share in that belief that we're all in this together. Those companies who are represented here today are showing that they care about this country and those who serve it -- not just with words, not with just with slogans, not just with TV ads, but with the choices that you're making.

As President and Commander-in-Chief, I thank you for that. And I also want to thank my extraordinary wife and Dr. Jill Biden, our Second Lady, for leading the effort to support and honor our military families, and making today possible. Give them a big round of applause. (Applause.) She does all this and she looks cute. (Laughter.) That's right. (Laughter.)

But considering how many veterans are out there looking for work, we can't stop with today's announcement. We've got more work to do. Some of you probably know that last month, I sent Congress a piece of legislation called the American Jobs Act. Now, this is a bill that's fully paid for, and it's filled with the kind of proposals that traditionally Democrats and Republicans have supported in the past -- tax cuts for every small worker -- every worker and small business in America; funding to rebuild our schools and put our teachers back in the classroom so our children can get the education they deserve; a tax credit for small businesses that hire America's veterans.

The idea here is even though so many companies who are here today have committed to hiring our nation's heroes, we want to make it even easier for the businesses that haven't made that commitment yet. It's the right thing to do for our veterans and it's the right thing to do for America. You give smaller companies who may be interested in hiring but are having a tough time -- give them a tax break if they hire a veteran. Give them an even bigger tax break if they hire a disabled veteran.

Now, so far Congress hasn't acted on this proposal. But I want you to know that I'm pushing them a little bit. (Applause.) I'm going to keep pushing them a little bit. In the coming weeks, we're going to hold a series of votes in the Senate on individual pieces of my jobs bill. And one of the votes I'm going to urge members of Congress to take is on whether or not they think it's a good idea to give companies an incentive to hire the men and women who have risked their lives for our country. And I'm hopeful we can get both parties on board for this idea.

When I first proposed this idea in a joint session of Congress, people stood up and applauded on both sides of the aisle. So when it comes for a vote in the Senate, I expect to get votes from both sides of the aisle. (Applause.) Don't just applaud about it, vote for it. Vote for it. (Applause.)

Standing up for our veterans is not a Democratic responsibility or a Republican responsibility --- it is an American responsibility. (Applause.) It is an obligation for every citizen who enjoys the freedoms that our heroes defend. And it's time for us to meet those obligations here today.

This generation of veterans has learned that the challenges don't end in Kandahar or Baghdad -- they continue right here at home. And today, we're saying to those veterans who fought for us, now we are fighting for you -- for more jobs, for more security, for the opportunity to keep your families strong, the chance to keep America competitive economically in the 21st century.

These are tough times for America, but we faced tougher times before. And nobody is tougher than the men and women of America's Armed Forces. (Applause.) You all don't quit. Whenever we faced a challenge in this country, whether it was a depression or a civil war or when our Union was at stake, our harbor was bombed, our country was attacked on that September day -- we did not falter. We did not turn back. We picked ourselves up. We pushed ourselves forward. We got on with the task of fulfilling the ideas that so many Americans have struggled for, and sacrificed for, and given their lives for.

And that's the spirit all of you represent. That's the spirit our whole nation needs right now. You remind us as a nation that that no problem is too hard and no challenge is too great, and no destiny is beyond our reach. So let's meet this moment. Let's get together and show the world just why it is that the United States of America is the greatest nation on Earth. (Applause.)

God bless you. God bless our veterans. God bless the men and women in uniform. And God bless the United States of America. (Applause.)