Michelle Obama, Biden, Praise Women for Service

Veterans Day

Capt. Rolona Brown, who was featured in a video on women's service to the nation during war, said Michelle Obama was her inspiration.  Obama said she cried when she saw the documentary on the women. .Photo by Cheriss May, Howard University News Service

WASHINGTON-   Whether women are in uniform in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, or they are the wives of those in harm’s way or they are the sisters and caregivers back home, they are an integral part of keeping America safe, First Lady Michelle Obama said during a special Veterans Day luncheon to celebrate the contributions of U.S. women abroad and at home.

The first lady and Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden, honored those women for their sacrifices — and victories – during a luncheon at the vice president’s home that was part of a multi-day event praises women and their service and support of the military.

 “I can’t think of a better way to start off Veteran’s Day than to shine a spotlight on all the different ways that women are connected to the military community,” Biden said.  “Their stories, like the stories of some many of you that are here today, show us how greatly you’ve met challenges that most Americans never have to face or even have to imagine.”

One of the Joining Forces initiative’s most recent endeavors in pursuit of that goal was a documentary created in partnership with the Lifetime channel called Women of Honor.

The luncheon hosted a number of women for their service, including the first nation’s two female Army Rangers, Capt. Kristen Griest and First Lt. Shaye Haver, and Marine Corps Major Angela Nelson, one of the first female Marines specially trained to interact with Iraqi women.  Cultural restrictions prevent male servicemen from interacting with Iraqi women. 

Part of the luncheon featured a one-hour film that premiered Monday that focuses on the day-to-day lives of three women whose lives revolved around the military — Army Capt. Rolona Brown, Jennifer Madden, formerly of the military, and Kathleen Causey, the wife of a soldier injured in Afghanistan.

The film provided an intimate look into the struggles and victories as not only members of the military but as mothers, caregivers and spouses of active service men.

First Lady Michelle Obama and Jill Biden acknowledge the two first female Army Rangers, Lt. Shaye Haver (left) and Capt. Kristen Griest
The women graduated from the rigorous Army Ranger Academy with only 97 of the original 400 students. Photo by Cheriss May | HUNS

Brown and Madden were at the luncheon.  In the film, Madden shared her struggles with PTSD and with drug use before eventually turning her life around and becoming a nurse.

Brown said she was “excited to simply tell my story.  I am proud of the documentary.”

Brown joined the military at 18 and eventually worked her way up to becoming a company commander. Brown also was the spouse of an active service member in addition to being the mother of a 19-year-old son. The documentary detailed some of her struggles with raising a son while also being active in the military.

“Resiliency is important,” Brown said. “That is why it brings me great joy to know that Mrs. Obama and Dr. Biden and Joining Forces Initiative will provide families and veterans wellness, education and employment resources.  Military families need opportunities to remain resilient after relocation, a deployment or a life changing injury. I’m so thankful for the initiative,” said Brown.

Obama said she was incredibly moved by the documentary.

“I was crying through the whole thing and I knew what was going on,” she said. “It was because of your stories and the way you had shared every last bit of your lives. I mean it’s truly going to change the way this country sees our military, our families, our veterans so thank you.”

Part of the luncheon was to highlight the Joining Forces initiative, which was started in 2011 by Obama and Biden.  Its goal is to call Americans to action by supporting active service members and veterans, their families and caregivers.  

The initiative has led to the hiring or training of 850,000 veterans by companies across America. In addition, city legislators are trying to find homeless veterans homes and create laws to make it easier for relocated family members to find jobs in their new locations.  

“We know that expressing our gratitude isn’t enough,” Obama said. “Words are never enough. That’s why Joining Forces is about action. It’s about making real concrete changes that you and your families can feel every day in your lives.”

Obama addressed the successes as well the challenges ahead of the initiative.

“I want to make it very clear that we are nowhere near satisfied and we are nowhere near finished because as long as a single veteran in this country has no place to call home or a single military spouse struggles to care for their family or continue their career or a single military family can’t the health care that they need, we still have work to do,” she said.