A year ago, Michelle Obama and Jill Biden announced Joining Forces, a program to create and secure private-sector jobs for veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. At the time, the first lady said it was time to "build upon our nation's great patriotism by asking all Americans to take action and ensure our military families have the support they have earned."
A year later, the need for action remains. It's why, to celebrate the one-year anniversary of Joining Forces, HuffPost launched Military Families Week to honor our country's military families, put the spotlight on their sacrifices and help connect them with employment resources.
The first lady has shared her personal story of the moment she knew she wanted to help military families. "I heard so many stories of the strength and grace, of the sacrifice and service that truly define what it means to be in a military family," she said. "I met spouses who balanced the demands of a job, a family and community obligations, all while their loved one was thousands of miles away serving our country. I met military kids who moved from school to school every couple of years, and seemed to grow up just a little faster when mom or dad was deployed."
First ladies have long devoted energy and time to military families in need - from Eleanor Roosevelt to Florence Harding, who was an advocate for the rights of returning World War I veterans. And that need is especially urgent today, as the stories of soldiers and their loved ones can attest.
Bianca Strzalkowski, a military wife (and Military Spouse magazine's 2011 Military Spouse of the Year), draws attention to a little-discussed aspect of military life: the way military spouses often struggle to complete their educations. "It's common among the military spouses of the U. S. Armed Forces to readjust our sails repeatedly as we navigate military life," she writes. "Yet, fortunately, we share a common characteristic: tenacity."
Mark Cubbedge of the nonprofit Wounded Warrior Project tells the story of Cpl. Anthony Villarreal, a soldier who has served two tours of duty in Iraq and one in Afghanistan, where he was badly burned by an IED. Cpl. Villarreal recalls waking up in a military hospital and sensing that his wife and children were at his bedside. "But I had had surgery to replace my eyelids, so it was hard for me to look."
Tracey Scharmann, whose husband was deployed to Iraq in 2003, writes: "I know what it's like to see my child win her first swim meet or dance on stage for the first time or laugh that hardy little infant laugh for the first time. I don't know what it's like not to be able to do that."
And "What It Is Like to Go to War," by former Marine and Vietnam veteran Karl Marlantes, explores the spiritual and psychological cost of warfare on everyone - the soldiers, their families and society at large. Marlantes suggests the following words for a ritual of forgiveness, to be said over the graves of the enemy: "Bless these dead, our former enemies, who have played out their part, hurled against us by the forces that hurled against them. Bless us who live, whose parts are not yet done, and who know not how they shall be played. Forgive us if we killed in anger or hatred. Forgive them if they did the same. Judgment is Yours, not ours. We are only human."
America has been a nation at war for more than a decade, which only deepens our responsibility and our debt to our servicemen and women. The fighting and burden of sacrifice is being shouldered by a tiny percentage of our citizens - all of whom volunteered - and it's been far too easy, for far too long, to keep their struggles at arm's length. And it's even easier to forget about the hardships endured by the families they leave behind. So as we honor those who serve, and those who love them, let's heed the advice of Jill Biden, who urged us all to turn our "gratitude into concrete action."
Arianna Huffington is president and editor-in-chief of Huffington Post Media Group. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.(c) 2012 Arianna Huffington. Distributed by Tribune Media Services, Inc.