Michelle Obama on Her Passion to 'Make It Right' for Military Families

First lady has made it her mission to support U.S. servicemen and women.

October 8, 2012, 2:53 PM

Oct. 9, 2012— -- With the war in Iraq over and U.S. troops withdrawing from Afghanistan, first lady Michelle Obama has made it her mission to support America's servicemen and women returning from a decade of conflict.

"Nightline" was granted wide-ranging access to Mrs. Obama, who spoke candidly about her passion to "make it right" for the nation's military families.

"We have to rally around for these families. We have to be that safety net for them because, they're leaving to serve us. They're fighting for the rights and freedoms of all of us. And that's what's moved me about this effort," an emotional first lady told "Nightline" anchor Cynthia McFadden.

<"I think that there is just something special about people who serve, the kind of discipline, the kind of passion that they have, the dedication," Mrs. Obama continued. "I've had the opportunity to see that up close and when you meet these people and you hear their stories, you just want to...make it right."

Watch Part Two of "Nightline" anchor Cynthia McFadden's three-part interview with First Lady Michelle Obama TONIGHT on "Nightline" at 11:35 p.m. ET. Watch Part One HERE.

 Mrs. Obama admitted that, like most Americans, she had little personal connection to the sacrifices of the military community. 

"My connection to military life was pretty tangential," she said. "Most Americans like me, they just don't have a clear idea of the sacrifice these men and women and their families make."

Citing the hardships of multiple deployments and frequent family moves, the first lady said that she was "floored by the stories that I heard."

"I thought, well if I don't know about this, I'm educated and consider myself pretty well informed about a lot of issues, [and I] didn't know these stories," she said.

So in April 2011, the first lady and Vice President Joe Biden's wife, Dr. Jill Biden, decided to act, forming "Joining Forces," to bring attention to the unique needs and strengths of America's soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines.

As the nation continues to recover from the recession, the initiative works to connect servicemen and women, veterans and military spouses with the resources and training they need to find jobs.

"I won't be satisfied -- nor will my husband -- until every single veteran and military spouse who wants a job has one. All of you deserve nothing less.  Nothing less," Mrs. Obama said.

With the help of Joining Forces, 2,000 companies have hired or trained 125,000 veterans or military spouses. According to the White House, these efforts, combined with the president's policies have led to a 20 percent decrease in veteran unemployment in the last year.

A big part of tackling high veteran unemployment is teaching troops how to apply the unique skills they've acquired in the field to jobs back at home and educating companies about the invaluable skills and wealth of knowledge that service members can bring to the workplace.

"They've learned how to translate... their service training to the private sector," Mrs. Obama said. "And that takes a little time to figure out, you know, if somebody's been flying a helicopter, what can they do at a railroad? If somebody's been doing logistics in Afghanistan, maybe I can figure out how that makes sense... Many of our military members have never had to look for a job. They don't have the right resumes."

Looking out for military families goes beyond the tangible, however. As the first lady explained, a big part of supporting our troops is providing for their mental health needs.

"We're looking at the overall health needs of military families. When they come back and when they leave. Because the other thing we have to realize, most people think that military families get all their health services through the VA. But families are living in communities all over this country," she said.

So Joining Forces has partnered with nursing schools and medical associations to train medical professionals to be aware of the mental health issues affecting military families.

"This is a plan for the future because we know that these numbers are going to increase. As we see the drawdown of troops, as these wars come to a close, we're going to have more and more veterans, more of their families out in the civilian community with a whole range of needs," she said.

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