WASHINGTON – Shortly after Janice Chance’s son enlisted in the Marine Corps,she dreamed she saw him lying on a stretcher. Ten years later,Marine Corps officers knocked on her front door to inform her that her son had died in Afghanistan.
“I didn’t want to see you,but I was kind of expecting you,” she says she told them.
She was now a Gold Star mother – one who has lost a child to military service. Her son,Capt. Jesse Melton III,is one of the 5,957 soldiers to have died in Afghanistan and Iraq. He died Sept. 9,2008.
Chance,of Owings Mills,Md.,was at the White House Tuesday as first lady Michelle Obama and the vice president’s wife,Jill Biden,launched the Joining Forces campaign,a national initiative to honor and support the families of members of the armed forces. The president and vice president also spoke.
“Joining Forces is a challenge to every segment of American society to take action,to make a real commitment to supporting and engaging these families,” Obama said.
She said several companies,including Sears,Kmart,and Sam’s Club,will do their best to provide jobs to spouses of military personnel who move to new duty stations. Siemens will set aside 10 percent of its open positions for veterans,and companies such as Hewlett-Packard and Microsoft will train military spouses in new technologies so they can start their own businesses.
Obama announced that retired general Stanley McChrystal and Patty Shinseki,wife of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki,will be on the new group’s advisory board. McChrystal,the former top commander in Afghanistan,retired after an article in Rolling Stone quoted him and members of his staff saying derogatory things about their civilian superiors.
Mrs. Biden,a university instructor,announced that the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education has partnered with the Military Child Education Coalition to promote training for future teachers on how to best serve military-connected students.
“Imagine for a moment not just what these small gestures mean to a family,” she said,“but what they mean to a soldier thousands of miles away who knows that someone is looking out for the ones he loves back home.”
Vice President Biden said he and his wife discovered firsthand how small gestures help military families when their son,Beau,was deployed to Iraq for a year.
“We learned at that time how much it means to those who are in a war zone thousands of miles away,knowing that their family is being cared for,that the next-door neighbor has offered to cut their grass while their husband is overseas,” Biden said.
President Obama said that,for the first time,the well-being of military families is a national priority,and not just a Defense Department or VA issue.
“Behind every American in uniform stands a wife,a husband,a mom,a dad,a son or a daughter,a sister or brother,” Obama said. “These families – these remarkable families – are the force behind the force.”
He said his administration is working on about 50 specific commitments to improve the lives of military families,on issues such as education and veteran homelessness.
“I am thrilled with everything they’re doing,and I will be a part of it,” Chance said.
She joined the American Gold Star Mothers,a volunteer organization and support group for mothers whose son or daughter is killed in military service,nine months after her son was killed. She has since volunteered Walter Reed Army Medical Center and other military hospitals.
“We’re not a bunch of women sitting around crying,” she said. “We turn our pain into something positive.”
She said she hopes the campaign will help mothers who don’t know how to reach out after losing their children in battle.