By Elaine Sanchez
American Forces Press Service
Joined by a few famous friends, First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden, stopped by a packed auditorium here yesterday to thank local troops and their families for their service and to encourage community members to join forces " in support of military families.
The concert-style event, featuring performances by singer Nick Jonas and a host of Sesame Street Muppets, was the final stop of Obama and Biden`s whirlwind, two-day tour around the nation to kick off the Joining Forces " military family support campaign.
The national initiative calls on all sectors of society -- from citizens and communities, to businesses and nonprofit groups -- to honor and support military families.
Moments earlier, Obama and Biden had walked onto the stage to thunderous applause and a warm welcome from Sesame Street fan favorites, including Elmo, Grover and the Cookie Monster. Despite the star-studded presence, Obama said military families were the true guests of honor that evening and thanked them for their service.
You`re the reason that we`re here, " she told service members and their families scattered among the still-cheering crowd.
The first lady also thanked local community members, who came out in droves for the event. There are a lot of community members who came out tonight, because even though you may not be part of a military family yourself, you still feel a whole lot of gratitude and respect for those who are, " she said.
That`s the intent behind Joining Forces, she said: to recognize, honor and support military families. We want to give back to these families that have given all of us so much, " she said.
The campaign will join forces with federal government, businesses and nonprofit organizations, Obama said, as well as with people from the entertainment and sports industries, to ensure military families receive the support they need.
Efforts at all levels are vital, but most importantly, this effort is about all of us joining forces as Americans, as neighbors and colleagues and classmates, " she said.
And the motto for this effort is very simple, " she added. Jill and I believe that everyone -- everyone -- can do something, even boys and girls. Everyone can do something to support a military family. And everyone can ask themselves, "What can I do? How can I give back?` "
These gestures can be simple ones, Obama noted. Children can offer to do a project to support military families at their school, and parents can offer to help out a military neighbor.
If you`re a parent, maybe you can tell that military mom down the street that you`ll take her shift in the carpool, or maybe mow the lawn, or start a group at your place of worship to help lighten the load for these families during deployments, " she suggested.
Obama urged people to visit the Joining Forces website at http://joiningforces.gov for ideas on how to get involved.
In the end, I know that if we all work together, if we all join forces, then we can serve our military families as well as they`ve served us, " she said.
Biden echoed the first lady`s words and expressed her gratitude for the troops and families in attendance.
We hope to inspire more communities out around the country to reach out to our military families just like we are doing tonight, " she said. We can all join forces. "
After they spoke, Obama and Biden stepped off the stage and into the crowd to personally greet families.
Air Force Gen. Craig R. McKinley, chief of the National Guard Bureau, also attended the event and praised the efforts of communities around the nation, including those in Ohio.
During these times of deployments, the support your communities provide to our soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Coast Guard members and their families is nothing shy of spectacular, " he said. This support, he added, enables troops to focus on the mission with the comfort of knowing their families are cared for back home.
The event also served as the kickoff for the fifth installment of the Sesame Street/USO Experience for Military Families, a free, traveling USO tour for military families. During the evening, Sesame unveiled Katie, a new character designed for the tour, who is a military child moving to a new home. Elmo and friends help Katie open up about her fears and excitement about the upcoming change.
The new show will head to Alaska later this month and then will continue on an around-the-world tour.
Earlier in the day, Obama and Biden stopped by the National Math and Science Competition at the Fountain-Fort Carson High School in Colorado Springs, Colo., and later attended an employment event here to highlight how several major businesses have made commitments to ensure job transferability for military spouses.
They made stops April 13 in Denver, San Antonio and in North Carolina, where they spoke to troops and their families and attended a celebration for pregnant military spouses on Camp Lejeune.
Army Master Sgt. Joel Reynolds said he was thrilled that Obama and Biden made time for a stop in Ohio.
That`s huge for the families, " he said. It`s not very often that we get to actually see somebody of great importance show interest in us as individuals. "
While Obama and Biden were a big hit with his dad, Reynolds` 6-year-old son, Caleb, said he had his own personal favorite: Elmo.