By C. Todd Lopez
WASHINGTON (Jan. 22, 2013) -- Thousands of kids from around the country gathered at the convention center here to take in the musical performances of Usher, Katy Perry and Mindless Behavior as guests of Michelle Obama and Jill Biden, Ph.D., wife of Vice President Joe Biden, in advance of the second inauguration of President Barack Obama.
"The inauguration is a pretty big deal," the first lady said. "The president and the vice president are sworn in. There are all these inaugural balls. Everybody dresses up and dances. We had a wonderful day of service today. And hundreds of thousands of people come from all 50 states to join in this celebration. And I love every single minute of it. But my very favorite part of this entire weekend is being right here with you. For me, this is what inauguration is all about."
The first lady said what's important to her is "celebrating who we are as Americans."
"When I think about who we are, when I think about what makes America great, I think about all of you," she said. "Our men and women in uniform, our military spouses, and our amazing military kids. And that's why Jill and I wanted to host this event."
Kicking off the concert, called "Kids' Inaugural: Our Children. Our Future," was the arrival of Mrs. Obama and her daughters, as well as Mrs. Biden and her grandchildren. A joint honor guard presented the colors and the daughter of an American sailor sang the national anthem before a crowd of thousands of children and their parents. Children of U.S. service members led the pledge of allegiance.
But the big draw for the evening, for the kids -- many of whom were from military families stationed in places like Fort Hood, Texas, Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, Wright Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, Camp Pendleton, Calif., and Coast Guard Air Station Clearwater, Fla., was the entertainment.
Musician Usher kicked off the entertainment with three songs, peppered in between with a message repeated throughout the evening by other artists: support for, pride in and gratitude for the military children that support their mothers or fathers who serve.
The first lady reiterated that message later in the evening -- before the main act featuring Katy Perry -- when she addressed the audience and drew attention to the challenges of being the son or daughter of a service member.
"Did you know a military kid attends an average of six to nine schools by the time they graduate high school?," she asked. "Just imagine how much courage it takes to always be the new kid, to walk through the doors of a new school every couple of years; to have to make new friends again and again."
The first lady said that when service members leave for deployment, they leave behind their young children who often have to take on responsibility that is beyond their years.
"Just think about the level of maturity that is required from military kids during those times," she said. "Think about how they have to step up at home without even being asked: taking out the trash when dad is not there; helping brothers and sisters with homework when mom is away. Think about how hard it is for military kids to be apart from the people they love the most. How they miss their moms and dads every day and would do anything to have them back home. And that is just a glimpse of what it means to be a military kid."
The first lady directly addressed military children who were watching the concert both in person and on television. She told them how proud she is of them, and of her commitment and the commitment of Mrs. Biden, to continuing to draw attention to the needs of military families through the Joining Forces program.
"Make no mistake about it, you all are an important part of the greatest military on earth," Obama said. "By supporting your families, you all are helping to protect this country and keep every single one of us safe. You are doing that. And Doctor Biden and I are so incredibly proud of you all. Every day we are proud of you. The vice president and the president are proud of you. And in the coming years, as these wars draw to an end and we draw down our troops, I want you to know, you and your families to know that we will not be drawing down our work to support you."
Biden explained the Joining Forces program to children and their families, and why she and the first lady started the program.
"The first lady and I knew from the start that we wanted to celebrate the strength and service of our military families," Biden said. "That's why we started Joining Forces. Our efforts encourage all Americans to find ways to honor and support our troops, veterans and military families."
Biden said the program is especially important to her, as her son Joseph "Beau" Biden III serves in the Delaware Army National Guard, and was deployed to Iraq for a year.
"We want tonight to be one special way our country shows all of you just how much we appreciate everything you are doing for our country," Biden said. "We are so excited to be here with you tonight."
According to the program's web site, Obama and Biden use the Joining Forces initiative to "mobilize all sectors of society to give our service members and their families the opportunities and support they have earned."
The program brings attention to the needs of military families, encourages all sectors of society to ensure veterans and military families have the opportunities and resources they need, and helps to create a greater connection between the military and the rest of Americans.
Performers at the Kids' Inaugural concert included Usher, Far East Movement, iLUMINATE, Mindless Behavior, the Soul Children of Chicago with Black Violin, Katy Perry, and performers from the television show Glee.