By C. Todd Lopez
WASHINGTON (May 07, 2021) -- More than half of active-duty service members and about 44% of reserve service members are married. Together, that's nearly a million military spouses who stay behind during deployments and temporary duty assignments to maintain the homestead and care for about 1.6 million children, sometimes while also working their own job.
Military Spouse Appreciation Day is observed each year on the Friday before Mother's Day and recognizes the contributions to the nation's defense by the spouses of military service members -- spouses who struggle every day to keep families together and safe while their service member is away.
"Military spouses may not always wear a uniform, but they serve and sacrifice alongside their service members and keep our military strong," President Joe Biden said in a White House proclamation released yesterday. "On Military Spouse Appreciation Day, we recognize and thank the military spouses who serve our nation and are critical to our national security."
During the COVID-19 pandemic, military spouses have worked harder to keep their families together. They've had to struggle with school shutdowns, limited child care options and, for some, a loss of income as well. In some cases, their spouses had to stay deployed longer due to COVID-19 restrictions.
"Still, military spouses have done what they do best: adapt, persevere and keep going," President Biden said.
Programs like First Lady Dr. Jill Biden's Joining Forces and the Defense Department's Military Spouse Employment Partnership are two efforts designed to help improve the ability of military spouses to keep families strong while their spouse defends the nation.
During a virtual event last month, Dr. Biden told military spouses and stakeholders in the Joining Forces program that they are a critical part of what keeps the nation strong.
"You are the rudder that steers our military, and supporting your physical, social and emotional health is a national security imperative," Biden said.
Over the next few years, Joining Forces will focus on several key issues to help strengthen military families and reduce the burden on military spouses, she said:
-- Military family employment and entrepreneurship. Before the pandemic, the Defense Department estimated the military spouse unemployment rate was about 22%, she said. "All of you deserve opportunities to do the work you love, whether that means keeping your job when you move from base to base, or owning your own businesses."
-- Quality child care when families need it. Families do not have to feel like they're choosing between their job and taking care of their children.
-- Education for military children. There are more than 2 million children whose parents are service members, National Guard reservists or veterans. Schools want to support all students, but they don't always know how to do so, she said. "We're going to work with educators and our government partners to make sure that your military-connected kids have what [they] need to succeed."
-- Military family health and well-being. Because only 1% of our country has shouldered the burden of 20 years of war, no one has more strength, grit and resilience than our military families, Biden said, adding, "But you can't do this alone. We have to help you carry this weight by improving access to mental health resources, ensuring everyone can put food on the table and supporting caregiving families and survivors."