Last June, the Afghanistan war officially became the longest-running conflict in U.S. history, and thousands of Americans are still serving in Iraq after eight years of combat there. But perhaps the most unusual thing about these wars is the small number of Americans who are personally affected by them. Only 1 percent of Americans currently serve in the military, which means the same group of service members is returning to the battlefield for duty, deployment after deployment.
Meanwhile, on the home front, our military families are stretched thinner than ever before. Raising children when one parent is away at war for months at a time is emotionally taxing. And we're all aware that military members are not the highest paid workers in our society -- to support a family today, their spouses must be employed as well. Considering how frequently military families must uproot and move to a new location, nailing down a job can often be difficult.
First Lady Michelle Obama recently visited "The Oprah Winfrey Show" to talk about the struggles facing America's military families:
"Because so few Americans are serving, you've got families that are dealing with their fourth and fifth and sixth deployment," said the First Lady. "Parents are struggling to do this alone... We have to find a way to embrace all of these families."
Indeed, we can hardly say we support our troops if we don't make an effort to support their families at home. In January, President Obama took a step in the right direction when he announced a major presidential initiative directing every cabinet department to craft policies and programs that help serve military families, from education and career development to housing and financial services. But the President made a point of noting that this is not a problem that can be solved solely by government:
"We also recognize that this can't be a mission for government alone," Obama said. "Government has its responsibilities, but when one percent of Americans are fighting our wars, 100 percent of Americans should be supporting our troops and their families."
On April 12, First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden will launch an initiative designed to encourage individual citizens and communities to make this same commitment to help our military families. As the First Lady said on Oprah, there is likely a unique way that each one of us can help. Businesses can make it a point to hire military spouses even if they know those individuals might move on in a few years. Accountants can help military families prepare their taxes, offsetting an expense that could make or break a tight family budget.
At Goodwill Industries, we raise money by selling donated items in more than 2,500 retail stores and online, and we use the revenue to fund job training and placement programs, including placing workers in positions at our own stores. In response to the Obamas' call to action, Goodwill Industries International has launched Goodwill for America's Heroes and Their Families, an initiative that extends Goodwill's existing programs to military spouses and families. We will also target more than 20 percent of our new positions this year (1,300 jobs) to military spouses, veterans and their families, and we will provide career counseling and family strengthening services to thousands more.
This is just one approach to better supporting our military families. There are many more ideas out there -- ideas that you can be a part of and help to implement.
We all like to say we support our troops. Now it's time to take it one step further and actually support them by first helping their families.
Follow Jim Gibbons on Twitter: www.twitter.com/goodwillintl