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Thursday, April 12, 2012


Dr. Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden, speaks about the value of military family support during a roundtable discussion at the Pentagon, April 10, 2012. The roundtable included Deanie Dempsey, wife of Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, and honored the winners of the Joining Forces Community Challenge, which is an effort to recognize and celebrate the extraordinary military family support efforts of citizens and organizations across the country. DOD photo by Elaine Sanchez

Dr. Biden, Mrs. Dempsey Salute 'Challenge' Winners
By Elaine Sanchez
WASHINGTON, April 11, 2012 - Leading up to a White House celebration today, two of the nation's top wives personally thanked a group of individuals and organization leaders for their efforts to improve military families' lives at the Pentagon yesterday.
 Dr. Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden, and Deanie Dempsey, wife of Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, honored the winners of the Joining Forces Community Challenge during a roundtable discussion.

The Community Challenge, part of the Joining Forces campaign, is intended to recognize and celebrate the extraordinary military family support efforts of citizens and organizations across the country. First Lady Michelle Obama and Biden launched Joining Forces one year ago today to rally Americans around troops, veterans and their families, and announced the Challenge in July to capture the innovative ways people have chosen to support and honor them.

"What you're doing is so amazing," Biden told the group, which had just wrapped up a Pentagon tour. "This is a dream come true that you're out there helping military families."
USO President Sloan D. Gibson, who served as roundtable moderator, invited representatives from each of the six groups to explain their organizations' accomplishments and what spurred them to action. The winners range from a community that ensures families of deployed Guard members have a vast array of support, to a group that offers outdoor retreats to military spouses, to an organization of mental health professionals that volunteers their time, free of charge, to military families.

Whatever the service or support they provide, all embody the spirit of the Joining Forces campaign, Biden said, as they step up to serve and honor troops and their families. "Joining Forces is all about calling on people all across the country to lend a hand," she said.

Biden and Dempsey both passed on their personal gratitude for the groups' efforts. The Bidens' son, Beau Biden, is a captain in the Army National Guard who served a one-year deployment in Iraq, and Dempsey is a military wife and a military mom. Her husband commissioned all three of their children, she said, and their daughter is married to a captain in the Special Forces.

"What you do for all military families, you also do for the Dempsey family," the chairman's wife said. "From a personal standpoint, thank you from the bottom of my heart."
The Joining Forces Community Challenge winners are:

-- Armed Forces Service Center, St. Paul, Minn. The service center is a 24/7 "all free" lounge staffed by volunteers at the Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport for active-duty military personnel, their families, activated reservists and National Guardsmen and other members of the uniformed services.

-- Defending the Blue Line, Hastings, Minn. This organization works to ensure that children of military members have access to participate in hockey through free equipment, hockey camps, special events and financial assistance toward association and other hockey-related costs.

-- Give an Hour, Bethesda, Md. Founded by Washington, D.C.-based psychologist Barbara Van Dahlen, this organization is dedicated to meeting the mental health needs of military personnel, their families, and the communities affected by the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. In addition to counseling, providers also consult to schools, first responders, employers, and community organizations. Give an Hour has provided nearly 50,000 hours of free service, valued at roughly $5 million.

-- Project Sanctuary, Parker, Colo. This organization brings military families together in the Rocky Mountains after deployments to help them reconnect through recreational activities and therapy. Follow-up support beyond the retreat is also provided, and includes support to families with housing, job placement and veterans' assistance.

-- City of Richfield, Utah. The city has supported its local Army National Guard unit through four deployments since Sept. 11, 2001. Additionally, Richfield provides several programs and services for military families, including a city utility abatement program and distribution of the city's newspaper to deployed soldiers so they can stay in touch with the community.

-- Our Family for Families First Foundation, East Greenwich, R.I. This foundation, chosen by the public as the Challenge's "People's Choice Winner," supports military families pursuing higher education by supporting military children through scholarships and military spouses through grants and assistance identifying educational opportunities.

Other than the People's Choice award, the Challenge winners were selected with input from a panel of judges that included news correspondent and author Tom Brokaw; J.R. Martinez, an Iraq war veteran, motivational speaker and "Dancing With the Stars" winner; San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro; Deanie Dempsey; and Gibson.

At the roundtable, Gibson ticked off the reasons he believes these groups deserve this national honor. They're having a positive impact on military families' lives, are building stronger bonds between military families and their communities, and are inspiring others to bring the same "passion and obvious care and concern" to military family support, he said.

All 20 Challenge finalists will be honored at today's White House event, which also marks the one-year anniversary of Joining Forces.