Military Families Week: Putting the Spotlight on the Sacrifices of Those Left Behind

Talk about letting bygones be bygones: less than a year after President Obama relieved him of his command, the White House announced Sunday that Gen. Stanley McChrystal will help supervise a new initiative designed to put a spotlight on the sacrifices of America's military families -- and the practical steps the rest of us can take to help them.

Dubbed Joining Forces, the program will be officially announced today by Michelle Obama and Jill Biden -- whose husband McChrystal famously mocked by saying, "Who's that?"

But that was then and this is now -- a time to, as the First Lady put it, "build upon our nation's great patriotism by asking all Americans to take action and ensure our military families have the support they have earned." (For more on Joining Forces, be sure to check out the "You've Got..." video on AOL, which will feature Michelle Obama and Jill Biden talking about the effort and, as Biden puts it in the video, turning our "gratitude into concrete action.")

America has been a nation at war for nearly a decade -- longer than any time in our history. But because the fighting is being done by a tiny percentage of our citizens -- all of whom volunteered -- it's been far too easy to keep their struggles at arm's length. And it's even easier to forget about the hardships endured by the families they leave behind.

That's why we are making this Military Families Week at The AOL Huffington Post Media Group. The goal is to honor our military families, remind us of their sacrifices, provide them with employment resources, and let our readers know different ways they can help.

Joining Forces hopes to inspire businesses, nonprofit groups, and faith-based communities to make an extra effort when it comes to helping military families. On our sites we'll be featuring stories all week that focus on the issues that most impact military families, including health care, substance abuse, education, mental health and unemployment.

In addition to the built-in hardships faced by military families, a sputtering economy and an extremely difficult job market create special challenges for the spouses of our soldiers. As HuffPost's David Wood reports, the average military family moves every 2.9 years, labor markets around military bases are often weak, and even if you can find work, keeping a full-time job isn't easy when you are raising a family by yourself. That's why the unemployment rate for military spouses is much higher than it is for women in civilian families.

"It is difficult -- you are constantly moving so having a career is extremely hard," says Kristy Kaufmann, the wife of an Army officer. "Sometimes you can get a job waitressing or at the Post Exchange, but for people who want more of a career, that can be challenging."

To help lessen that challenge, AOL Jobs will be running a number of stories focused on helping vets and military families find work. The section will also offer career counseling, and information on accreditation programs, returning to school, the top employers of veterans, and making the transformation from military service to the civilian workforce.

Among our other sections taking part in honoring and assisting military families this week:
  • Impact will look at the plight of homeless female vets, and feature blog posts from veterans and veteran advocates.
  • Education will explore the specific challenges faced by children of soldiers.
  • Living will feature videos and articles about mental health, substance abuse and PTSD, as well as the sleep-related problems faced often by returning combat veterans.
  • Black Voices will feature blog posts by various chapters of Tuskegee Airmen.
  • Health will survey the state of the health care provided to our military families, and offer information and resources on how they can access the programs available to them.
  • Business will look into the special problems faced by unemployed vets.
  • Tech will feature a story on a tech start-up being run by veterans.
  • Divorce will explore the reasons behind the higher divorce rates of military women.
  • AOL Latino will run a number of blog posts written by current and former soldiers focusing on issues faced by Latinos in the service.
  • We'll also feature segments of "In Their Boots," a documentary series about the profound effect the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq is having on families here at home.

And, most importantly, we'll be encouraging everyone who reads these stories to take action and get involved. All week we'll be highlighting organizations and non-profits that make it easy to give a little back to those who have sacrificed so much for us, including Challenge America, Operation Shower, Cell Phones for Soldiers, Fisher House, Operation Homefront, Soldiers' Angels, and IAVA, the USO, Hire Heroes USA, and Wounded Warrior Project.

As the First Lady said in a ceremony honoring the Military Child of the Year, "Our message is very clear: It's that every American has the ability -- and the obligation -- to give something back to our military families."

Watching the White House and Gen. McChrystal bury the hatchet and come together in the name of military families sends a clear and powerful message: taking care of those left behind is a higher ground we all should occupy. As McChrystal put it: "this is about taking care of our people."

So read the stories, watch the videos, and let's all make a difference.