NEW YORK -- At a conference traditionally dominated by international concerns, First Lady Michelle Obama chose instead to focus on an issue much closer to home in her speech Thursday that closed the sixth annual Clinton Global Initiativ
e. Drawing on one of the event's themes of "Harnessing Human Potential," Mrs. Obama encouraged the audience of business and nonprofit leaders to employ former military service members and their spouses.
Following an introduction by President Obama -- who praised his wife's "moral voice and her moral center" -- the first lady made the case for engaging returning servicemen and women. "I'm asking you to take advantage of their talent, their dedication, and their experience," she said. "I'm not asking you to do this out of the goodness of your heart -- do it because it's good for your bottom line and the success of your organization."
Praising the capabilities of veterans, the first lady said they had "highly valuable, highly transferable, highly marketable skills -- skills that I know many businesses, including those represented here today, are desperate to find." Those who have served in the armed forces, she went on, "master state-of-the-art technologies, run the world's most complex operations, oversee hundreds of their colleagues, and shoulder more responsibility than many CEOs."
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Mrs. Obama lady praised military families as well, likening the work of spouses who lead Family Readiness Groups (FRGs) as similar to that of "a CEO -- or COO -- or senior executive."
She also advocated for veteran employment in the nonprofit world -- specifically in areas such as disaster assistance and relief work. While serving in the military, soldiers "go on regular humanitarian missions throughout the world, providing everything from food aid, to medical care, to help with construction," she said. "They're called to act as diplomats, social workers, mediators, and educators."
Providing context for this high-profile employment drive, the first lady highlighted the problems faced by recently discharged troops. According to her remarks, 150,000 recent veterans are struggling to find jobs; three-quarters of veterans report having difficulty translating the expertise gained in the military into a resume; 61 percent of employers do not fully understand the skills that veterans have to offer.
Mrs. Obama addressed the psychological toll
exacted by unemployment on these returning service people: "It's hard to give so much, for so long, for a cause greater than yourself, only to come home and find that there's nowhere you quite fit in."
She noted her husband's work to help veterans -- including a "21st Century GI Bill which is helping nearly 300,000 veterans and their families get the education they need to fulfill their dreams" and hiring nearly 33,000 veterans in the federal government. But, she added, "the government can only do so much."
The first lady then made a pledge. "As part of my ongoing efforts to encourage folks to support our veterans and military families, I'll do my part to connect you with advocates and experts -- and with resources throughout our government -- from the Department of Labor to the Defense Department and the VA."
She added, "I will use my platform as first lady to bring folks together around this issue. I'll work to spark not just a national conversation, but national action
to give our vets and military spouses the opportunities they deserve."