COLUMBUS -- Hiring military service members and their spouses is good business and a good way to support those defending our country, First Lady Michelle Obama and Second Lady Jill Biden said here Thursday on a national tour to promote the employment of soldiers, sailors, airmen, and their spouses.
Mrs. Obama and Mrs. Biden made a dual stop Thursday in Columbus, at a cavernous Sears warehouse where they spoke to about 200 Sears employees and later at a concert for military members and their families downtown.
With gray and red Craftsman garden tractors stacked five-high as their backdrop, Mrs. Obama and Mrs. Biden used the occasion to promote their initiative, Joining Forces, and to highlight Sears Holding Corp.'s initiative to keep military wives and husbands working.
Under Sears' new plan, the company said it will commit to providing jobs for transferred service members or spouses in a comparable job at a Sears, Kmart, or Lands' End, retailers that operate as part of the Sears Holdings conglomerate that merged in 2005.
Mrs. Obama pointed out the stresses on military families when the husband or wife is deployed overseas or to another military station.
She said spouses lose seniority because they have to keep starting over when they are redeployed and may have a disadvantage in the job market if their resumes show multiple jobs.
But, Mrs. Obama said, military spouses have higher high school graduation rates than the general population and more than 80 percent of spouses have some college education as well.
And, she said, military spouses have learned how to "weather adversity and adapt to changing circumstances."
"Jill and I think that military spouses are some of the hardest-working and most-talented people we know, and we think it's time our country finally tapped into their full potential and took advantage of all these folks have to offer," Mrs. Obama said.
Mrs. Biden, a military mom, said she and Mrs. Obama see Joining Forces as a way for Americans to support the troops and thank them for their service.
And although they didn't say so directly, hiring service members and their spouses is a way to boost employment in an economy that has an 8.8 percent jobless rate.
A Sears spokesman said the national retailer employs more than 30,000 veterans, 1,500 active service members, and thousands of military spouses.
In Ohio, the company employs 150 military "associates," most of them veterans.
Sears calls its program PCS Promise, for cases of Permanent Change of duty Station, retirement, or separation.
Sears said that with its program, Sears Holdings will do everything in its power to give military associates who are employed by the retailer a position at a Sears, Kmart or Lands' End store that is convenient to their new location.
Also, Walmart and Sam's Club, Siemens Corp., SCORE, Cisco/Futures, Indeed.com, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce announced commitments to hiring and training initiatives for veterans, service members, and their spouses.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce will conduct hiring fairs for veterans and military spouses in 100 local communities across the country and attempt to reach 50,000 veterans and military spouses.
Columbus is one of several stops Mrs. Obama and Mrs. Biden are making this week, along with Hilda Solis, the U.S. secretary of labor.
One of the spectators at Thursday's event was Mike Wilkes, 32, of Cincinnati, a Sears distribution manager.
Mr. Wilkes said he started with Sears part time when he was deployed with the Air Force at Offut AFB, Omaha.
Mr. Wilkes was deployed for 30 days to Turkey and for six months to Saudi Arabia, between 1998 and 2002.
"They held my job for me. They were very, very flexible, working around my military schedule," said Mr. Wilkes, who as a military police officer, was on call 24 hours a day, he said.
Sears employee Esther Daveiga of Westerville, Ohio, whose husband was in the Air Force for 26 years starting in 1973, said the initiative recognizes the experience of the military spouse: "The moving, the children not being able to be adjusted in school, the wife being left to sometimes handle mostly everything."
"I think it's absolutely wonderful what they're doing to help the spouses in the military," Mrs. Daveiga said.
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Michelle Obama and Mrs. Biden support Joining Forces project in Columbus.