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Elaine Sanchez, American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Dec. 12, 2011 Dr. Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden, invited about 25 elementary school students, a few teachers -- and one special guest in Afghanistan -- to a military-themed holiday party in their home at the U.S. Naval Observatory here today.
Throughout the party, Biden spotlighted the importance of military family support for the children -- a fourth-grade class from nearby White Oaks Elementary School in Burke, Va.
After greeting each of the children -- all dressed in their holiday best -- at the door, she invited them to join her around the Christmas tree in her living room for a discussion about her own experiences as a military mom.
Biden held up a framed picture of her son, Army Maj. Beau Biden of the Delaware National Guard, with his young son, Hunter, in his arms. The picture, she told the children, was taken the day he returned from a yearlong deployment in Iraq. “I know what it’s like to have someone in your family who is deployed,” she said.
She then asked Army Col. Rebecca Porter, a clinical psychologist from the Army Surgeon General’s Office, to talk to the children -- mostly from nonmilitary families -- about the impact deployment has on kids, especially during the holidays, and how students can support military families in their community.
Biden then kicked off her heels and joined the children on the floor in front of the tree to make holiday cards for deployed troops. The card-making event was sponsored by the American Red Cross’ Holiday Mail for Heroes program, which collects and distributes holiday cards to service members, veterans and their families around the world.
But the event’s highlight, especially for one of the students, was the holiday book reading in the next room.
Army Maj. James Blain, deployed in Afghanistan since June, appeared on screen to read the book “Mickey’s Christmas Carol” to his 9-year-old son, Jimmy, and his classmates. Blain earlier recorded the book-reading through United Through Reading, an organization that enables deployed service members to video-record themselves reading books to their children. Deployed troops can read from more than 270 recording stations around the globe, according to an organization fact sheet.
Jimmy listened intently. He’s been in touch with his dad, but mostly over the phone. There’s nothing like seeing him face to face, he said after his dad finished the book.
His mom, Tina Blain, who attended the party with all four of her children, agreed. “Having the DVDs has been a huge bonus for us because we can see Daddy whenever we want.”
Approaching the holidays without Dad is tough on the children, she added. “To see him so positive and so up going into the holidays is good for them,” she said.
Biden also noted the importance of programs such as United Through Reading, which recently pledged to double its commitment to Army and National Guard families in the next two years. Since the program began in 1989, more than 1 million beneficiaries have been served, a news release said.
“It means a lot to children and helps them stay connected with their moms or their dads” while they’re deployed, Biden told American Forces Press Service. “I know in my own family, my son read books to our grandchildren and they loved just hearing their dad’s voice.”
Biden noted that Jimmy’s parents were worried that their 2-year-old son, Matthew, would forget what his dad looked like. This program, however, has set their minds at ease, she said, citing Matthew’s reaction when his father appeared on screen at the party. As soon as he saw his father, Matthew, perched on his mom’s lap, called out, “Daddy, Daddy!”
Biden said the party was intended to raise awareness of military families and the need to support them, which also is the aim of the Joining Forces campaign, a military-support initiative First Lady Michelle Obama and Biden started earlier this year. It’s important for people without a loved one in the military to understand the military experience, she noted.
Particularly around the holidays, “it’s important we remember and commit to an act of kindness,” she said, whether it’s taking cookies to a military family, bringing them dinner, or packing care packages. Biden said she and her family recently packed Christmas stockings for deployed service members together.
“We are ending the war in Iraq … but we still have many, many [service members] deployed in Afghanistan,” Biden said. “We have to remember them and be thankful for their service and what they’ve done for us and this country.”