Wal-Mart, Sears, Siemens Support First Lady’s Campaign

First lady Michelle Obama and Jill Biden are starting a campaign to support military families that includes commitments from Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (WMT), Sears Holdings Corp. (SHLD) and Siemens AG. Retired General Stanley McChrystal will help lead the effort to educate, employ and mentor U.S. service members and their families.

The first lady and Biden, Vice President Joe Biden’s wife, kicked off the initiative, called Joining Forces, at a White House event today. The nationwide effort will build on President Barack Obama’s January directive to get Cabinet agencies to better coordinate the federal government’s aid to military families, according to the White House.

“One percent of Americans may be fighting on our behalf, but 100 percent of Americans need to be supporting our troops and their families,” Michelle Obama said in the White House East Room.

McChrystal, dismissed last year by the president as the head of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan after he and his aides were quoted in Rolling Stone magazine making disparaging comments about administration officials, will help lead the advisory board for the campaign.

McChrystal and Patricia Shinseki, wife of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki, will serve on a board of advisers set up by the Center for a New American Security, a nonpartisan research institution that develops national security policies. The center will be providing support for the administration’s campaign.

Security Implications

“The deployment-related needs of veterans, military service members and their families have significant national security implications,” said Nathaniel Fick, the center’s chief executive officer, in a statement.

At the White House event, President Obama said it’s America’s “solemn duty” and “moral obligation” to help military personnel and their families who sacrifice to safeguard U.S. national security. He called military families “the force behind the force.” The audience included McChrystal, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen and General David Petraeus, the top commander in Afghanistan.

“Freedom is not free,” the president said. “For 243 years our freedom has been paid by the service and sacrifice by those who step forward, raise their hand and say ‘send me.’”

Business Commitments

The campaign includes commitments from businesses, according to a White House release detailing the pledges made by U.S. companies. Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club, a brand of Wal-Mart, are guaranteeing jobs for all military personnel and spouses already employed by the Bentonville, Arkansas-based company if they or their spouses are relocated by the military.

They will also continue to pay the difference in salary if an employee is making less money when called to active duty.

Hoffman Estates, Illinois-based Sears is also pledging to help transfer personnel and spouses in case they are relocated. The company is planning to hold a virtual career fair for military spouses this summer.

Siemens, a global company that manufactures industrial and consumer products such as traffic-control systems and electrical power plants, is pledging to reserve 10 percent of the more than 3,000 open positions in its clean-technology industries for veterans. The company will also put in place a job training program for veterans. Eric Spiegel, president and chief executive officer of Siemens Corp., the U.S. unit of Germany’s Siemens AG (SI), was at today’s event.

Career Fair

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the nation’s largest business lobby, is also participating. The chamber will host a career fair for veterans and military spouses in 100 communities nationwide. The chamber’s “Hiring Our Heroes” program in conjunction with the Labor Department’s Veterans Employment and Training Service, local chambers of commerce, and the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve, is trying to reach 50,000 veterans and military spouses, according to the White House.

The first lady said the administration has gotten television networks, Major League Baseball and NASCAR to agree to raise public awareness about military families through continuing campaigns and public service announcements.

The first lady has been making visits to military communities since her husband’s 2008 presidential campaign. She will travel with Jill Biden to Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, tomorrow for an event with 3,000 Marines, soldiers, sailors and military family members. They will also make stops in San Antonio, Denver, Colorado Springs and Columbus, Ohio.

Jill Biden described watching her son, Beau Biden, Delaware’s attorney general, leave to serve in Iraq two years ago. “Not a day passed during his year away when I didn’t worry about his safety,” she said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Kate Andersen Brower in Washington at kandersen7@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Silva at msilva34@bloomberg.net

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