FORT LIBERTY, N.C. (AP) — President Joe Biden signed an executive order on Friday that aims to bolster job opportunities for military and veteran spouses whose careers are often disrupted by their loved ones’ deployments, telling them “we never forget that you’ve also answered the nation’s call.”
Biden used a visit to the recently renamed Fort Liberty in North Carolina to highlight the order. The order directs agencies to develop a federal government-wide strategic plan on hiring and job retention for military spouses; bolster child care options; improve the collection of data on military and veteran spouses, caregivers and survivors in the federal workforce; and more than a dozen additional actions.
In remarks shortly before signing the order, Biden noted that the U.S. next month will mark 50 years of the all-volunteer force, which the president proclaimed the “greatest fighting force in the history of the world, bar none.”
“The reason we’ve been able to sustain that force year after year, decade after decade, is because military spouses, caregivers and survivors have answered the call as well,” Biden said. “You have your loved ones’ backs, just like they have the country’s back.”
Biden was accompanied by first lady Jill Biden, whose “Joining Forces” initiatives focuses on aiding military families. She said that while the new executive order is a step forward, employers must also do their part by hiring military spouses and offering their families support.
“Spouses bring experience and adaptability that really can’t be taught,” Jill Biden said. “And when they get the opportunities that they deserve, our service members can do their duty knowing that those they love most are able to thrive.”
The order was largely framed by conversations through the first lady’s initiative, which looks to support families, caregivers and survivors of members of the U.S. military, Jill Biden said on a call with reporters previewing the order.
With nearly one in five military families citing challenges with spousal employment as a reason for considering leaving active-duty service, the issue is no small matter for the military’s recruitment and training efforts, according to the White House. More than 16,000 military spouses work within the federal government.
“We’re asking agencies to make it easier for spouses employed by the federal government to take administrative leave, telework and move offices,” the first lady said. “We’re creating resources to support entrepreneurs. And the executive order helps agencies and companies retain military spouses through telework or when they move abroad.”
The president unveiled the order at the Army’s recently renamed Fort Liberty. His visit comes a week after military officials at the base, formerly known as Fort Bragg, held a ceremony at which it officially shed its Confederate name.
The base was originally named in 1918 for Gen. Braxton Bragg, a Confederate general from Warrenton, North Carolina, who was known for owning slaves and losing key Civil War battles that contributed to the Confederacy’s downfall.
The recent renaming of the installation — the largest U.S. Army base by population, with roughly 47,000 active-duty soldiers — didn’t play a role in selecting the base to serve as a backdrop for Biden to announce his executive order, according to an administration official who was not authorized to comment and spoke on the condition of anonymity. Biden did not mention the renaming in his remarks.
Before their visit to Fort Liberty, the Bidens took a tour and met with students at Nash Community College in Rocky Mount, North Carolina. The school is part of a coalition that received $23.7 million to train students for clean energy jobs from Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package.
Biden said the job training effort is part of a strategy to “make us once again the most competitive nation in the world.”
The Biden administration has put an emphasis on funding programs that help prepare workers for jobs that require some post-secondary education but not necessarily a four-year degree.
“You can’t have advanced manufacturing without a highly trained workforce,” the president told the students. “That’s where you all come in.”
Biden’s trip to North Carolina comes as some of the Republican Party’s top presidential contenders gather to address delegates at the state convention in Greensboro, less than 100 miles (160 kilometers) from his stop at Fort Liberty. On Friday, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is headlining a dinner, fresh off his campaign tour to a trio of early voting states, where thousands gathered to hear him castigate Biden and pledge to reverse the Democratic incumbent’s “disastrous economic policies” if elected.
On Saturday, former Vice President Mike Pence and former President Donald Trump, the current GOP front-runner, will speak to delegates in separate appearances. Earlier Saturday, Trump, who has been indicted on charges of mishandling classified documents at his Florida estate, is to address the Georgia Republican Party’s convention in Columbus, Georgia.
Associated Press writer Meg Kinnard in Columbia, S.C., and Seung Min Kim in Washington contributed to this report.