This week, as Biden leads the U.S. delegation to Thursday’s closing ceremonies of the 2016 Invictus Games for wounded military personnel, she and Obama also close a week of activities – including a May 2 appearance on The Voice – to celebrate the five-year anniversary of their Joining Forces initiative for military families.
Interviewing each other for PEOPLE, the two women talked about the shared undertaking that could have sparked a rivalry, but instead sprouted friendship:
OBAMA: I can’t believe it’s already our 5th anniversary, can you?
BIDEN: I really can’t believe it. I remember the moment we decided to focus on this important issue back stage in Springfield, Illinois, in August of 2008 – the day that then-Senator Obama, announced that Joe would be his running mate. I remember asking you what we would work on if we won. We immediately agreed. We wanted to do everything we could to support our military and their families.
OBAMA: I remember that day, and the months leading up to it, so vividly. I was out on the campaign trail, holding roundtables with women, and I kept meeting these extraordinary military spouses. And I was just blown away by them. They were serving right alongside their spouses and making such extraordinary sacrifices – raising kids and holding down jobs all alone while their spouses were deployed, moving their families from base to base all across this country, caring for spouses who had been seriously injured – and so many Americans just had no idea.
BIDEN: For me, as the mom of a National Guard soldier, and the daughter of a World War II veteran, I couldn’t think of anything more fulfilling than serving those who have sacrificed so much for our country. I had already been doing work with Delaware Boots on the Ground and was excited to take that to a national level.
OBAMA: The troops, veterans and their families … they never asked for anything, but we knew that once people heard their stories, they would be as awed and inspired as we were, and would want to step up and do their part to honor and support these folks.
OBAMA: What has been your favorite Joining Forces memory of the last five years?
BIDEN: I loved when we launched Operation Educate the Educators in 2012. As a lifelong educator, seeing my own teaching community step up and commit to supporting military connected children in their classroom was so special for me. What is your favorite?
OBAMA: It’s tough to pick just one! I still think that our roundtable discussions have been some of the most powerful experiences we’ve had. Last year, when we sat down with veterans receiving mental health care at the Silver Spring Vet Center, I was struggling to hold back tears when an older gentleman told us, “Ten years ago, I never told anyone I was a veteran, but now, people value us, they value our service. Now I never leave the house without my Vietnam Vet ball cap.”
The other incredible part of this for me has been spending so much time with you and getting so close. That’s really been one of the greatest blessings of my time in the White House. Barack and I and our girls truly feel like your family is part of our family, and I just can’t imagine this journey without the friendship and partnership we’ve shared.
BIDEN: We feel the exact same way. It’s been fun to see our girls grow up, play sports and travel together over the last eight years. You and Barack and the girls have really been there for us, and Joe and I are thankful every day for your friendship. I always look forward to the moments the two of us get to spend together.
OBAMA: It really has been such an incredible five years, and I hope that this work will remain a priority for the next administration.
BIDEN: That is absolutely so important. And it’s so important for people to remember that all of us can play a role here just by doing what we do best. If you’re a small business owner, you can hire a veteran or military spouse. If you’re a lawyer, or a counselor, or an accountant, you can provide your services pro bono. If you’re a teacher, you can reach out to military kids in your school. And we all need to keep doing this work, because no matter the state of world affairs, our military families will continue to serve and sacrifice and move from base to base every few years, and our service members will continue to deploy and then later, transition to civilian life. That’s why this work matters, because no matter what, our nation relies upon our military and our military families.