First ladies aren't on the ballot, but Jill Biden will be a force in the White House

Mary Winnefeld, Opinion contributor
·4 min read

As a bizarre election season approaches its climax, Americans — especially those who remain undecided — are sifting through the stark differences between the Democratic and Republican presidential candidates on the ballot. Soon they will make one of the most important voting decisions of their adult lives.

With that in mind, now is as good a time as ever to point out the often-under-appreciated value to the presidency of having a positively engaged spouse as a teammate. As a former military spouse, I want to tell you how important Dr. Jill Biden was to me personally, and how amazing she will be as our nation’s first lady.

When my husband and I arrived in Washington, D.C., in 2011 to begin his tour as the nation’s second-highest ranking military officer, I searched for a way to make a difference for our men and women in uniform and their families. Our nation was still deeply involved in two overseas wars. Many of our servicemembers were coming home with deep physical and mental wounds. Our military families were suffering from many years of extended deployments, an overloaded and under-prepared health care system, and, in too many cases, from the toll of raising kids while serving as caregivers for wounded warriors. I wanted to help.

Jill Biden was the second lady for eight years, but she is much more than that
Jill Biden was the second lady for eight years, but she is much more than that

Not long after arriving in D.C., I learned about Joining Forces, which was launched by Michelle Obama and Jill Biden as a nationwide initiative calling on Americans to rally around service members, veterans, and their families and support them through wellness, education, and employment opportunities.

Jill Biden knows veterans

Bearing an inherent distrust in all things political, I wasn’t sure if this was real. Was this nothing more than window dressing designed to soothe those who might have a distrust for Democratic Party politicians? I quickly discovered how very serious these two women were about helping this underserved group of people.

Working together, they applied the power of the White House to a bureaucracy that often lacks empathy and is under constant pressure to find savings, which can run counter to doing the right thing for our people. I was privileged to be involved in Joining Forces, and in the process came to know Biden as an incredibly capable and caring woman.

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While much was accomplished under the leadership of Obama and Biden, there is much more work to be done, and a four-year gap in the type of advocacy represented by Joining Forces has not helped. As the spouse of a veteran and the mother of a fourth-generation service member currently serving his country in a war zone, I am keenly aware of the challenges faced by our service members, veterans and their families. Jill Biden has already signaled she will reinvigorate this important White House initiative. I know, I’ve asked her. And she knows what she’s doing.

Restoration of character

Supporting our military and their families is not the only area in which she will excel as first lady. This dedicated teacher will continue serving our country in the classroom. Her empathy, moral compass and willingness to listen will set an example that will help our nation restore civility to our national dialogue. Further, she will be a gracious partner in hosting foreign dignitaries to rebuild relationships with allies and partners that have suffered over the past four years.

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To be sure, this election is about our next president, not who will be first lady. There are already ample reasons to favor Joe Biden, most of which — at least for me — involve the pressing need for our children to be able look up to a president of high character, who will bring our wonderful, diverse nation back together.

Mary Winnefeld in September 2019.
Mary Winnefeld in September 2019.

But it should not be lost on us that standing firmly by his side is another person of equally high character. Jill Biden is an intelligent, modest, energetic, and compassionate partner who will make a tangible, positive difference for our country as first lady — and we need all the help we can get.

Mary Winnefeld is an advocate for veterans, military service members, and their families, and is co-founder of SAFEProject.us, whose mission is to help reverse the nation’s fatal drug overdose epidemic.

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Election 2020: As first lady, Jill Biden will support troops, veterans