First lady visits Mayport to tout vet hiring goals

Michelle Obama says 'Joining Forces' hiring ahead of schedule

MAYPORT, Fla. - Michelle Obama visits Naval Station Mayport this afternoon to announce that 2,000 businesses have hired or trained more than 125,000 military veterans and spouses in the last year, exceeding White House's goal.

This is the first lady's second visit to Jacksonville this year promoting the program called Joining Forces. At Mayport on Tuesday, Mrs. Obama announced that the same companies that partnered on the first 125,000 jobs have pledged to hire or train an additional 250,000 veterans and military spouses by 2014.

That includes hiring or training 50,000 military spouses within three years and helping them keep those jobs as families move from one duty station to another.

"Today's announcement is just the beginning. We're not going to stop until all our veterans know that when they hit the job market, their skills will be rewarded," Mrs. Obama said. "And we won't stop until all our military spouses know that the next time their family is transferred, they won't have to leave their profession behind."

According to a White House release, NatLabs Inc. committed to ire veterans as 75 percent of their labor force and move 400 high-tech manufacturing jobs to the Jacksonville area from overseas starting in 2013.

Paul Andrews, who credits Joining Forces with keeping him from spending one day unemployed after retiring from the Navy, was selected to introduce Mrs. Obama.

"It's allowed us to be happy and safe and to be provided for without being worried," Andrews said. "It's taken a huge load off my shoulders."

For those in the crowd still serving, Andrews words and the expansion of the program gave them a boost of confidence.

"I've got a family, wife, and some kids, so it was nice to hear about how they're going to do some things for the family," said sailor Carlos Smiley.

In April 2011, the first lady and Jill Biden, wife of the vice president, launched the Joining Forces program. The White House said the hiring push has helped to reduce unemployment among veterans from 8.6 percent in July 2011 to 6.9 percent last month.

Labor Department statistics show the unemployment rate for veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is at 8.9 percent, above the national rate of 8.3 percent. For veterans under 24, the unemployment rate was 19.9 percent in July.

The fact this is Mrs. Obama's second visit to a Jacksonville military base in the electoral battleground of Florida this year had nothing to do with her decision to visit Mayport.

"It doesn't matter what side of the political fence your on," said Bill Austin. "We here at the base are very excited about Mrs. Obama coming to visit."

The first lady meet with military families prior to her remarks in one of Mayport's aircraft hangers.

"This is just the greatest," Austin said. "Everyone here on the base is ready and awaiting her arrival. There are a lot of logistics planning that have taken place."

Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press contributed to this report. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.