WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden traveled to the recently renamed Fort Liberty in North Carolina on Friday to sign an executive order that aims to bolster job opportunities for military and veteran spouses whose careers are often disrupted by their loved ones' deployments.
Less than 100 miles away at the state’s Republican Party convention, GOP presidential contender, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, vowed to restore the former name of the base that until last week was called Fort Bragg in honor of a Confederate general, if voters elect him president.
“It’s an iconic name and iconic base, and we’re not gonna let political correctness run amok in North Carolina,” DeSantis said at the convention in Greensboro hours after Biden's speech and signing ceremony at Fort Liberty.
The installation’s former name honors Gen. Braxton Bragg, a North Carolinian, who was known for owning slaves and losing key Civil War battles that contributed to the Confederacy’s downfall. Biden made no mention in his remarks before hundreds of soldiers and their spouses about the renaming of the base which was formally done by military officials last week.
The renaming of the base was part of a broader effort by the U.S. military to confront racial injustice in the aftermath of the May 2020 police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. An independent commission last year recommended new names for Bragg and eight other Army posts that commemorate Confederate officers.
The installation is the largest U.S. Army base by population, with roughly 47,000 active-duty soldiers. The recent renaming 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.
The Biden campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In addition to DeSantis, former Vice President Mike Pence and former President Donald Trump, the current GOP front-runner, are scheduled to address delegates on Saturday at the state convention in Greensboro. Trump, who has been indicted on charges of mishandling classified documents at his Florida estate, is also slated to speak on Saturday to the Georgia Republican Party’s convention.
The order Biden signed on Friday 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.”
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.”
Associated Press writer Meg Kinnard in Greensboro, N.C.., and Seung Min Kim in Washington contributed to this report.