Obama Observes Veteran's Day with Rites at Arlington National Cemetery
AP | 11/11/2011, 5:28 p.m.
ARLINGTON, VA -- Heralding the end of one war and the drawdown of another, President Barack Obama observed Veterans Day on Friday by urging Americans to hire the thousands of servicemen and women coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan.
In remarks at Arlington National Cemetery, he called it "a time when America needs all hands on deck."
In Afghanistan and Iraq, "The tide of war is receding," Obama said. "My fellow Americans, our troops are coming home."
He added that for many, "this holiday season will be a season of homecomings."
Obama spoke a day after the Senate passed his proposal to give companies tax credits for hiring jobless veterans.
"Our economy needs their talents and specialized skills," he said.
Earlier, with the aid of an honor guard, Obama placed a floral wreath on a pedestal in front of the marble Tomb of the Unknowns, then stood hand over his heart as a bugler played taps. A bell tolled and flags fluttered.
The president and first lady Michelle Obama stood in silence as taps was played outside the tomb on a sunny but chilly autumn morning. Mrs. Obama and Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki joined other dignitaries watching from one side.
Obama spoke before heading west for a holiday basketball game aboard the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson. The first-ever Carrier Classic pits Michigan State against No. 1 North Carolina on board the ship docked in San Diego.
In an essay in Friday's San Diego Union-Tribune, Vice President Joe Biden and his wife Jill wrote that "because of the incredible courage of the 9-11 generation, the tide of war is receding and America is more secure than a decade ago."
"But as our service members return, many are discovering a new battlefield as they leave the military and search for civilian employment opportunities," they wrote.
Their article also made a pitch for the veterans' assistance the Senate approved 95-0. The bill, expected to receive House approval next week, also includes improved counseling and job training for unemployed veterans and service members about the leave the military.
"We're taking steps to make the job search easier for veterans," the Bidens wrote. They urged the House to act now and join the Senate in passing the bill, once part of Obama's larger jobs proposal.
On Thursday, Michelle Obama announced that private companies have made new commitments to hire 100,000 veterans and military spouses by 2014 as part of her Joining Forces initiative. That comes on top of the 16,000 veterans hired since the program was announced last April, and another 25,000 in hiring commitments announced earlier.
Unemployment is particularly high among veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Labor Department estimates that 12.1 percent of veterans who served in the military since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks were unemployed in October. That compares with the national rate of 9 percent.
Among veterans under the age of 24, the jobless rate was closer to 22 percent.