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Service to country a ‘sacred choice,’ First Lady Jill Biden tells new Marines at Parris Island

Dr. Jill Biden speaks with military families outside of a private residence in Norfolk on Sept. 24, 2020. (Jonathon Gruenke/Daily Press/TNS)

First Lady Jill Biden, a long-time advocate for military families, spoke to the graduating class of Marines at U.S. Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island in Port Royal Friday — the first time in 37 years that a major political figure has visited the South Carolina base, which trains all Marines east of the Mississippi River.

The first lady also served as the parade review official over the graduation ceremony and watched as 199 Marines in Fox Company, 2nd Battalion marched in front of her while families seated in bleachers behind her cheered. Retired officers or congressman typically fill the ceremonial position.

Wearing a colorful dress with vibrant pink flowers, Biden entered the parade deck bleachers and was seated next to Brigadier General Walker Field as the band played military standards complete with the ceremonial drums. The band also added “Amazing Grace” to the performance.

Biden’s visit to Parris Island comes on the 50th anniversary of the nation’s all-volunteer force and the end of the draft in 1973. Since the end of military conscription, 11 million have joined as active-duty service members with more than 1.5 million men and women serving today across the U.S. Armed Forces.

The choice of service to country, Biden said, is a sacred one.

“Thank you,” Biden told the Marines. “I hope you are proud because we are — your instructors, your families and your Commander in Chief.

About 20,000 recruits come to Parris Island annually for the chance to become Marines by enduring the strenuous 13-week physical and mental program. Along with San Diego, it’s one of two Marine Corps basic recruit training facilities in the country.

The South Carolina visit also was part of First Lady Jill Biden’s a White House initiative called Joining Forces, to support those who also serve: military and veteran families, caregivers, and survivors. First Lady Michelle Obama and then Second Lady Jill Biden launched the program in 2011.

Dr. Biden, 72, the wife of President Joe Biden, has traveled to more than two dozen bases since the Biden Administration took office in January 2021 but this was the first time she’s reviewed troops in any military branch.

And her visit to Parris Island was the first time an occupant of the White House has stepped foot on Parris Island since 1986, when President Ronald Reagan flew in on a helicopter and spoke to Marines at Leatherneck Square, said Bobby Yarbrough, a chief warrant officer and a Parris Island spokesman.

An estimated 1,800 to 2,000 people attended Friday’s graduation, most of them family members eager to see their sons and daughters. The first lady was a bonus.

“It truly means a lot to me for her to come to my graduation,” Puissance Landou said.

A joyous Landou was celebrating with his family — including his brother, Rocher Landou. The 20-year-old twins both graduated in Friday’s ceremony. Now these two immigrants from the Congo are U.S. marines.

Rocher considers the chance to become a Marine an awesome opportunity. Few people can do it, he said. Just one percent, Puissance chimed in, adding that he’ll carry the honor of being a Marine with him for the rest of his life. He’s thankful, Puissance said, for the kind words of the first lady and said she’s helped out the Marines and other military branches.

Immediately after the ceremony in the soupy South Carolina heat concluded, Biden was whisked away to a waiting motorcade before boarding Air Force Two to return to Washington, D.C.

Biden arrived at Marine Corps Air Station in Beaufort at 4:30 p.m. Thursday where she was greeted by Beaufort Mayor Stephen Murray and his family and Col. Karl Arbogast, the base commander, and Sgt. Major Bryan Alfaro, the senior enlisted Marine.

She then went to Hilton Head Island, where she enjoyed a meal at an island restaurant that White House Spokesperson Beibhinn Steiner declined to identify but noted, “it had a view of the ocean.”

Biden also spent the night at a hotel on Hilton Head but the location was also not disclosed.

“Good morning Marines,” Biden told the graduates when she took the podium to polite applause.

“Good morning ma’am,” boomed 199 Marines in unison.

“I love that,” Biden said to chuckles from the audience.

Biden’s father, Donald Jacobs, joined the Navy three months after Pearl Harbor was attacked, Biden said.

His service defined his life and hers growing up in suburban Philadelphia. But she didn’t fully understand the sacrifice until her son, Beau Biden, enlisted after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Beau Biden was a major in the Delaware Army National Guard and served in the Iraq War. He died of brain cancer in 2015.

Beau’s wife, Hallie, served in her own way, Biden said. Their two children also had to adapt when he was deployed to Iraq. Families answer the call of duty, which is why she advocates for the Joining Forces initiative, she said.

Through the Join Forces program, Biden has advocated for increased economic opportunities for military spouses and additional educational programming for children.

“God bless you and your families,” said Biden, adding, “Semper Fi,” echoing the Marine motto that is Latin for “always faithful.”


(c) 2023 The Island Packet

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