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Serving Those Who Serve America

This morning, I was privileged to represent USDA at a Military Families Summit hosted at the University of Maryland and organized with us by the Department of Defense Military Community and Family Policy program.  More than 300 leaders who provide support to military families – including the office of the Secretary of Defense, the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, the National Guard and Reserve, land-grant universities, and other non-governmental partners – also attended the event to review the Defense Department’s commitment to family support and readiness, the status of military families, and challenges military families will experience in the future.

Why was USDA at this event in the first place?  For one thing, we have more 20 years of experience in partnering with the different military branches providing educational programs and support for military youth and families on bases and installations and in local communities. In 2009, for example, more than 24,000 youth participated in 248 4-H club programs on bases and installations in the United States and around the world.  These programs offer the mentorship, guidance, and restored sense of pride that many children of military parents lose when they have limited support around.

Currently, 24 extension staff members are on direct assignment with the military services providing important leadership and working in partnership with service personnel to deliver quality 4-H youth development programs; more than other 240 4-H professionals work in support of this partnership

across the United States.  More than 75 Cooperative Extension staff members are working with Army bases in Texas alone to address some of the most critical needs being faced by military families (i.e., health, nutrition, financial management, and family stress).  Our Extension staff, in partnership with military services, has developed nine new curricula or programs in 2009 that address important issues for military families such as health, nutrition, stress, and leadership.

DOD and military families benefit directly from an extensive cooperative extension network that spans nearly every county in the United States.  The Defense Department supports these programs through USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), which in turn partners with several land-grant universities who work with the extension agents to provide support to military families.

Today’s Military Families Summit offered me a great opportunity to renew and reaffirm this relationship. We announced today formation of an expanded joint effort between NIFA and DOD.  The partnership will focus on three overall areasa:  community capacity building in support of military families, workforce development, and strengthening family, child care, and youth development programs.

As the nation this week honors the service and sacrifices of our military members – and their families – we can be very proud of the role that USDA plays in reaching out and helping those families in the United States and abroad.

Rajiv Shah is Under Secretary for Research, Education, and Economics.

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