Just five days after the death of Osama bin Laden was announced, First Lady Michelle Obama and vice-presidential spouse Jill Biden sat down with AARP The Magazine at the White House for an exclusive, wide-ranging interview about military families and discovering with the rest of the world that a team of U.S. Navy Seals had raided a compound in Pakistan, killing the man behind the 9/11 attacks.
With the military on the minds of many Americans and the 10th anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center towers looming, a top priority for both women is Joining Forces, a new campaign they're leading to rally support and recruit volunteers to help military families with everything from throwing baby showers to running car pools. From the comfort of Jill Biden's office, the ladies also discussed aging, their high profile roles in the administration, and even their own futures in politics.
The following are excerpts from the upcoming AARP The Magazine cover story featuring Michelle Obama and Jill Biden, available in homes and online NOW at www.aarp.org/magazine.
On what they knew in the hours leading up to the capture of Osama bin Laden:
JILL BIDEN: "I didn't have a clue. Joe left early and was gone all day. Didn't come home for a meal—nothing. So I knew something was happening, but I thought it was about Libya. [When I heard,] I was grading papers and watching TV."
MICHELLE OBAMA: "I knew something was happening, but when it gets down to that level of secrecy, there's just a small number of people who know anything."
"I was actually out to dinner with girlfriends, and I didn't know until I walked in the door. It was later in the evening, and Barack had his suit on, because he was going to the press conference. And I said, 'What's going on?'"
"I was like 'Wow.' Then I wanted to know the details: 'How did it happen? Then what? And then what happened?' I was probably like every media person."
On explaining the mission to her children:
MICHELLE OBAMA: "I think kids instinctively feel that ambivalence—is this good or is this bad? And then you have to explain in a way that says it's not good, but it's good. The older kids, I think, get it. It's a convoluted set of concepts. But I think they understand, when it's placed in context."
On a future in politics:
MICHELLE OBAMA: "The answer is N-O. Period, dot."
"I think one reason Jill and I are comfortable and happy is that we're doing what speaks to us. And what I've learned as a woman growing up, getting older, is you've got to know who you are. And a politician—it's never been who I was or wanted to be."
JILL BIDEN: "No. We're emphatic."
"There was never a desire. I never wanted to run."
On the difficulties of taking on White House roles:
JILL BIDEN: "Speaking! I never used to speak at all. I always said Joe is the speaker of the family. I mean, I'd go to events and volunteer, but I was never a speaker. And now that has totally changed for me."
MICHELLE OBAMA: "For me it's sharing my husband with the world. You get a little selfish sometimes. But every time I get irritated, or feel a little lonely or tired, I just think this is our duty. These men are doing a phenomenal service, and they're doing it with dignity and calm."
On getting involved with Joining Forces:
MICHELLE OBAMA: "My affinity and passion for military families came out of meeting many of these women while campaigning. Their stories moved me."
"The population that AARP serves has some of the highest numbers of people who volunteer. We've got military families who are in need today, and our Joining Forces call to action is a way to use that wonderful time and energy and direct it toward some of these families."
"People don't have to reinvent themselves. If you live near a base, there are plenty of opportunities, whether it's throwing a baby shower for expectant mothers or doing things at the schools with military kids or offering to drive a car pool. Those things matter."
"Look within your own community. Look within your church, your kids' school. Connect with military families and find out what their needs are."
On Jill Biden as a role model for aging gracefully:
MICHELLE OBAMA: "Jill gives whatever aging means this level of grace and excitement. She's smart, she's gorgeous, she's accomplished. She has a strong marriage. And the bonds she has built with all of her children are real. She has created a real family in the midst of Washington, D.C. She's managed to maintain that balance and still be down-to-earth."
On being a role model for African American girls:
MICHELLE OBAMA: "We did an event for military kids, and there were a lot of African American young girls out there—little black girls who were just proud because they see themselves in somebody who they think is great."
"You can see it in their eyes. You can see it with the hugs and the way they hold on so tight. It matters. So I do embrace it."
On doing the Dougie at a Let's Move! event:
MICHELLE OBAMA: "I've got little kids. They're always trying something. And I happen to be very good at dance-mimicking. [Laughs.] For some reason, if I watch somebody do a move for a while, and it's not too hard or complicated or requires me to throw my leg over my head and flip, I can sort of figure it out."
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