NAVAL AIR STATION, WHIDBEY ISLAND — First lady Jill Biden toured a pair of military bases in Washington on Tuesday, in her first visit to the state since Joe Biden was sworn in as president.

Jill Biden began the day at Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM), south of Tacoma, before flying north to Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, touring the facilities and listening to concerns of military families.

At both bases, Biden spoke about the struggles facing military families and promoted a relaunch of a support program called “Joining Forces,” which she worked on with Michelle Obama during the Obama administration.

“The men and women of our armed forces can’t be at their best when they are worried that their families are struggling,” she said at the Whidbey Island stop.
“That’s why this isn’t just a nice thing to do. It’s a national security imperative.”

At the Whidbey Island base, Jill Biden got a close-up look at a Navy EA-18G Growler electronic attack jet, painted red with the insignia of the “Scorpions” squadron. Strolling around the plane, she chatted with aviator Lt. Cate Oakley.

The Growlers have fanned controversy due to their constant roar, even reaching orca pods 100 feet underwater. Biden did not address that dispute or take media questions during the tightly controlled event.

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She was introduced by base commander Capt. Matthew Arny and his wife, Samar Arny, before giving brief remarks and then meeting privately with several military spouses as part of a listening tour.

Jill Biden, who recalled her own father’s service in the Navy during World War II, told the military families and personnel on hand at the socially distanced event that she was there “to know what challenges you face, what’s getting in your way.”

Earlier, at JBLM, Biden accompanied Gov. Jay Inslee and his wife, Trudi, on a tour starting with a look at the base’s new children’s museum.

The museum includes a space known as the Calm Room — a quiet area for children with disabilities, and a large number of JBLM families whose kids are on the autism spectrum.

Biden praised the JBLM space for a focus on children with disabilities.

“I’ve seen how resilient you are in so many things,” she told the military families at the museum. “Whether it’s changing jobs or a new school, becoming the default parent, moving yet again, and then having to say goodbye to friends and families just to make it work. So many Americans don’t know what your lives are like and the struggles you’ve faced.” 

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On Wednesday, Jill Biden will visit Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in Twentynine Palms, California.

The base visits are part of her push to hear about the challenges military families face and the support they need. The Joining Forces initiative seeks to work with businesses, nonprofits and government to support troops, families and caregivers, according to the Military Times.

Jill Biden last visited Washington state in 2019, campaigning for her husband at a pair of political fundraisers in Seattle — well before Joe Biden emerged as the Democratic nominee for president in 2020.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.