American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Dec. 1, 2010 - I woke up to a torrential downpour today, but even the rain, and tornado warnings, couldn't dampen my enthusiasm about the day's events. I was heading to the vice president's residence in Washington, D.C., to attend a special holiday event.
Dr. Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden, was hosting about 50 children, including 25 from local National Guard families, at the U.S. Naval Observatory. The day's itinerary included ornament and cookie decorating and letter-writing to deployed and wounded warriors.
I was in awe when I first walked into the Biden home. The large foyer already was adorned for the holiday season with dozens of lit candles, garland and wreaths decorated with gold, silver and pale green ornaments. Two soldiers in dark blue dress uniforms sang carols while a third accompanied them on the piano.
Dr. Biden, festive in a sleeveless red dress, walked in with a wave and a smile at the press, then took her place by the front door. The children filed in and she greeted each with a handshake or hug and welcoming words.
To one boy sharply dressed in a suit: "Look at you. Woo-hoo!" she said with a smile.
The children crowded into the living room dominated by a 12-foot Christmas tree adorned mostly in red. Dr. Biden talked to the children about how excited she was to move into this residence and decorate it in the Bidens' style. "We like a lot of color," she said.
But her favorite part of living there, Dr. Biden said, is having the opportunity to invite guests over. She then invited two of those guests to the front of the room: Sheila Casey, wife of Army Chief of Staff Army Gen. George Casey, and Cheryl McKinley, wife of Gen. Craig McKinley, chief of the National Guard Bureau.
Mrs. McKinley took time to explain what the National Guard's mission is to the students who weren't aware. "We really appreciate you all supporting moms and dads and families," she told the children.
Dr. Biden showed the children a framed picture of her son, an Army captain in the Delaware National Guard, with his own son in his arms. "This is when he got back from Iraq," she said.
She then asked the National Guard children if they had a parent deployed. Most of the children knew of someone who was or is deployed, whether a parent, uncle or family friend. "I know how hard it was for us as a family to have a son deployed," she said.
As the children dispersed to the activity stations, Dr. Biden stayed in the living room to write letters to deployed troops and wounded warriors. She sat on the floor alongside the children, red dress and all, and crafted a green holiday card. She stuck red ornament stickers on the front, along with a hand-drawn Christmas tree, and inside the card she wrote, "Thank you for your service to our country. Come home safely. Love, Jill Biden XO."
One girl named Blessing, who sat next to Dr. Biden, wrote, "Thank you for your service. You risk your life every day so I can live in peace."
"I can just imagine my son, when he was in Iraq, getting a card," Dr. Biden later told me. "It would mean a lot.
"It meant a lot to me that these children are focused on men and women overseas and want them to come home safely," she added.
After her card was complete, Dr. Biden moved on to the solarium where children were writing a wish for the nation in 2011 on red paper reindeer ornaments. These ornaments were then hung on the "peace" tree in the corner, which was decorated with white doves.
After a short caroling session, Santa Claus paid a surprise visit to the foyer and greeted the children with some handshakes and even a fist pump before posing for some pictures with Dr. Biden and the children.
The children, I noticed, were walking around in awe. "I found out yesterday that I'd get two treats: one, I get to go to the vice president's house; and two, I get to skip school," said Kate Roberts, daughter of Air National Guard Lt. Col. Andrew Roberts and his wife, Debbie. "This is really cool."
Ethan McDonald, son of Army National Guard Master Sgt. Marty McDonald and wife, Trish, told me that he found out about the event a few days ago. "I really enjoyed this," he said.
Ethan said decorating cards for servicemembers was the highlight of the day for him. "I couldn't wish any more than your safe return," he wrote in his card.
Today, the children gained lifelong memories, Mrs. Casey noted after the event. "This is fabulous," she told me. "I'm sure they'll talk about this for a long time to come."
Dr. Biden later told me that she was impressed by the sincerity of the children's thoughts and messages to servicemembers. "The children said so many heartwarming things," she said, such as "thank you for keeping me safe" and "thank you for taking care of us."
"It touched my heart," Dr. Biden said.