Minnesota veterans groups honored at the White House

Staff from two metro area groups that work with veterans and their families recently returned from a visit to Washington, where they were honored by First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden as Joining Forces Community Challenge winners.

The first lady and Biden launched the Joining Forces initiative to support and honor America's service members and their families. The program aims to educate, challenge, and spark action from all sectors of our society -- citizens, communities, schools, non-profits, faith-based institutions, philanthropic organizations, and government -- to ensure military families have the support they need. The program established the Joining Forces Community Challenge to recognize individuals or groups dedicated to improving the lives of military families.

The two Minnesota winners are:

The MSP Airport Armed Forces Service Center, a volunteer-run, free 24-7 aiport lounge for military personnel and their families. The Center was founded in 1970 by Maggie Purdum after her son was killed in action in Vietnam as appreciation for all who have served. From its founding through March 2012, more than 766,800 active duty military have passed through the Armed Forces Service Center. More than 25,800 military dependents have been served since Sept. 11, 2001.

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Defending the Blue Line in Hastings. Defending the Blue Line works to ensure that children of military members have access to participate in hockey, through free equipment, hockey camps, special events and financial assistance toward association and other hockey-related costs. Founded by two Minnesota National Guard soldiers in 2009, more than 3,000 families across the United States have been served, including more than 300 recipients of hockey equipment, more than 700 children attending hockey camps and more than 2,000 professional hockey tickets have been donated.

The other winners are:

-Our Family for Families First Foundation

-Armed Forces Service Center

-Defending the Blue Line

-Give an Hour

-Project Sanctuary

-City of Richfield, Utah

In an email statement, Debra Cain, Executive Director of the Armed Forces Service Center, says the award was thrilling, "after 42 years of service (24/7), this was a once in a lifetime opportunity for the AFSC. We were honored and humbled to be selected as one of five winners (out of 300 submissions)."

(Photo courtesy of Debra Cain, Armed Forces Service Center)