Vice President Joe Biden and wife Jill visit Utah: He raises money, she raises military morale

Published: Tuesday, July 10 2012 11:57 p.m. MDT

Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden, left, and Mary Tarbet, wife of Major General Brian L. Tarbet of the Utah National Guard, laugh as they talk with families during a stop to visit military families at the Utah National Guard base in Salt Lake City Tuesday, July 10, 2012.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Sherilyn Williams wiped away tears as she described having the opportunity to share with the wife of the vice president Tuesday what it means to have a son in the military deployed overseas.

Jill Biden visited with about 100 family members of troops serving abroad as well as some recently returned airmen and soldiers at the Utah Air National Guard Base while her husband, Vice President Joe Biden, was headlining a campaign fundraiser in Park City.

But November's presidential election was the furthest thing from Williams' mind as she told Biden about her 20-year-old son, Airman 1st Class Colby Williams, who volunteered for duty in Afghanistan and is already talking about signing up for another tour.

"You know, I don't look at it politically. I look at it as a mom to a mom. She sent her son over and she understands where I'm at as a mom. And I appreciate her support," the Sandy mother said, calling their exchange, "just an emotional mother moment."

The Bidens' son, Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden, served in Iraq as a member of the Delaware Army National Guard and Jill Biden is heading up a national initiative, Joining Forces, to support those serving in the military along with their families.

"I really know what's it's like. It's not easy," Biden said, describing to Williams how she said a prayer each morning for her own son when he was in Iraq. "It's just constantly on your mind all day long and people don't realize that."

Before embracing Williams, Biden said those serving are "so strong and resilient, don't you think. This is what they do. It's their job and they love it. And sometimes you wished they didn't."

Army National Guard helicopter pilot Mark Kattelman of Bountiful, who returned from Afghanistan just two weeks ago, got a little teasing from the vice president's wife about his new beard along with a thank you for his service.

"It means a lot," Kattelman said. "Especially the emphasis that she's putting on family. I know my wife, she had the hard job," raising their young children on her own in his absence.

His wife, Natalie, said she wasn't sure what to expect from Biden's appearance, especially since the vice president was in Utah only to hold a fundraiser for President Barack Obama's re-election.

"Honestly, I was a little skeptical at first. I thought it was more of a political move. But listening to her speak, it was a lot more genuine," she said. "There wasn't anything political that came up about it. It was more just genuine concern for military families and I appreciated that."

Biden spoke only briefly to the crowd before spending more than an hour greeting the men, women and children filling the hall individually, offering hugs, posing for photographs and signing autographs for children.

Anna Love, 6, of Kaysville showed off an activities book signed by Biden with "XO," after the second lady chatted with Anna and her little sisters, Kylie, 3, and Sara, 5. "I think it's hugs and kisses," Ana said when asked about the inscription — something Biden had explained just moments earlier.

Biden also posed with a life-size cardboard cutout of deployed Air National Guard Sr. Master Sgt. Bradley Johnson, brought to the event by his wife, Tonia Johnson of Woods Cross.

"It was really exciting," Tonia Johnson said of meeting Biden. "I think it just gives me the strength to go on the next five months," when her husband is due to return home to her and their two young children.

The vice president's fundraiser at a private home in Park City cost a minimum of $100 to attend for young professionals or $500 for general admission to as much as $25,000. Photos with Joe Biden cost $5,000, or $8,000 per couple.

Joe Biden, who made a campaign stop earlier in the day in Las Vegas at the National Council of La Raza annual conference, spoke to about 300 people about the race between Obama and the presumptive GOP presidential nominee, Mitt Romney.

He called Romney an honorable and decent man, but said the two campaigns "have a fundamentally different vision for this country. It's as basic a choice as voters have had in a lifetime," according to a pool report.

Biden cited differences with Romney on education, energy subsides and foreign policy. He also expressed concern about what the U.S. Supreme Court would look like after four years of a Romney administration.

"These guys have a social policy out of the '50s," Biden said, asking the crowd whether they believed Roe v. Wade would survive a court "with six Scalias on the bench."

The vice president also said, "These guys don't get what it's like for normal people." He said he was not an "anti-business, class warfare guy, but guys, too many people in America have made what I call the longest walk," to explain to their children they've lost a job.

Biden concluded by saying he is "more optimistic today about the future of this country than I have been at any time in my life" and called the country "better positioned than any nation in the world to be the leading economy."

E-mail: lisa@desnews.com Twitter: dnewspolitics

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