Dr. Jill Biden made her first solo outing at first lady on Friday afternoon — visiting both a Washington, D.C., health clinic to highlight the importance of cancer treatment resources amid the COVID-19 pandemic and then making an unscheduled stop to thank National Guardsmen in Washington, D.C., to secure the inauguration.
Dutifully masked — her face covering accessorized with a decorative flower — Dr. Biden visited the Whitman-Walker Health clinic, which specializes in LGBTQ and HIV care, at around 1:30 on Friday, according to a pool report. There she listened to clinic staffers as they explained their work.
First ladies have visited Whitman-Walker before, including Barbara Bush and Hillary Clinton.
Kim Thiboldeaux, chief operating officer of the Cancer Support Community, explained to the first lady and others gathered on Wednesday that the number of cancer survivors in the U.S. is on the rise, making getting regular check-ups increasingly important.
"I feel like in the big picture we really have to make a greater effort to to not only do the screenings, we have to address [that] we continue to care for patients," Thiboldeaux said.
Biden also spoke with clinic staff about the issues they face providing healthcare amid the pandemic, when telemedicine has solved some problems but poses its own challenge, depending on the patient.
The first lady then made a surprise stop to visit National Guard troops stationed in the area for husband Joe Biden's inauguration. She delivered a basket of treats as around two dozens U.S. service members stood at attention.
According to pool reports and video from her stop, Dr. Biden spoke briefly with commanding officers before addressing the troops, thanking them for protecting her family and invoking the memory of the Bidens' late son, Beau, a former member of the Guard.
"I just wanted to come today to say thank you to all of you for keeping me and my family safe," Dr. Biden told the troops. "I know that you've left your home states."
"The Bidens are a National Guard family. Our son Beau was Delaware Army National Guard," she continued. "He served for a year in Iraq in 2008 and 2009. So, I'm a National Guard mom and when I saw the great job you've done over the inauguration, and you've left your home states … I just wanted to say thank you from President Biden and from the entire Biden family."
Beau died from brain cancer at age 46 in 2015.
Holding a white basket aloft, Dr. Biden offered the group chocolate chip cookies (each tied up with blue and red ribbons).
"The White House baked you some chocolate chip cookies — I can't say that I baked them all myself — I wanted to give everybody a cookie as just a small thank-you for your service and your family's service and all you've done for your nation," she said.
Dr. Biden continued: "The National Guard will always hold a special place in the heart of all the Bidens."
The trip to visit the troops came after reports that guardsmen brought in to protect federal buildings in the wake of the deadly insurrection at U.S. Capitol earlier this month had to sleep in a parking garage once the inaugural ceremonies had ended.
Approximately 25,000 National Guard troops from around the country were sent to D.C. to help law enforcement with enhanced security for President Biden's inaugural ceremonies.
Lawmakers responded sharply to the news that troops, thousands of whom remained in the district, had been moved to a parking garage. Some in the Guard told reporters they had limited bathroom access and no power or heat.
By Friday, law enforcement officials said they were returned to the Capitol and other buildings.
Troops reportedly have area accommodations provided when off-duty, but the nature of their shifts typically force them to nap wherever they may be stationed.
President Biden subsequently spoke with the head of the National Guard and he "expressed dismay at what they had been through," a White House spokesman says. (The New York Times described this as an apology but the spokesman disputed that to PEOPLE.)
The events on Friday were the first for Dr. Biden as first lady. The former second lady, a longtime educator, has said she plans to continue teaching even while her husband is in office.
"If we get to the White House, I'm going to continue to teach," she told CBS Sunday Morning in November. "It's important, and I want people to value teachers and know their contributions and lift up their profession."
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