Remarks by the First Lady at the Joint Armed Forces Officers Wives Club at Bolling Air Force Base
Thank you, Holly, for your very kind introduction, for your support of our Air Force families, and for all your work on today's luncheon. It's hard enough to pull off an event like this. And then a First Lady decides to show up. But this is absolutely wonderful.
Please give Holly a big round of applause. I'm being extra nice to Holly because her husband commands the Air Force District of Washington. So he not only keeps the skies of Washington safe, but her husband's group helps decide when my husband comes home on Air Force One. So we're going to get together and plot a little.
It is such an honor to be with you.
Thank you, Elizabeth Biddle, for the invocation...and for the national anthem—the United States Air Force Band.
I want to thank the JAFOWL committee for the invitation and for bringing us all together. As we saw during that medley—Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard... Active, Guard and Reserve – we are all one force; we are all one family.
It's great to see so many familiar faces here, including Becky Gates, Deborah Mullen, Mary Murphy, and Sandee Cartwright and the other wives of the Joint Chiefs of Staff—women who do so much for our military families and who I'm proud to call friends.
In fact, we just had the joint chiefs, combatant commanders and their spouses over to the White House for dinner a few weeks ago. It was a wonderful evening, and I'm thrilled to switch the tables this afternoon.
Now, I know this is the Joint Armed Forces Officers Wives Club, but today, I want to start by thanking you, not simply because of who you're married to, but because of what you do every day … because of the spirit of service that's defined your entire lives.
You are all leaders in your own right. You are that vital link between your husbands and the troops they command … making sure their needs, and those of their families, are heard—and met. You're that mom-away-from home—the person other military wives go to for advice and support. And you do all this for other families even as your own families serve. For that alone … you deserve this nation's unending gratitude.
But, you not only provide support to your husbands and to other families, many of you have also watched your own sons and daughters put on the uniform and go into harm's way. You've experienced all the emotions that come with that…the worries, the anxieties…and the incredible pride. So I want to particularly thank all the Blue Star moms here today.
And I also want to salute another remarkable group of women here today. The women, who for nearly forty years, have made sure that no American is ever buried alone at Arlington National Cemetery. Please join me in thanking the Arlington Ladies.
Finally, some of you not only married someone in uniform, you wore it yourself. You volunteered…you served…you defended our freedoms. So, would all the women who served in the armed forces please stand and be recognized.
To all of you…thank you for your service to America.
The President and I and our daughters have been in the White House now for a year. As a mom, my priority has been the girls—making sure they made the transition as smoothly as possible…a new city, new house, new school, new friends.
And so when people ask me what I am most proud of this first year, I have two responses: As a mother I'm most proud that our two girls have adjusted and built a new life here and are happy and healthy. As First Lady, at the top of the list is the time I have spent highlighting the service of our incredible military families.
And that's what I want to talk about today.
I want to talk about what you do for America and what America needs to do for all of you.
From day one, this has been a mission of mine, along with the Vice President's wife, Dr. Jill Biden—a Blue Star mom herself—who's been a tireless advocate in support of our extraordinary National Guard and Reserve members and their families.
One of the first things Jill and I wanted to do was to listen and learn. So we held a series of roundtable discussions with military spouses. We met with Deborah and Sandee and other wives of the Joint Chiefs to get their advice and guidance on how to develop our initiatives. We also met with the senior enlisted advisors' wives to discuss what's working in the ranks and what can be improved.
These conversations gave us critical guidance and insight for our subsequent visits to bases and military communities around the country.
And as I think back on all the incredible experiences of the past year, those visits have been one of my greatest privileges as First Lady.
Through these interactions I have gained an even greater level of respect and gratitude for our troops and their amazing families.
I remember visiting the soldiers and their families at Fort Bragg, where Charlene Austin hosted me last year. I saw first-hand the toll these wars have taken on these soldiers who have carried so much of the burden of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
I will never forget the families the President and I met at Fort Hood. After suffering such a horrible tragedy, they showed us the incredible strength that binds our Army families.
I remember the sailors and their families at Norfolk and what a thrill it was for me to share their excitement as we welcomed home the crew of the aircraft carrier USS Eisenhower and the hospital ship Comfort, back from treating patients and delivering health care and humanitarian assistance across the Americas, including Haiti.
After only a few short months at home, the Comfort is back in Haiti, along with many other branches of our military delivering aid with their civilian counterparts—helping the Haitian people …showing the very best of America…and making us all so proud.
I remember visiting the airmen and women and their families at Eglin Air Force Base, where some of the pilots and crew had just returned from Iraq—their sixth deployment in as many years.
I think of the Coast Guardsmen and women who will serve aboard the new cutter I'm proud to sponsor—the Stratton, which honors Commander Dorothy Stratton who led the SPARS during World War II.
I can never forget the U.S. Marines who are part of our daily lives at the White House…who display the same professionalism in our home that defines their service around the world.
And then there are our wounded warriors...the inspirational men and women the President and I have welcomed to the White House and those we have met around the country.
Unfortunately, for too many of them, the battle continues even after they come home.
They are the servicemen I met at a VA hospital in the Bronx, working so hard to get back on their feet, and in some cases, get back to their units.
They are patriots like the young Navy SEAL who joined us for that dinner at the White House.
Along with his little sister…a nurse…who moved to DC to care for her big brother. He explained to me how he stepped on an I-E-D in Afghanistan and lost both his legs. Then, just four months later, he finished a half-marathon. The courage and optimism of both he and his sister was breathtaking. Their continued love of life and of country was truly something to behold.
And I will always remember all the wives and husbands…the moms and the dads…that the President and I have met at Arlington on Memorial Day and Veterans Day, and all around the country…spouses who've lost their best friend in the world...parents who have laid their children to rest.
As a wife, as a mom, I simply cannot imagine the depths of their pain and loss. Yet, every time I meet them, they show a strength and resolve that always leaves me in awe. Their sacrifice reminds us all that our men and women in uniform – as well as their families – are our nation's greatest military asset.
So at every one of these visits, my goal has been simple: First to listen… to their voices…to their concerns…to their needs.
Second, to share what I've heard with a team of dedicated leaders who also care deeply about military families—from the President and Vice President to Secretary Gates and Admiral Mullen to leaders down the chain of command.
And finally, to work hard to ensure that their concerns and needs actually lead to real change coming out of Washington.
The quality of the lives of our military and their families means a great deal because in the history of our all-volunteer force, we've never asked so much of so few.
We've seen the huge burden of eight years of war on our troops—tour after tour, year after year, missing out on moments that every parent treasures: a baby's first steps, their first words, the day the training wheels come off the bike, birthdays and anniversaries.
We've seen the sacrifices of families on the home front. Spouses back home left to do the parenting of two, juggling play dates and ballet recitals, soccer games and homework; holding down jobs of their own and keeping the household together; all the while trying to hide their own fears and worries when the kids look up and ask—when is daddy or mommy coming home?
And somehow, despite everything that's going on in your lives, military families still find the time to serve others—coaching Little League, running the PTA, making Christmas special for kids with Toys for Tots, volunteering at churches and hospitals, mentoring young people—being role models.
You just keep on serving—serving your communities, your country.
All of you—our troops and families—you do your duty and you do it without complaint. You give your all and ask little in return—only that we back you up so our troops can do their job.
That's why my husband and his administration have worked to do right by our armed forces and their families…to be there for you like you have been there for us…to lighten your load as you have lightened ours.
Because of your willingness to advocate for change, some really important progress has been made in just one year.
Deborah Mullen has been telling me ever since we met that, just like our troops, our spouses also need the very best support and counseling.
Many of you shared the need to reduce the stress of long deployments and to give our troops more time home between deployments.
That's why my husband moved to increase the size of the military. That's one of the reasons my husband's first budget included pay raises; funding for better military housing; more money for child care… in addition to more funds for career development, counseling and support for spouses.
Last year's budget also included money to improve care and treatment for our wounded warriors, especially those with post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury.
And the budget included major increases in funding for veterans health care, including women veterans, plus the largest percentage increase in the VA budget in more than 30 years.
And something I'm especially proud of—the President worked with Congress to extend the
Family and Medical Leave Act to all our military families and to caregivers of our wounded warriors. Because just like other Americans, our military spouses need to care for their loved ones without fear of losing their jobs.
This commitment to our forces and their families continues today.
I'm happy to announce that the President's 2011 budget that he'll introduce next week will further increase funding for military family support programs—by more than three percent—to a record $8.8 billion.
This includes additional increases in funds for counseling and support to spouses and families—including our Guard and Reserve families—to $1.9 billion.
It includes $1.3 billion to reduce shortages in military child care and to keep our military child care among the best this country has to offer.
Because we cannot forget that military kids also serve in their own special way. They're just like any other child in this country – except their lives are turned upside down every time their mom or dad is gone half-way around the world, risking their lives so that all our children can enjoy the freedoms of our democracy. It's so incredibly hard for these kids. As a result, they often experience more anxiety; they can have a harder time focusing at school; and they have a higher risk of depression.
So, we can never forget just how much these wars affect our military kids— and we all have an obligation to ensure they have the support they need at home and at school.
I'm proud to announce that this year's budget will include more money for youth programs for military kids. At the direction of Secretary Gates, the budget will also include funds to improve and build new DOD schools, from Georgia to Germany. It's part of a major effort over the next five years to renovate or replace more than half of our DOD schools, benefiting tens of thousands of children from military families.
In response to one of the top concerns expressed by military spouses, this year's budget will also include an $84 million increase in funding for spousal career development including tuition assistance and a federal internship program.
And, I want to thank all the Coast Guard spouses who spoke to me about housing challenges.
As a result, the President's budget will include $14 million in new funding for quality Coast Guard housing.
These are all major investments. They are the result of military families speaking up and being heard. And they are part of a larger ongoing commitment to care for our troops and their families even after the fighting ends.
But in addition to good government, supporting our troops and their families requires active citizens. That's why I've made it a priority to keep asking all Americans to join the cause of supporting our military families.
And it's why last Veterans Day, Jill Biden and I helped launch Mission Serve—a national network that brings civilian and military service groups together to help support our troops and families. It also encourages communities to tap that incredible spirit of service of our military families, as well as the talents of our veterans.
We're asking Americans to engage and support military families any way they can—from business owners helping veterans and military spouses find a job or developing their skills, to professionals in areas such as mental health and the law offering their services pro bono, to ordinary folks doing simple things such as driving a carpool, offering to baby-sit or making a home-cooked meal for a family.
Our men and women in uniform and their families sacrifice for every single one of us, and every single one of us can do something in return, even if it's as simple as saying – thank you.
Last spring, I had the opportunity to thank one of those families during a visit to the White House.
Staff Sergeant Robert Henline was deployed to Baghdad with the 82nd Airborne Division out of Fort Bragg when a massive explosion destroyed his Humvee. He was the sole survivor and suffered terrible burns over more than a third of his body.
Back at Fort Bragg, his wife Connie had to leave their three kids with family and made the trip to a hospital in Texas to care for her husband. Day after day, month after month, Connie stayed by his bedside—feeding him, tending his wounds, helping him through dozens of painful surgeries.
Back at home, their oldest child—Brittany—helped to hold the family together. Overnight, she went from being a 15-year-old teenager to a mom for her younger brother and sister. She got her driver's license early so she could run errands and do the shopping. She made meals, did the laundry and helped with homework. And at night, her younger siblings would crawl into Brittany's bed seeking the security of their big sister.
When Operation Homefront named Brittany their Military Child of the Year, I was honored to welcome the whole Henline family to the White House. The father who had endured such grievous injuries. The wife who never left his bedside. And Brittany, the daughter who grew up faster than she had planned.
When a reporter asked Brittany how a teenager could take on so much responsibility, she didn't speak of herself but of her younger brother and sister. She said simply, "They needed me…my priorities changed. My family came first."
You see, that's the spirit and strength and courage that our military families display every day. You put your own priorities aside. You take care of one another. You take care of America.
And as First Lady, I can't thank you all enough and I promise you that I will use every ounce of my being to make sure that America always takes care of you.
Thank you so much.
NOTE: As prepared for delivery.
Michelle Obama, Remarks by the First Lady at the Joint Armed Forces Officers Wives Club at Bolling Air Force Base Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/320611