By John J. KruzelOctober 16, 2009
WASHINGTON, Oct. 15, 2009 - First Lady Michelle Obama today vowed to make the voices of U.S. military families heard in the nation's capital, and called on Americans to recognize the sacrifices made by those in uniform and their loved ones. Addressing a crowd at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., the first lady said she and Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden, have embarked on a fact-finding mission to determine the pros and cons of what military families experience today.
"We're working to make sure that your voices are heard in Washington and that we can figure out how to raise up best practices and make sure that our efforts in Washington are trickling down, to the folks who matter most," she said. "And that's our servicemen and women and their families."
Obama spoke mainly about the U.S. military at-large, but she also singled out one service branch: the U.S. Air Force, which has dedicated 2009 as the year of the Air Force Family. She also praised General Norton A. Schwartz, Air Force Chief of Staff, for carrying a mission similar to hers.
"That's a very important statement to make," she said of the Air Force's year-long salute to families. "And I was even more pleased when General Schwartz said the year would be devoted both to highlighting what's working for families and also figuring out what isn't working for families, so that we can take the steps to fix it."
The first lady mentioned policies her husband, President Barack Obama, has overseen since taking office in January: pay raises for the military, increasing the size of the forces in order to relieve stress, better housing, programs to help spouses advance their careers and initiatives to help military families recover from the financial strain caused by the economic downturn.
"I think it's pretty clear that our men and women in uniform and their families have more than done their duty to this nation, so I think it now falls upon us, as a grateful nation, to do ours in return," she said. "It's our turn to look out for you."
Obama also mentioned legislation being discussed in Congress that would allow spouses time off to spend with their servicemember husband or wife in certain instances.
"Congress has been working to extend Federal Family Leave protection to the family members of our regular active duty personnel so that they can take time off from work to be with their servicemember for deployment- related activities or to attend important family responsibilities," she said.
But providing the military and their families the support they've earned is a job that extends beyond government to everyday U.S. citizens, she said.
"Let's never forget that when our troops go off to war, they're protecting every single one of us and the freedoms that they fight for are ones that every single one of us as Americans enjoy," she said.
Finally, the first lady called on Americans to help relieve the burden borne by military families, suggesting they help in their community by carpooling, cooking, or performing pro bono services if they have a professional skill.
"At the very least, each of us can do one simple thing, and that is to take the time to say thank you, just take the time to say thank you," she said. "Thank you for the sacrifices that you are all making on behalf of this nation."
The first lady vowed to use her position to ensure the country doesn't overlook the sacrifices being made by the military and their families.
"There is no way that I can know intimately how hard it can be, but I am committed as first lady to spend every ounce of my platform trying to make sure that the country never forgets: that they don't forget our servicemembers, and they certainly don't forget those that are left here to keep it together," she said.