WASHINGTON (Army News Service, April 9, 2010) -- Hundreds of servicemembers and civilian employees gathered in the Pentagon courtyard to hear first lady Michelle Obama and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates speak Friday.

Introducing the first lady, Gates said he realizes how much she appreciates the service of military men and women and the efforts she has made in recognizing military families.

"A little over a year as first lady, Mrs. Obama has made well-being in military families one of her signature issues," Gates said.

Stepping to the podium, Obama thanked Gates for his years of service, noting that he has served under seven presidents.

"Today is a simple chance for me to do a couple of things," she said. "First, I want to say thank you."

She continued, saying that she has gone to different departments to express appreciation to servicemembers for their work.

"This visit is another chance to shine a spotlight on the service and sacrifices of the finest military in the world and your amazing families," Obama said.

Noting places she has visited, such as Fort Bragg, N.C., Norfolk, Va., and Eglin Air Force Base in Florida, Obama said she is continually impressed with military families. Obama said the commitment of servicemembers is inspiring, mentioning specifically Gold Star families and wounded warriors.

"It's the spirit so many of you have shown in Afghanistan and Iraq, and all around the world, year after year, tour after tour," Obama said.

To the Department of Defense civilians, she said they were the force behind the force. During the ceremony, 19 civilians stood on stage, and Obama and Gates recognized them for their 40 years of service each.

Obama noted that April is the Month of the Military Child, and said military children also serve by staying strong when a parent deploys or sometimes even making the ultimate sacrifice if a parent is lost in action.

Obama said that while all the recognition is justified, it must be backed up by action. As first lady, she said she will keep urging Americans to do their part to support the military.

"Every American can do something, whether it's something as simple as just saying thank you when you see one of our troops in your community," she said.

Obama said actions by servicemembers are commendable, noting the efforts in Haiti, recent earthquakes and the continued efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Following her talk, Obama came over and spent time personally thanking and greeting the audience.

"On behalf of the President, on behalf of the American people, thank you for the service you display every single day, around the world, often in harm's way," she said. "You make us so very proud."