By Andrea Sutherland (Fort Carson)April 21, 2011
FORT CARSON, Colo. -- For Brea Harper, getting to travel to Coors Field in Denver to play on the field with cadets from the U.S. Air Force Academy, seeing the Rockies' clubhouse and watching Jessica Simpson perform for military Families paled in comparison to meeting her hero: Michelle Obama.
"I seen her on the Disney Channel," said 5-year-old Brea. "She says girls can do anything."
Even the rain, which drove spectators from the field into the Coors Field breezeway, couldn't dampen Brea's excitement. Brea, the daughter of Fort Carson Soldier Sgt. Russel Harper, 183rd Maintenance Company, 68th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, 43rd Sustainment Brigade, got a front row seat to see the first lady; Dr. Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden; and Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper.
"I was in tears," said Amber Harper, Brea's mother. "Getting to see Michelle and Jill Biden, what an awesome treat."
The Harpers moved to Colorado Springs from Texas in November.
"We're Rangers fans but hey, you can't get any better than this," Amber Harper said. "This is so awesome. This is a baseball fan's dream."
The first lady and Biden began their tour of several military towns April 13 to raise awareness about "Joining Forces," a new initiative to honor and support the nation's military members and their Families.
"This has been a big day for Jill and myself because yesterday we launched this huge national initiative," Obama said to the crowd of 300 military children and servicemembers. "We're rallying the country to make sure they're aware of your stories ... because you know you are heroes just like your parents are."
After her speech, Obama and Biden played catch and ran the bases with the children and Brea made sure she was in line to greet the first lady. After hitting a plastic ball pitched by Rockies' mascot Dinger, Brea grabbed Obama's hand and the two ran the bases, pausing to chat along the way.
"I told her I saw her on Disney," Brea said. "I'm so glad I got to meet Michelle Obama."
Less than 12 hours after the Denver event, Obama and Biden traveled to Fountain-Fort Carson High School in Fountain to showcase the Joining Forces program.
Biden, whose son, Beau Biden, served with the Delaware National Guard, shared examples of actions people in the community take to support military Families. She highlighted the actions of teachers, specifically the one in her granddaughter, Natalie's classroom.
The teacher "hung a photo of my son's support unit so the whole class would know that Natalie's dad was at war," Biden said. "Believe me, that photo of her dad on the wall meant the world to Natalie and it meant the world to me and the vice-president, too.
These teachers and all other individuals and groups across the country who are supporting our troops and their Families are showing all Americans that there are countless ways to help."
Biden and Obama also announced the start of the National Math and Science Initiative, a program aimed at improving math and science education across America.
Part of the Joining Forces program, the initiative is one way the first lady plans to give back to military Families, a White House spokeswoman said.
"This program provides advanced placement courses in math and science to schools in areas with high military populations," Obama said as she spoke to 1,500 high schoolers, 40 percent of whom are from military Families. "That's why Jill and I wanted to be here, that's why we picked this school, we picked this community. We're thrilled about this effort and we're thrilled about how it's going to affect students like you."
Mythbusters' Jamie Hyneman and Grant Imahara joined the first lady on stage, along with NASA astronaut Bernard Harris, who spoke to the teenagers about the importance of an education.
"The (advanced placement) courses that are going to be offered here in your school are not only going to allow you to have a leg up getting into college but it will help you graduate from college," Harris said.
He highlighted alarming statistics about the state of education in the United States.
"Our country has dropped from first to 12th in college graduation rates," Harris said.
He also said that students in the AP classes had a 97-percent increase in passing rates in math, science and English, seven times the national average.
"I think the Joining Forces initiative sheds light on the importance of taking care of our military Families," said Col. Robert F. McLaughlin, garrison commander. "Seventy percent of the kids at (School District 8) are from military Families. They certainly earn their rite of passage with all of the obstacles they face."
While encouraging the students to study, Obama also said she understood the unique challenges military children deal with on a daily basis.
"You all are the ones filling in for your moms and dads when they're deployed. You're the ones who are taking on those extra household chores, stepping up in the home. You're the ones who are making sure your little brothers and sisters are staying in line.
You're dealing with those moves every few years. I know that, that can't be easy," Obama said. "I hope you realize that you all are really living an advanced placement kind of life."
Obama encouraged students to keep attending classes, even on the bad days, and ensured them that the nation recognized their efforts and supported them.
"If you can do this, you can do anything and just know that this whole country is behind you," she said. "That's what Joining Forces is all about, making sure that you know that from the president of the United States on down, we're behind you."