First Lady Visits Fort Bragg, Vows Support for Military Families
By Reginald Rogers
Special to American Forces Press Service
FORT BRAGG, N.C., March 13, 2009 First lady Michelle Obama said she was committed to improving support for military families yesterday during her first visit here as first lady.
First lady Michelle Obama reads "The Cat in the Hat" to children at Prager Child Development Center at Fort Bragg, N.C., March 12, 2009. The first lady spoke with soldiers and family members as part of her initiative to care for military families. U.S. Army photo by Reginald Rogers
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Obama said her commitment to improving family support began two years ago at the beginning of her husband's campaign, after hearing about the challenges military spouses faced.
"I spent a lot of my time talking about issues that really affected me as a working mom," Obama said. "I met more and more military families who were not just struggling with those basic issues that all civilians are dealing with, but they were tacking on multiple tours of duty and having to figure out how do you keep a family together when you moved 10 times in the same number of years.
"I was moved by the power of those stories, and I committed to myself then that if I was blessed with the opportunity to be the nation's first lady, then I would make the issues facing military families a top priority for me," she said.
The first lady pointed out a few of the issues military families face including quality education on military posts, adequate childcare for families who live on- and off-post, and for military spouses, how to balance higher education, careers and family support during deployments.
Obama said it is important to hear military families’ concerns and provide a voice for them in Washington.
"First of all, my job is to listen and learn and to make sure that the families understand that not only the Obama family, but the Obama administration values their service and is going to be working to shine a light," she said. "I want to make sure that I use my platform to ensure that the nation is aware of these challenges."
She said many people may assume that by caring for the troops, they also are taking care of military families.
"I think many people were like me, not realizing so many of our military families are living right at the poverty line," she explained, "not realizing that it is hard for spouses to get jobs when the move, or that they can't often transfer credits and finish their education, and they’re struggling with the high cost of quality and affordable childcare."
Obama said she wants to bring military families’ issues to light.
"I also think that there are some real practical issues that the Obama administration is expected to address," she said. "In the stimulus package, there is more money for improved housing support, expanding childcare, and making sure that we're caring for our wounded veterans."
The first lady said it is important to make sure that when wounded veterans return home, they will receive quality medical care. She added that in the current budget, the president also is looking for more money to increase military pay, expand childcare and ensure that there is adequate mental health support.
"Those are just some of the things," she said. "As Barack said, this is a down payment on what we need to be doing, and we've got to make sure that this budget passes and the dollars start flowing."
Obama spoke on the importance of having adequate childcare for military families.
"I think everyone calms down when they think their kids are taken care of," she said. "So having good childcare facilities -- I think we're going to see some of that money start to come in so that folks can get off the waiting lists and get into childcare facilities. Not just on bases, but in the surrounding communities as well, because not everybody lives on a base; not everybody can transfer their kids back and forth to bases."
Many family members spoke to her about streamlining the available support so that it is more consistent at all bases, Obama said. It is equally important to make information available to families to prevent hardships once they transfer to different bases, she noted.
Obama said she was impressed with the Fort Bragg community.
"The spirit here, that impressed me the first time I came here, just a little over a year ago,” she said. “The folks here are very proud of their service, and the leadership here takes support to families very seriously."
She recalled one of the military spouses who recently had spoken with her own mother and explained the kind of support available on the post. She said the mother pointed out that none of those systems or programs existed in the past when she was raising her family here.
"Fort Bragg demonstrates that we've made a lot of progress in term of support for military families," Obama said. "But I think the leadership here would say that we still have work to do."
Obama praised Fort Bragg and the Fayetteville community, saying it is a model for other military towns because of the support and facilities available to soldiers and family members.
"There is a commitment to the resources that are needed across the board for families," she said. "There's the Family Covenant that really sets forth the priorities and the values that should guide the support that the military is going to give.
"There's a broader community of support here in Fayetteville and the surrounding counties that is the model," she continued. "So this is one of the places that we should look for the type of support that we need."
Obama wants to put a call out to the nation to be mindful that this is a nation at war.
"There are troops out there right now fighting for our freedom and our security," she said. "When they go, they leave behind families.
The first lady extended the opportunity to help military families to the rest of the nation, whether they live in military communities or not.
"It's incumbent upon us as a nation to look in our schools and figure out which child has parents that's deployed and be aware of that and be conscious of that," she said. "It's incumbent upon us to look in our own backyards to our neighbors and to figure out who's out there serving our country, and what kind of support that they need. We need to make sure, as a community, that we're coming together around those families."
(Reginald Rogers serves with the Fort Bragg public affairs office.)