First Lady Calls on Nation to Support Military Families
By Elaine Wilson
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May. 12, 2010 First Lady Michelle Obama issued a national challenge today to all sectors of American society: mobilize and take action to support and engage military families.
“One percent of Americans may be fighting our wars, but we need 100 percent of Americans to support them and their families,” the first lady said. “This has to be all hands on deck. This is a challenge to government.”
The first lady made this call to action during her remarks to the National Military Family Association’s summit: “When Parents Deploy: Understanding the Experiences of Military Children and Spouses.”
“We know that our military families are some of the most patriotic, some of the most dedicated, the most service-oriented Americans you will ever meet,” she said. “But we also know … that these strong families are being tested like never before.”
President Barack Obama and his administration have made military families a priority, she noted, with increased pay and benefits as well as increased funding for military housing and child care and spouse counseling and career development. The Family and Medical Leave Act also has been extended to more military families and caregivers, she added.
The budget for next year is slated to continue to strengthen military family support programs, the first lady said.
“And last week, my husband signed into law legislation that many of you fought for – expanding veterans’ health care and giving unprecedented support to caretakers,” she said.
Within the Defense Department, the first lady lauded the leadership of Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Navy Adm. Mike Mullen for the progress made in military family programs.
Still, much work remains to be done to better understand how to serve military families, she said.
To that end, the Defense Department has launched the Military Family Life Project, the first lady said, a landmark study of more than 100,000 spouses and servicemembers that is slated to launch this month. This survey will assess families’ quality of life to give officials a better sense of how families are experiencing deployments and improve the support provided to them.
Spouses and servicemembers, selected at random from all services, will be invited via mail to participate in the online survey, defense officials said.
“I want to encourage all the spouses who were selected to fully participate in this project, because the more that this nation knows about your priorities, the more we can do to meet them,” Obama said.
Along with the federal government, Obama extended her challenge to encompass state and local governments “whose services touch military families in so many ways.” The Interstate Compact that eases the school transfer process for military children has been adopted by 30 states, she noted as an example.
“And we are going to need the other 20 states to help by adopting it too,” she said.
In the private sector, businesses large and small also can make a difference, the first lady said.
“Maybe it’s offering services, pro bono, to a military family or veteran,” she suggested. “Maybe it’s helping a military spouse or a veteran develop their job skills and find a job. Maybe it’s hiring them – because you know the discipline and dedication needed to succeed in the military are the same traits that any business would want in their employees.”
Obama encouraged community-based organizations to continue their work on behalf of military families, pointing out the contributions of organizations such as Sierra Club, which partnered with the National Military Family Association to create Operation Purple summer camps for military children.
“There are so many organizations with skills and interests that can be shared with military families and we need to get them involved,” she said.
In communities, Obama called on people to reach out to military families, particularly those living far from military installations. Even in communities without a base, people can find ways to reach out, she said, and many partnerships are waiting to be forged.
The first lady pointed out a national network that she and Dr. Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden, launched last Veterans Day. Mission Serve brings civilian and military service groups together not only to help support troops and veterans and their families, but to encourage communities to use the talents and skills of military families and veterans, she said.
From a federal government leader to a next-door neighbor, her challenge ultimately extends to all Americans, she said.
“Everyone can do something, whether it’s reaching out to a local family or supporting an organization serving families or sharing your skills or being a voice in your community or just saying, ‘Thank you,’” she said. “Even small things send a big message.”
It may take time to come to fruition, Obama said, “but if Americans respond to this challenge, if we mobilize every segment of society, if we work together, if we hold ourselves to the same high standard of excellence that our military families live by every day, then I know we can succeed,” she said. “I know we can realize our vision of an America that truly supports and engages our military families not just now, but for decades to come.
“And I can promise you this today, this will remain one of my defining missions as first lady,” she added.