First Lady Kicks Off Holiday Season With Military Families
By Elaine Sanchez
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Nov. 30, 2011 In a gesture of gratitude for their service and sacrifice, First Lady Michelle Obama today invited military families – including families of the military fallen -- to be among the first to see the White House decked out for this year’s holiday season.
First Lady Michelle Obama invites military children to decorate cookies and create ornaments with her during a special holiday event at the White House in Washington, D.C., Nov. 30, 2011. The first lady invited military families, including families of the fallen, to be among the first to view the White House's holiday decorations this year. By the first lady’s side is Jennifer Jackman of the American Gold Star Mothers. DOD photo by Elaine Sanchez
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
"I know for some of you this holiday season will be tough," the first lady said. "But hopefully it’s times like this that make you know that you live in a grateful nation, and that we are just so inspired by your sacrifice."
This holiday season, she said, the White House is offering a special tribute to those who serve. Among the White House’s 37 Christmas trees scattered along the visitor tour route are two special Christmas trees intended to honor service members and their families.
The official White House Christmas tree – a towering 18-foot balsam fir in the Blue Room – is a salute to service members of all branches. The tree is decorated with holiday cards created by military children around the world; service medals, badges and patches; and military images adorned with pinecone frames and ribbons.
Some of those cards are inspiring, Obama said, sharing one of the written messages. Five children in Medical Lake, Wash., wrote, “No matter how many Christmases our dad misses, he makes every Christmas special and we love him.”
In another card is a more matter-of-fact message, the first lady noted. "Hey Dad, it's cool you're in Italy. So when are you coming back, because I already know what I want for Christmas."
A Gold Star Christmas tree, bright with gold star ornaments and framed Purple Heart medals, graces the visitor’s entrance on the East Wing landing. The tree was decorated by families of military fallen and features photos of fallen heroes and messages from their loved ones.
A mom from Anchorage, Alaska, wrote this note to her son, Obama said: “I love and miss you, son. Thank you for all of the great memories we shared.”
The tree is surrounded with photos and stories from more than 800 Gold Star families, the first lady noted. “Each one showcases the strength and resilience that characterizes our Gold Star families,” she said.
In the coming weeks, visitors to the White House will be able to write notes to service members to express their gratitude, and Gold Star families will be invited to inscribe a ceramic gold star ornament with a personalized note.
These families deserve the gratitude of a thankful nation, the first lady said, particularly in light of the sacrifices they make each day. Spouses are raising kids alone while their loved ones are deployed and their children are taking on extra responsibilities to help. And she’s been inspired, she said, by the survivors of the fallen who continue to give back to their communities.
Americans need to hear these stories, she said, and to understand what it’s like to be a military family.
The Joining Forces campaign is intended to do just that, she said. The first lady and Dr. Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden, started the initiative earlier this year to raise awareness of military families’ sacrifices and to rally Americans around them.
“We wanted to make sure that never again would someone have to ask the question: What is a Gold Star family and what does that sacrifice mean,” she said. “We all should know.”
Obama said that’s one of the reasons the troops and their families are highlighted at the White House this holiday season.
The first lady wrapped up with her own message of gratitude.
“I want to thank all of the Gold Star families for your enduring strength and commitment to this country,” she said. “And I want to thank all of the troops, all of our veterans, all of our military families, whose service and sacrifice inspires us all.”
The first lady then invited the military children lining the front rows to decorate holiday cookies and ornaments with her in the State Dining Room. She iced cookies alongside them as she praised their festive creations.
The military families also toured holiday decorations in several of the White House’s ornate rooms. A big attraction was the White House gingerbread house, which is made up of 400 pounds of gingerbread, white chocolate and marzipan. But Obama’s dog, Bo, upstaged even the gingerbread house. Scattered throughout the tour route are five Bo topiaries made of various materials such as felt, buttons, pom-poms, candy, and even trash bags.
As the children did their crafts, they had the opportunity to compare the fake first dogs with the real deal when the first lady brought Bo to the State Dining Room for a visit.