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First Lady Advocates for Military Women, Families in Predecessor’s Mold

By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service

ARLINGTON, Va., March 3, 2009 – First lady Michelle Obama received a tip from a retired female Air Force general today: Keep modeling herself after her World War II-era predecessor, Eleanor Roosevelt.

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First lady Michelle Obama addresses an audience of primarily female servicemembers at a March 3, 2009, event honoring Women's History Month and military families at Arlington National Cemetery's Women in Military Service for America Memorial Center in Arlington, Va. White House photo by Joyce N. Boghosian
  

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Retired Brig. Gen. Wilma Vaught, speaking today at the Women in Military Service for America Memorial here, drew a comparison between Obama and her first lady forebear.

 

“From the very beginning, she has made servicewomen and their welfare a priority on which she is focusing,” Vaught said of Obama. “In doing this, she is following in the footsteps of first lady Eleanor Roosevelt’s WWII fame.”

Without Roosevelt’s steadfast advocacy, women -- including African-American women -- might not have been allowed to serve in the U.S. Armed Forces, said Vaught, president of the Women’s Memorial Foundation.

The timing of today’s event, which brought together several dozen current and retired military women of various rank and branch, coincided with the first week of Women's History Month. It also comes as the current first lady seeks to extend her campaign focus on military families, according to White House officials.

Stepping into Roosevelt’s mold, Obama opened her remarks by accepting Vaught’s challenge to revive a bygone tradition: hosting women troops in the audience to the White House for tea, a luxury that gained Roosevelt popularity among female servicemembers.

Obama said women have been contributing to the U.S. military since the Revolutionary War, citing their earliest antecedent Deborah Samson, who disguised herself as a man and enlisted in the 4th Massachusetts Regiment in 1782.

“Throughout our nation’s history women have played an important role in the military as well as in organizations supporting the military during times of conflict,” she said. “Our foremothers and our sisters today have joined our forefathers and our brothers today in securing our liberty and protecting our country.”

Echoing remarks President Barack Obama made last week at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, N.C., the first lady said service doesn’t end with the person wearing the uniform, adding that she’s been honored and deeply moved to meet military families in recent years.

“They are mothers and fathers who have lost their beloved children to war; they are husbands and wives keeping the families on track while their wives and husbands are deployed on duty,” she said. “They are grandparents, aunts and uncles, and sisters and brothers who are taking care of children while single moms or dads in uniform are away.”

Obama recognized members of the audience who blazed the trail for female servicemembers, including Army Gen. Ann Dunwoody, the first female to receive the rank of four-star general; Coast Guard Vice Adm. Vivien Crea, the first woman to serve as a vice chief of a military branch; and Alyce Dixon, a 101-year-old former company clerk in the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion during World War II.

Dunwoody praised the generations of women servicemembers who paved the way for her.

“As you go through the history of our early beginnings and recognize the generations of women who have gone before us, their dedication and commitment has opened the doors for women today,” she said.

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Biographies:
Michelle Obama

Related Sites:
Women in Military Service for America Memorial


Click photo for screen-resolution imageRetired Air Force Brig. Gen. Wilma Vaught, president of the Women’s Memorial Foundation, takes first lady Michelle Obama on a tour of Arlington National Cemetery's Women in Military Service for America Memorial Center in Arlington, Va., on March 3, 2009, during an event honoring Women's History Month and military families. White House photo by Joyce N. Boghosian  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageFrom left to right, Mary Ragland and Alyce Dixon, both company clerks in the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion during World War II; first lady Michelle Obama; and Esther Corcoran, one of the first women to achieve the rank of Army lieutenant colonel, pose for a photo during a March 3, 2009, event honoring Women's History Month and military families at Arlington National Cemetery's Women in Military Service for America Memorial Center in Arlington, Va. White House photoby Joyce N. Boghosian  
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