Military Spouses Day (Washington, D.C.)
As Delivered by Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates, Washington, D.C., Tuesday, May 06, 2008
Good morning. The main attraction will be here shortly.
Thank you for the invitation to celebrate Military Spouse Day with you. It’s an honor to be a part of National Military Appreciation Month.
During my time as Secretary of Defense, I have had the opportunity to travel around the country to many military facilities, including just last week to Fort Bliss, Texas. I make it a point to meet and talk with the families of those deployed and I’m always tremendously impressed by your sacrifice, resilience, and fortitude.
I also learn a lot from you. For example it was at a meeting with spouses at Fort Hood that I heard military families who’d like the Montgomery GI Bill education benefits to be transferable to a spouse or child. That proposal next appeared in the President’s State of the Union Address. That’s how much we respect what you have to say.
I understand that about 1,100 spouses of deployed or soon-to-be-deployed service members are with us here on the South Lawn.
Our nation owes a great deal to what I call “the power behind the power” – the families of all those who are serving. While our men and women in uniform may be called to pay the highest price, their families, and particularly their spouses, make a considerable sacrifice as well. Each spouse entrusts to the nation his or her most treasured possession, often for a long period of time.
It is spouses who bear the burden each day and who keep families on track while loved ones are away. They take up responsibilities that would be easier if their spouses were there – settling into a new house, driving the kids to school or little league, doing the laundry – and yet they endure separations and relocations regularly and bear each burden with grace and patience.
All the spouses here today, including the six recipients of the Presidential Volunteer Service Award, have had a profound impact on the lives of those who serve. They have initiated a number of programs which include:
• Creating newsletters to update the families of deployed personnel;
• Providing free diapers, formula, clothing, and toys to military families;
• Manning an online network for parents of West Point cadets;
• Collecting and distributing more than a million phone cards to service members;
• Sending more than five tons of supplies to Iraqi and Afghan children; and
• Establishing a program to educate and train the spouses and caregivers of war-wounded troops.
Your endeavors do not get the attention they deserve. But I can tell you that every one of your efforts matters. You do not do this only for your loved ones who are serving and sacrificing in distant lands, but for your entire community and for our country. Your dedication, compassion, and selflessness play a vital role in uplifting spirits, and our nation is deeply in your debt.
In closing, I am awed by your countless hours of service and humbled by your extraordinary devotion.
It is the greatest honor of my life to lead our incredible men and women in uniform. Please thank your spouses for their service and thank you for all you do to make their service possible.