This op-ed from First Lady Michelle Obama was first published in the Fayetteville Observer
A few years ago, as I began to travel around the country and talk to all sorts of people, one set of stories always tugged at my heart. They took my breath away. They inspired me. And they motivated me to learn more. They were stories of strength, courage, and patriotism that define our nation’s military families. And I know that Fayetteville is filled with them.
They’re your neighbors who raise children and manage households by themselves while their loved ones are deployed. They’re military kids who have lived most of their young lives with our nation at war and Mom or Dad overseas. They’re our wounded warriors or survivors of our fallen who continue to serve their community every day. And they’re women like Barbara Marshall.
Like so many of our veterans, Barbara’s service to this country didn’t stop when her 15-year Navy career ended. Through Steps N Stages Jubilee House, she is working to combat homelessness among female veterans in the Fayetteville area. She’s doing it in an unconventional way: by welcoming these struggling women and their families into her own home.
The Marshalls – Barbara; her son, Bert; and her daughter, Maya – are perfect examples of how much our military families give to our country each and every day. And this summer, a whole busload of people stepped up to give the Marshalls something back.
For one week in the sweltering heat, local volunteers and the Extreme Makeover: Home Edition cast and crew worked around the clock to transform Barbara’s home into a beautiful, state-of-the-art dream house and resource center. I was thrilled to help out with some of the finishing touches, and I’ll never forget the look on Barbara’s face when the bus pulled away to reveal her new home.
But what I remember most was the Fayetteville community’s warm embrace of this family and our homeless veterans. I saw neighbors grabbing shovels and picking up scraps around the worksite. I saw business owners and local organizations pitching in. Even folks around the country got involved, donating logs online to help build the beautiful cabin.
Now, I know that not every community can build a home in a week, and not every veteran will end up in Disneyland or on national T.V. But I also know that the compassion I felt in Fayetteville is alive and well in every community across this country.
That’s what compelled Dr. Jill Biden and me to launch our Joining Forces initiative this spring. This is a national initiative to address the unique needs of, and expand opportunities for, our remarkable military families.
It’s about businesses, nonprofit organizations, schools, churches, and ordinary citizens doing what they can for these incredible men, women and children. It’s about Americans uniting in service around these families. And it’s about everyone – no matter where they come from or their station in life – stepping up to give something meaningful back.
With one of our nation’s biggest media companies, local organizations, and folks from all over Fayetteville pitching in, this summer’s wild week was a perfect example of what we can accomplish when we work together for these families.
So Fayetteville, I hope you sit back and enjoy the spotlight tonight on Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. You deserve it. And I hope that after the show, you’ll visit us at JoiningForces.gov to find out how you can keep showing your appreciation for our military families. Together, we can serve our military families as well as they have served us.