Remarks by the First Lady to Servicemembers as part of the Joining Forces Initiative
Al-Udeid Air Base
Abu Nakhlah, Qatar
8:25 P.M. AST
MRS. OBAMA: What’s going on? (Applause.) You guys just hanging out a little bit, huh? (Laughter.) Listening to a little music? This happens every night here, right? (Applause.)
Well, let me just say officially, hello, Al-Udeid! What’s going on? (Applause.) Let me start -- you guys are hilarious. I heard you all giving Richie a hard time, but -- you’re terrible! (Laughter.)
But I want to start by thanking Airman First Class Richie Mendoza for that wonderful introduction and for sharing his story, which -- I know that every single one of you has a story like that. Can I get an amen or something? (Applause.) So let’s give Richie a round of applause! (Applause.)
I also want to recognize a few other people. I want to recognize Lieutenant General Charles Brown, U.S. Air Force, Central Command. (Applause.) Your Wing Commander Brigadier General Darren James. (Applause.)
And of course I want to give all of you a huge shout-out. Man, this is the highlight of my trip, being here with you all. It truly is. We’ve got units from the United States Central Command. We’ve got the Grand Slam Wing, the 379th. Are you out there? (Applause.) We’ve got the 385th Air Expeditionary Group. Are you out there? (Applause.) There you are! (Laughter.) There he is! Love you, man. (Laughter.)
We’ve got the First Expeditionary Civil Engineering Group. (Applause.) There we go. We’ve got the Army’s 11th Air Defense Artillery Brigade. (Applause.) Okay. (Laughter.) And we’ve got folks here from the Navy, the Marines, and even the Coast Guard -- one! There’s one! (Laughter.) Are you that one? There’s one! Hey! (Laughter.)
And we also have a member of my staff who is here tonight, someone who served in the Air Force for almost 20 years, including right here at Al-Udeid. She was the first female Thunderbird pilot. (Applause.) And she has done us the honor -- she is now serving as the Executive Director of my Joining Forces initiative, my dear friend, a woman who is just amazing, Colonel Nicole Malachowski is here! (Applause.) And she is going to be horrified that I pointed her out. But she has given me all the skinny on what it’s like for you guys here.
So I am really beyond thrilled to be with all of you tonight. And I’m thrilled to bring my friend Conon O’Brien with me as well. (Applause.)
So when we were planning this trip, I told the group earlier that I met with -- every time I travel across the country, if there’s a base somewhere or around the world I want to try to visit to send you guys love, to make sure you know that we’re thinking about you, and to just bring you something that gives you a smile.
So when we were planning this I asked my team, well, what do the folks want? And they said ice cream. (Laughter and applause.) And I was like, okay, all right, I get ice cream. I hear you guys ran out; you didn’t have toppings. So I get it. But I was like, really? Me and ice cream? That’s all we’re going to do? That’s not enough. (Laughter.)
Well, I brought you Conan O’Brien and all of his crew! (Applause.) And literally, it was 10 days out, and we called and we said, can you do this? And he said, absolutely. He was just in Dubai; turned around, came back to be here because that’s how much we all care about you. And he was so excited that he went and got a bunch of other amazing folks to come with him, and they all put together this incredible show for you.
Conan brought his terrific band leader, Jimmy Vivino -- (applause) -- who has been performing with Full Spectrum. (Applause.) That’s you guys! This is your crew! You guys were jamming. Very talented too. He brought the fabulous singer, Grace Potter, and comedian John Mulaney, who is going to be here. And all of these folks are so proud and honored to be here with you guys, and so am I.
I came here to Qatar to speak about girls’ education at a global education summit. (Applause.) Yes, indeed. But I was also determined to come to this base and spend some time with you because I know what you guys are doing for this country. And I have always been in awe of what you do.
And I didn’t grow up in a military family. I came to know this community when my husband was running his first campaign, and I met amazing men and women who were serving and sacrificing, and doing it without complaint, and doing it with pride. And I am so incredibly grateful for what you do.
And I know that installations like this one are absolutely critical for our national security, because you all support some of the most important missions that we have. And here at this base, you’re flying a record number of sorties. I understand you’re distributing record amounts of fuel to enable those planes to fly. (Applause.) I was told that you guys are running the largest DFAC operation in the region. (Applause.)
So in short, what is so important that I want the world, the country to know is that you all have some serious skills. It’s no joke to be here doing what you do. And that doesn’t even include the performances that I heard were done at the “Deid’s Got Talent” competition. (Applause.) I wish there was video on that. (Laughter.) Or, as the Mad Mules of the 746th put it –- (applause) -- you said, you all provide constant air support no matter what, no matter when, no matter where.
So we owe you all a debt of gratitude. And that’s why I’ve made it my mission as First Lady to ensure that we serve you as well as you serve our country, no matter when, no matter where, and no matter what. And that also means supporting you while you’re here on this base. And it means ensuring that people back home know how extraordinary the sacrifices you all are making are to keep us safe.
And most importantly, it means honoring and supporting your amazing families. Because let’s just take a moment -- I know -- I’ve spent enough time working on these issues and going to bases all over this country, all over the world, and I know that while you’re over here, your families are serving and sacrificing back home. And I know that they are always on your minds.
You’re wondering how your kids are doing in school. How are they managing while you’re here? Are they talking yet or walking yet? I know you’re wondering how your spouse is doing, how they’re juggling it all. Many of them working in jobs of their own and keeping your household together, and managing under the stresses they have -- and many of them dealing with the second, the third deployment.
Not everybody knows that. We know that’s what’s on your mind. You’re wondering how your mom and dad are doing; how much they miss you and how much you miss them. What’s going to happen for the holidays? I know.
And that’s why Jill Biden and I started Joining Forces -- because we wanted to rally Americans to honor and support not just you, but your families. And we did this because we wanted to take some of the worries off your plates. We know that you do your job better when you know that things are good at home.
So we do what we can do. We’ve reached out to folks all across this country. And the thing we want you to know is that every time we’ve asked somebody to step up, they do. A lot of times folks in the United States and -- the states, they just don’t know how. But we’ve tried to provide that platform.
And over the past four and a half years since we launched Joining Forces, people have constantly answered the call. Through Joining Forces, governors and legislators, they’ve changed laws for you, to help your spouses get jobs and -- when your families move, so that they don’t have to re-license and start all over again. Doctors and nurses and medical schools are improving health care for you and your families. Hundreds of mayors are working to end veterans’ homelessness in their cities right now -- and many of them have already done it. (Applause.) Because our view is that in our country, even one homeless veteran is an outrage.
And in just four years, companies all across America have hired or trained more than 850,000 veterans and military spouses. Because what they are learning and what we’re trying to shine that light on is that you all are some of the best-trained people we have in our country. You come out of these deployments ready to work and wanting to continue to serve, having managed and run some of the toughest projects in some of the hardest places to work on Earth. So they just need to know you’re out there so that when you’re done with this, there’s a job waiting for you. (Applause.)
So I’m proud of what we’ve achieved, but, look, I know we are nowhere near finished. You all still have struggles. Things still aren’t as perfect as they should be. But we’re going to keep on working to ensure that you and your families have the jobs you deserve, that the benefits that you’ve earned are waiting for you ready, and that -- the support this nation owes you.
And that’s not just my vow to you as First Lady, but it’s my vow to you for the rest of my life. (Applause.) So it’s important for me that you know that your Commander-in-Chief and your First Lady, we’re proud of you. And we’re going to devote our lives -- it will look different in different stages -- but we are going to have your backs. We’re going to figure out how to use whatever platforms we have to support you.
So just keep doing what you’re doing. Thank you for your outstanding service. Thank you for your positive attitudes. Thank you for your humor. Thank you for your trash-talking. (Laughter.) You’re good at that too! And thank you for allowing me to come and share this time with you. You’ve really lifted my spirits, as always.
So I hope you guys have fun tonight. I hope you enjoy the show. I’m going to come down and say hello to you guys. (Applause.) But before I do that, I’d like to invite my friend, one of your biggest fans to the stage -- the one and only, Conan O’Brien! (Applause.)
8:39 P.M. AST