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The White House

Remarks by the First Lady to the Eglin and Hurlburt Community


Office of the First Lady
For Immediate Release                                                                                             October 15, 2009



Hanger 103
Eglin Air Force Base, Florida

4:01 P.M. CST

MRS. OBAMA: Goodness. Wow. (Applause.) Well, this is -- I'm thrilled. You know, you all have been standing in the heat. (Applause.) Now, that's love. (Applause.) But I am just thrilled to be here.

First, let me begin by thanking a few people -- your general, General Davis, for his kind introduction but also for his leadership. I want to thank not just the general but his wife, Susan, because we always have to remember the women behind the men, or the spouses behind the leaders. (Applause.)

In addition to the general and Susan, I want to thank Colonel McClintock and his wife, Tammy. I want to thank Chief Master Sergeant Thomas Westermeyer and the Commander Chief of the Air Armament Center, and his wife Diane. I want to thank Colonel Bill* McMullen, Vice-commander of the First Special Operations Wing at Hurlburt Field for their outstanding leadership. (Applause.)

The President and I are grateful for your service. We are grateful. And I know that folks at Eglin and Hurlburt are grateful for your dedication and your commitment and your leadership. I have had a wonderful opportunity to sit down with the commanders and with folks leading the Family Readiness Unit, and working in child care. And I've learned such a great deal about the community that you all are building here. It is a model for the nation, and it was an honor for me to be here and to talk with all of you.

I also want to acknowledge Vicki Miller, the wife of Congressman Jeff Miller, who's taken the time to be here to greet me. Although her husband is voting back in Washington, she has been a dear friend and supporter. Vicki, where are you? Give a wave. (Applause.) Thanks for being here, Vicki. (Applause.)

And thanks also to the many elected and community leaders who are here. I met many of them earlier today. And I want to thank all of them for the support of our men and women in uniform. You can do a lot in a base community, but the community that a base is in extends far and wide, and it takes the mayors, the non-elected officials, the community service leaders, the folks embracing you all. And the folks here are blessed to have a very strong community, and I want to give them a round of applause as well. (Applause.)

I also want to recognize Lieutenant Colonel Rob Lyman, who isn't here because he's currently at work in the U.S. Department of Transportation. He is one of 15 people chosen out of 1,000 applicants to be a White House Fellow. You should be very proud. That's a tough program to get into, and he is there representing you well -- (applause) -- and I want to thank you all for loaning him to us for this short period of time.

I know firsthand just how extraordinary the people are that come from Eglin. And I know firsthand because we have somebody who works very closely with our family, Major Jeff Keuter, who would be very embarrassed that I'm even mentioning his name. He was here at Eglin for three years, and he is now our family's physician. So Major Keuter takes excellent care of me and the President and the girls. They even chip in when Bo needs a hand. (Laughter.) And I would like to ask him to stand up so he can -- there he is over there, very embarrassed. (Applause.) We are very proud of him. He keeps us healthy.

I'd also like to say a personal word of thanks to the 728th Air Control Squadron –- the Demons –- (applause) -- who just returned home last month from Iraq and Qatar -– the unit's sixth deployment since 2003. Welcome home. We're proud of you. (Applause.)

Look, I know so many of you -- these folks, the Demons and so many people protect my husband and Vice President Biden when they travel, so they have a special place in my heart for sure, and I want to give them a thanks on behalf of the Obamas and the Bidens. You guys are terrific, and we are grateful to you.

Now, as somebody, as you know, who cares very much about military families, I was very pleased to hear that the Air Force leaders designated this year the "Year of the Air Force Family." And that's very -- a very -- (applause) -- important statement to make. And I was even more pleased when General Schwartz said the year would be devoted both to highlighting what's working for families, and also figuring out what isn't working for families, so that we can take the steps to fix it.

Because that's actually a pretty good description of what I've been trying to do for the past few years as I visit our troops and their families all across the country. My dear friend, Dr. Jill Biden, the Vice President's wife, and I have been asking questions, we've been listening –- trying to get feedback on what's going on, what models work, what models don't -- and we're working to make sure that your voices are heard in Washington and that we can figure out how to raise up best practices and make sure that our efforts in Washington are trickling down to the folks who matter most -- and that's our servicemen and women and their families.

And visiting with servicemembers and their families is truly one of the greatest things that I do as First Lady. It's one of my greatest privileges because I always come away from these visits with a renewed sense of pride, and gratitude, and a sense of awe -- truly a sense of awe.

I stood in a line and heard story after story of your colleagues that's been deployed for most of their time as servicemembers; their stories of bravery, how they left their families, how they dealt with fire, how they continued to recover -- and each and every one of them are ready to do more. So I'm in awe of the courage, the patriotism and the commitment to excellence that our men and women in uniform display every single day.

It's a commitment I see every time that my family steps aboard Air Force One or on Marine One, or interacts with any of the members of our military that oversee operations at the White House. My husband and I say this all the time: The training that you receive is the best. And you come out so whole and ready for so much that you don't even know -- and it makes us proud of the military.

I'm in awe of the sacrifices that you make -– a small fraction of our population bearing such a huge burden for eight years of war -- I'm in awe -- serving tour after tour of duty, missing out on birthdays, and anniversaries, and soccer games, moments with people that you love the most. I'm in awe. I'm in awe of every single one of you.

But I'm also in awe of the loved ones here, the people who have your back. I know that service doesn't end with the person wearing the uniform -- and you all know that -- and war doesn't end when servicemen and women come home. I know that our troops' sacrifices are their families' sacrifices too.

I have met spouses who play the roles of both parents, trying to keep the household together, making their children feel like everything is okay, juggling play dates and lessons and soccer games, trying to hide fears and worries, trying to calm nerves, and doing their best to answer all those questions that both the mother and father should answer -- but they're handling it alone, and they're doing it with grace.

I have met grandparents, and aunts and uncles, brothers and sisters, who step in to care for children when there's a single mom or dad that's in uniform and they're deployed.

And I have met families who are caring for wounded warriors, those whose brave loved ones have given the ultimate sacrifice. I've met all those people.

And the thing that always strikes me isn't just that there are hardly ever complainers in these groups –- even when that would be understandable. And it isn't just that they're not asking for any kind of special treatment ever -- even when the most -- most of them would certainly deserve some special treatment.

But I'm struck by how, at a time when they're making the greatest sacrifice of all, when they're already stretched so thin in their own lives, they somehow find time to reach out a hand and help somebody else. That is always the story. I am struck by how even with all they've got going on, they somehow find a way to do even more and to give back to the communities that they're in. This is the constant message that I get from these visits.

And that is certainly the case here at Eglin and at Hurlburt. I've heard those stories. You all are involved in everything from Relay to Life, to the Boy Scouts, to Toys-for-Tots. You're volunteering in your local churches and your schools, and even more.

In fact, I'm told that one of the youth programs in this community gets about half of its volunteer coaches from troops staffed here at Eglin. Half of their volunteers come from you all. And I hear that you've taken on the challenge -- the Combined Federal Campaign -- with a vengeance, donating whatever you can to help others.

So I think it's pretty clear that our men and women in uniform and their families have more than done their duty to this nation.

So I think it now falls upon us, as a grateful nation, to do ours in return. It's our turn to look out for you. So that's why my husband's budget includes a few things -- like pay raises for men and women in uniform -- (applause); additional permanent forces to reduce the stress of long deployments; support for military spouse career development -- (applause) -- that's something that we hear; improved military housing, yay -- (applause); and financial assistance to military families who've had to sell their homes during the housing crisis and are facing losses. (Applause.)

And we've heard from military families that there were some additional steps that could be taken so that military families can more fully benefit from the Family and Medical Leave Act.

So Congress has been working to extend federal family leave protection to the family members of our regular active duty personnel so that they can take time off from work to be with their servicemember for deployment-related activities or to attend important family responsibilities.

And I am so pleased that Senator Chris Dodd is working with colleagues on both sides of the aisle to extend federal family leave protection to the family members of injured veterans. If enacted, this legislation will help more military families address the unique issues they face in balancing work and family.

But providing our military and their families with the support they've earned requires more than just good government; it requires an active citizen as well. Let's never forget that when our troops go off to war, they're protecting every single one of us. And the freedoms that they fight for are ones that every single one of us as Americans enjoy. And that's why I've made it a personal priority to ask all Americans to do their part to show our appreciation. (Applause.)

And the community that you're in right now, as I said earlier, is a shining example of how that can be done -- from throwing barbecues and the shrimp boil -- that I didn't get invited to, but that's okay -- (laughter); to donating facilities for community events; to showing appreciation with gifts at the holidays; from a 13-year-old girl who started Hero Hugs to send cards and care packages to servicemembers abroad; to an 84-year-old woman who's spent 43 years volunteering at Eglin hospital. You all know how important it is to support our men and women in uniform, and we thank you for that.

But the thing is, not every community has a military base, as you know. Not every community is as blessed as Eglin is. We've got National Guard and Reserve families in cities and towns all across the country. We've got wounded warriors working hard to recover, and families struggling to cope with the loss of the person that they loved most in the world.

So I encourage everyone in this country to reach out through your schools, to reach out through your churches and your workplaces to find out if there are servicemembers or military families nearby who can use a hand. Just look around in your own community. And it can be something as simple -- you know what your Family Readiness support groups do -- it's something simple as offering babysitting, or handling carpool duty, or giving a stressed mom a break; bringing over a meal. It doesn't really take that much.

If you own a business, think about making an effort to hire a military spouse or a veteran with that open position when you get one. If you have a professional skill, whether you're a lawyer, or an accountant, or a mental health professional, you can offer services to our military families pro bono.

At the very least, each of us can do one simple thing -- and that is to take the time to say thank you. Just take the time to say thank you. Thank you for the sacrifices that you are all making on behalf of this nation. And we can thank you all for all that you do to serve our communities, every last one of you.

And today, I'm thinking of one particular example that I heard about here at Eglin –- the clothing drive a group of Airmen started to help children they'd met in an orphanage in Grenada while they were supporting my husband's trip to the Summit of the Americas. Before they knew it, so many donations had poured in that they had to end the drive. That's because everybody here stepped up. It took two entire days just to sort out what they had received.

It's a perfect illustration of the spirit of our military and our military families. It's what makes our armed forces the best in the world -- (applause) -- and not just because of your courage in the face of adversity, or your heroism on the battlefield, but your compassion, and your decency, and your generosity.

See, that is the face of America that the world gets to see. They see this country through your eyes as well -- through your good deeds. And in doing so, you make us so proud, so very proud.

So I know times get hard. I know that. There is no way that I can know intimately how hard it can be, but I am committed as First Lady to spend every ounce of my platform trying to make sure that the country never forgets; that they don't forget our servicemembers and they certainly don't forget those that are left here to keep it together. (Applause.)

So know that you're not alone. Know that there are so many people who are sending their prayers and their appreciation and their gratitude. When I travel around the world, people talk about our military. They talk about how you represent the world, and they talk about how it is a duty of all of us to make sure that we honor the work that you do. So thank you.

And now let's get out of this heat. (Laughter and applause.)

4:20 P.M. CST