First Lady Brings Military Family Issues to Front Burner

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 13, 2009 - First lady Michelle Obama, having just returned from a meeting yesterday with military families at Fort Bragg, N.C., reiterated today on ABC-TV's "Good Morning America" her commitment to ensuring they get the support they deserve.

Obama said she chose Fort Bragg for her first trip outside Washington as first lady to turn the spotlight on "a huge need out there" that she conceded most Americans are "pretty oblivious" to.

Obama admitted she had no idea of the outstanding needs before taking on the military family cause during her husband's presidential campaign. "I just assumed that if we care about our troops and we send them to war, that naturally, we'd be taking care of their families," she said.

Most Americans probably don't realize how many times military families move or how expensive those moves can be, she said this morning. They disrupt children's school schedules and cause spouses to scramble to find new jobs and quality child care, and to transfer school credits.

Also not widely understood, she said, is how many young, enlisted families are living "right at the poverty line because the pay isn't enough."

That's particularly troubling, she said, when their loved ones are deployed into harm's way in Iraq or Afghanistan.

"It hurts. It hurts," she said. "These are people who are willing to send their loved ones off to, perhaps, give their lives -- the ultimate sacrifice. But yet, they're living back at home on food stamps. It's not right, and it's not where we should be as a nation."

President Barack Obama's proposed 2.9 percent military pay raise will offer a start toward helping these families, she said. But she conceded it's only "a down payment on what we need to do."

A strong military depends on the support of military families, and the country can't expect to get that support if it doesn't demonstrate that it values what families contribute, she said.

"If, when it's time to re-enlist, they look around and they can't find a life for themselves, I can assure you that spouse will say, 'Let's go. Let's call it a day. Let's pull down our tent and move on to something else,'" she said.

"And we lose support that we desperately need as a nation."

Yesterday, during an emotional meeting at Fort Bragg's community center, the first lady told military families in person the United States owes them more.

"Our soldiers and their families have done their duty. They do it without complaint," she said. "And we as a grateful nation must do ours and do everything in our power to honor them by supporting them."

Rallying the country around military families' challenges isn't difficult, she said today. "People understand it, once the issue is brought to their attention. And they're ready to do whatever they can."

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