First Lady Welcomes Marine Families to White House

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Obama said she was honored to be with the families who go beyond the call of duty in volunteering with Toys for Tots. "We're honored to be joined by so many members of the military and their families, folks who show us every day with their service, truly, what it means to put others above self," she said.

With pine aroma in the air, the Marines in their dress blues and spouses and children in holiday attire, toured the multihued rooms of the East Wing that hold 19 ornately decorated trees. Under the first lady's holiday theme of "Simple Gifts," the trees were decorated along themes such as music, nature, Christmas gatherings, and for the official White House Christmas tree in the Blue Room, the "Gift of the American Spirit."

Down the hall in the Booksellers area "The Children's Tree" stood as a tribute to the youngest members of military families. The tree was decorated with ornaments handmade by 300 military children chosen by Deborah Mullen, who also attended today's event and is the wife of Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The tree shared space with an oversized statue of First Dog Bo, made by 100 volunteers using 40,000 pipe cleaners, a tour guide said.

In the East Entrance Landing, the military families viewed the "Military Appreciation Tree," conceived of by the first lady to honor servicemembers, and adorned with glass ball ornaments depicting each service color and seal and topped with a handmade dove to signify peace.

The first lady spoke to the families in the East Room, along with retired Marine Corps Gen. H.P. "Pete" Osman, president and CEO of the Toys for Tots Foundation.

"As first lady, I've had the privilege of meeting our men and women in uniform on bases and in hospitals and in communities all over the country," she said. "When I make those visits, I come away not just with a sense of pride and gratitude, but also with a sense of awe, both at their courage and their sacrifice and at their commitment to serving their country and their communities."

Toys for Tots volunteerism "is just one example of how our military families are serving our communities and Americans in need all around the country, year-round," Obama said, adding that the White House will sponsor a toy drive for the charity for the second year in a row.

Toys for Tots had a very successful year last year, Osman said, "and there's no doubt in my mind that the first lady standing behind it really made it successful."

The charity has distributed more than 400 million toys to almost 200 million children over 63 years, Osman said. "Our military servicemembers today are making a difference, certainly Marines among them," he said.

Obama and Osman appealed to Americans to support Toys for Tots this holiday season, noting that gifts for older children are especially needed.

"I want to thank you for your service and your work," she told the Marines. "I want to thank your families for the sacrifices you all make, especially our little people who sacrifice just as much as the big people do. This is your time of year. So, we wish you guys a happy and healthy holiday season. We want you to enjoy this day."

Obama then joined the children in the State Dining Room where she worked alongside them, making fruit and vegetable stamps and decorations out of recycled paper, and decorated gingerbread cookies.

Marine Corps 1st Sgt. Jason Armistead attended the event with his wife, Sara, and toddler daughters, Brooke and Avery. Armistead, who deployed twice to Iraq, said he enjoys volunteering with Toys for Tots at Marine Corps Base, Quantico, Va., especially seeing the joy it brings parents who can't afford to buy their children Christmas presents.

"I was brought up to believe that Christmas is more about giving than receiving," he said. "With the economic problems the country is in, this is an easy way for people to help out. Most stores have collection boxes and those gifts go out to your own local area."

Sara Armistead also volunteers for the charity in Quantico and said they have had no trouble getting help from Marines. "I think they really enjoy it," she said. "The fact that this is so different from their day job, I think it makes them feel good and it's good stress relief."

Marine Cpl. Joshua Quill expressed how important the first lady's invitation was to the Marines. "I think it's absolutely amazing that the first lady takes time for Toys for Tots, and it's very gracious for them to open their home to us."

*Related Sites:* Toys for Tots [ ]