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Army Sgt. 1st Class Michael J. Carden - American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, April 9, 2010 - First Lady Michelle Obama today applauded servicemembers and defense civilians for their commitment and service to the nation in a speech in the Pentagon courtyard, calling America's military community the finest in the world.
"First, I want to say thank you," Obama said to an excited audience of Pentagon workers. "This visit is another chance to shine a spotlight on the service and sacrifices of the finest military in the world and your amazing families."
Obama was joined on stage by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, his wife, Becky, and several defense civilians, all of whom have more than 40 years of federal service. She recognized Gates and his wife for their support of military families and for their relentless service under eight different U.S. presidents.
"Thank you for supporting the men and women of this department, and I would be remiss if I didn't thank the real hero in that family, Becky Gates," Obama said, drawing laughter from the audience. "For more than 40 years, Becky has shared her husband with our nation."
The well-being of military families has been among Obama's signature issues and priorities in her first year as the first lady. She and the vice president's wife, Jill Biden, have visited military bases on several occasions to express their support, something Obama said has been "one of the greatest privileges I've had as first lady."
"The visits that I've done to bases all across this country have just been inspiring," she said, adding that thanking servicemembers and their families "is one of the favorite things I get to do."
Obama's visits with military families have been an inspiration, she said, noting her travels to military communities whose servicemembers are preparing to deploy and visits with troops who recently returned from overseas duty. She also recognized those families whose military members have suffered life-changing injuries and worse.
"I've seen the unbelievable love of spouses, wives and husbands, sons and daughters, who've lost a loved one at war," she said. "I've been inspired beyond measure by our incredible wounded warriors and their families." The Defense Department's commitment to those who have been wounded or killed in action – and their families -- is a testament of the department's strength, she added.
"It's a reflection of the spirit of this department – service before self, love of country, dedication to duty, taking care of each other," the first lady said. "It's the spirit that so many of you have shown in Afghanistan and Iraq and all around the world, year after year, tour after tour.
"Our country has never asked for so much for so long of our all-volunteer force," she continued. "You always step up, and you always come through."
The same can be said of defense civilians in the department, she added, noting that the troops couldn't do their jobs so well without the support of the "force behind the force." Defense civilians are behind the scenes, developing policies, purchasing equipment, ensuring readiness and caring for wounded warriors and families, she said.
The first lady stressed that her thanks and appreciation are more than just words, that her testimony is backed up by deeds as well. President Barack Obama, Gates, and other senior officials and military leaders work every day to ensure troops have the right tools to accomplish their missions, she said. The administration and military service chiefs and secretaries work to increase time at home between deployments, she noted, and they also work to improve military housing and Defense Department education systems and to care for troops recovering from combat stress and injuries.
"This administration understands that we have to take care of these American heroes who take such good care of all of us," she said.
Obama also saluted children of military families, calling their sacrifices "the mightiest of our service." Military children struggle to stay strong so their servicemember parents can focus on the mission, and also are a key aspect in their parents' recovery from combat wounds, she added.
"It can be so hard for these kids, probably beyond what we could ever imagine," she said. "So they need all of the love and support we can give them, both at school and at home."
Despite all of these government initiatives and efforts, supporting military members requires much more. Support also takes active and engaged American citizens, she said.
"As long as I'm first lady, I'm going to keep urging all Americans to do their part," she said, "whether it's something as simple as volunteering time or pro-bono services to troops and their families, or making a home-cooked meal for a busy spouse who's struggling to keep it together, ... or something as simple as saying thank you when you see one of our troops in your community."
Every American can do something in service to their country and in service around the world, she said.
The first lady praised the U.S. military's humanitarian efforts in Haiti following the earthquake there.. The American military played a tremendous role, evacuating Haitians from the rubble, and distributing food, water and medical treatment. Those efforts continue today, she said.
"Every American is grateful for the service that you've shown to that country," she said. "We're all so humbled by it. We're inspired by it. "On behalf of the president, on behalf of the American people, thank you for the service that you display every single day around the world, often in harm's way," she added. "You make us so very proud."