Michelle begins advocacy as first lady

March 13, 2009 4:45:57 AM PDT
The nation owes not only gratitude but tangible assistance to the nation's military and their families, and she'll make that a focus of her time in the White House, first lady Michelle Obama says. Underscoring her commitment to the plight of America's military families, Mrs. Obama used a trip to Fort Bragg as a stage for her first television interviews since the inauguration. One with ABC's "Good Morning America" was to air Friday.

In the interview she said she wanted military families to know they have a friend in the White House.

"It hurts. It hurts," Mrs. Obama said of hearing about military families on food stamps. "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."

ABC released an excerpt of the interview late Thursday.

"I think that's one of my jobs, is to try and shed some light on some of these issues," she told ABC, "to not just be in that conversation with military spouses and hear those stories, but to take that information back to the administration to share it with the nation, so that we can think again about how we can better support these families."

Soldiers welcomed the first lady to the sprawling military base Thursday with applause and cheers, giving hugs and taking pictures with the wife of President Barack Obama. She mingled in a cafeteria and then met privately with military spouses. Later, she read "The Cat in the Hat" to a group of preeschoolers.

But while much of the substantive discussion about policy and the struggles facing military families took place behind closed doors, she used a brief speech in nearby Fayetteville to implore Americans to support the military members in their community.

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

Though she praised the Fayetteville community for providing a base for soldiers at Fort Bragg, she also noted that soldiers aren't confined to the nation's military installations. She asked civilians to seek out the National Guard and Army Reserve personnel in their communities to offer support.

"I encourage everyone out there, within the sound of my voice, to reach out on your own -- through schools, PTA, little leagues, churches, workplaces -- and find out if there's a soldier or a soldier's family right there in the community who needs a little extra support," she said in her speech. "They're there. Something as simple as offering help with car pool duty can make the world of difference to a parent who's trying to hold the family together during a very stressful time."

Sgt. 1st Class Ashlyn Lewis, 31, of Indianapolis, said it was a remarkable experience to see the first lady in the cafeteria at Fort Bragg. She said the Obamas have a lot of work ahead of them to shore up deficiencies in the military's medical system.

"Right now the biggest concern would be taking care of the vets, making sure that the people that are coming home are getting the proper medical care -- not just for the Iraqi or Afghanistan vets, but also, there are a lot of Vietnam vets who haven't been receiving the proper care," Lewis said. "I believe (the Obamas) are headed in the right direction, but it's going to be a lot of work."

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