WASHINGTON, May 7, 2009 – First Lady Michelle Obama was surprised to learn that the majority of military families feel their struggles often go unnoticed, she said during an interview today with The Pentagon Channel and American Forces Press Service.
“I just saw the results of a recent survey done by Blue Star Families that shows that 94 percent of military families feel as if the country doesn’t understand their challenges,” Obama said. “That’s a pretty powerful statement.”
The struggles include moving from city to city and trying to find good schools, or child care, or a new job. In the case of a military spouse, all of these struggles fall on one set of shoulders when a servicemember is deployed.
The administration is moving ahead with concrete measures to make military families’ lives a little easier, Obama said.
“We’re seeing a 2.9 percent increase in salary for our [servicemembers] to ensure that we’re retaining and attracting new numbers of individuals who want to be part of the military forces and feel like they can build a life as a result,” she said. “In terms of our spouses, the administration is investing $80 million just for career development and training for spouses, which is critical.”
That’s just the beginning.
“You’ll see more down the line that will show, not just in word but in deed, that we have to invest in our military, their families, and our veterans in a real meaningful way,” she added. “Whether that’s job training, mental health support [or] whether that’s ensuring that people have access to the health care they need.”
These are all good steps to lowering the number of military families who feel disconnected from the rest of the American public, but more can be done, the first lady said.
“There’s also a separate call to the nation that has nothing to do with the government,” she said. “It’s what we do in our own neighborhoods that’s also an important part of what this community of families needs to feel.”
It’s about neighbors reaching out, businesses reaching out to new military families in the area. Even schools and colleges can help military families and spouses by thinking creatively about helping them transfer credits and gain access to training and other educational opportunities, she said.
The outreach doesn’t need to be a grand gesture, as even the smallest act is a signal to the military community that the nation understands the sacrifices its servicemembers and their families are making, Obama said. And even though she, too, has endured having an absent spouse, she said there is no comparison to the extra burden on military spouses.
“I try not to compare my experience in any way to what a military spouse faces,” the first lady said. “When I was away from my husband during the time of the campaign, he wasn’t at war.
“What I do know is that when you’re married to somebody who feels a call to serve, that you’re part of that service as well,” she said.
That means she’ll stand behind, next to, or with her husband, Obama added. “The women and men that I’ve met who are serving alongside their spouses feel the same way,” she said. “They feel a part of this challenge and they embrace it with pride and dignity and courage and strength.”
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Navy Adm. Mike Mullen recently declared tomorrow “Military Spouse Appreciation Day.” It’s a wonderful recognition, Obama said, “but that’s just one day. We should be doing it every day.”
In light of the day, however, she said she wants every military spouse to know they’re loved, valued and appreciated, and that the administration will work hard to make sure that’s realized.
She had one other wish for them as well. “Hopefully somebody will take them out to lunch,” she said with a chuckle.