Remarks by the First Lady to the Camp Pendleton Community

Camp Pendelton, CA–(ENEWSPF)–June 13, 2010 – 4:33 P.M. PDT

MRS. OBAMA:  Yay!  Hello, Pendleton!  Wow, it’s a Sunday, and you’re here.  (Applause.) 

First of all, let me thank General Dunford for his kind introduction and for more than 30 years of extraordinary service in uniform.  Let’s give the General — (applause.)  I also want to thank General Jackson, Colonel Marano, your senior enlisted leaders, especially your base Senior Enlisted Marine — a remarkable woman who reminds us that our NCOs are the backbone of our military — Sergeant Major Ramona Cook.  (Applause.)

And thank you all for this incredible welcome, and for coming out, as I said, on a Sunday, especially when you could be home getting ready for the big game.  (Applause.)  We will be out of here in time.  (Laughter.)  As you may have heard, my husband, the President, that guy — (laughter) — he did pick the Lakers to win.  (Applause.)  It’s close, so we’ll see — hey, hey, hey, look — (laughter) — I’m a neutral party in this battle.  (Laughter.) 

It is wonderful to be here at Marine Corps Base — Camp Pendleton, home of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force — “One Mef.”  (Applause.)  One Mef.  (Applause.)  And one of the most decorated military units in American history — the 1st Marine Division.  (Applause.)  

We have folks here from across Marine Corps Installations West — our Navy-Marine Corps team.  We have a lot of civilian Marines, and a lot of proud Marine spouses and families who are here.  So I also want to acknowledge Ellyn Dunford, Susan Jackson and Tami Marano for giving me such a warm welcome when I landed.  And to all the truly amazing families that I just had a chance to talk to, they are doing just — as I said, they are intelligent, they are passionate, they’re committed to their issues.  And it was truly an honor for me to spend time with them.  And let’s hear it also for the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing Band.  (Applause.)  Thank you all. 

We’re also joined by your neighbors and partners from three great counties here:  San Diego, Orange and Riverside, and the many elected officials and leaders, local and state, including Senator Boxer and Congresswoman Davis.  They are tireless champions of our men and women in uniform, and also their families and our veterans.  So let’s give them another round of applause.  (Applause.)

Now, I’ve been doing this First Lady thing for a little bit, and I’ve had the chance to meet some pretty amazing people — the Pope, the Queen of England, a couple weeks ago Paul McCartney.  (Laughter.)  But I have to tell you sincerely that some of the most inspiring Americans I’ve ever met are our men and women in uniform.  You all take my breath away every time I’m on a base.  This includes those who are part of our daily lives at the White House — the United States Marines.  They are just amazing people.  In fact, one of them — (applause) — that’s our guys, and gals — in fact, one of them was your 32nd Commandant, who my husband selected as his National Security Advisor, General Jim Jones, and his wonderful wife Diane.  (Applause.) 

And one of the most impressive evenings that the President and I have had since he’s been in office was when we joined General Conway and his wife Annette for the Evening Parade at “the oldest post in the Corps” — the Marine Barracks Washington.  It was an amazing evening — the tradition, the discipline, the pride — the same virtues that you and your families exhibit every day, we got to see it on display that evening.

So I wanted to come here today for a simple reason, and it’s become one of my defining missions as First Lady, and that’s to help the rest of our country better understand and appreciate the incredible service of you and your families, and to make sure that your voices are heard back in Washington and that your needs are met, and to make sure that we realize our vision of an America that truly supports and engages our military families.  That’s why I’m here.  And I couldn’t think of a better place to bring this effort than to Camp Pendleton and Southern California.  (Applause.)  It’s beautiful — this is a beautiful part of the country.  It’s one of America’s biggest and strongest military communities.

And many of you have served in Iraq.  Many of you have served in Afghanistan.  Some of you will be shipping out in the coming months.  And I know it is never easy to say goodbye to your loved ones, your spouses, your kids.  It is never easy.  And I know nothing compares to the joy and the relief of those incredible homecomings.  I’ve seen some of them.  And let me join you in saying welcome home to our Marines who returned from Afghanistan just the other day — the 1st Marine Division Military Police Company.  (Applause.)  Welcome home.

But today, our thoughts are also with all our men and women in harm’s way around the world, including our Marines in Afghanistan, so many of whom are from Camp Pendleton.  They’re the “One Mef” Marines in Helmand Province, at Camp Leatherneck, your husbands, your wives, your fellow Marines, including some inspiring women Marines.  Yes for our ladies!  (Applause.)  We send all of them our love and support, and we pray that they come home safe.    

Yet as you all know too well, and so painfully, that that’s not always the case.  In the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, no Marine base — and few bases anywhere — has sacrificed more for America, more lives, more wounded warriors, than your families and your colleagues. 

And today, we honor all of our fallen heroes, including the Camp Pendleton Marines who gave their lives just this past week:  Sergeant Brandon Bury.  Lance Corporal Derek Hernandez.  Corporal Donald Marler.  Sergeant John Rankel.  Lance Corporal Michael Plank.

Our prayers and support are with these fallen Marines and their families, and with all the Gold Star families who are here with us today.  As one Pendleton wife put it so eloquently, she said, “We’re the voices and spirits of the boys — and girls — who didn’t come home.”  And as a nation, we join with you in honoring their memory as you and your families find the strength to carry on and to live the lives that would make your loved ones so proud.      

So I’m here today to remind America that, as a nation, we can never forget or fail to support you, our incredible military families.  You’re heroes just as much as our men and women in uniform — the spouses who stay behind, with all the pride of being a military wife or husband, but with also the fears and the anxiety that come when the person you love the most in the world is in harm’s way. 

Here on the homefront, you do the job of two or three, juggling play dates and practices and ballet recitals, trying to keep the household together all on your own, making sure that your children get the care and support they need as you move from station to station, maybe trying to hold down a job or pursue your own career, get your own education, all while trying to hide your own worries when the kids look up and ask when daddy or mommy is coming home.

And if they come home needing care, you become the caregivers to our wounded warriors, including those with post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury.  You put your own lives on hold, working every day around the clock, to make your loved ones whole again.  I just visited your state-of-the-art Wounded Warrior Battalion.  It was amazing, and it was so humbling to be there, to see the Marines there who are fighting so hard to recover.  They are an inspiration, not just to me but the entire country.

And through it all, our incredible military kids — all these beautiful kids serve in their own special way too.  We cannot forget these children.  (Applause.)  They are children who have spent most of their young lives with a parent deployed.  They are older siblings shouldering so much responsibility just like little adults.  And it doesn’t get easier with each deployment — it only gets harder.  And to the children of the fallen, I know you all are working so hard to be strong and to grow up and to realize your dreams.  So I want every boy and girl here and teenager here to know that America thinks that you guys are doing an amazing job.  We are proud of you all too.  (Applause.) 

And then somehow, through it all — and this always amazes me — is that no matter what base I visit, anywhere in the country, even as you all serve this nation, you still find time to serve your local communities and your civilian neighborhoods.  That’s amazing.  You’re Little League coaches and soccer moms and volunteers at schools and food banks and churches and hospitals.  You volunteer to build homes for the less fortunate and helped respond during those horrible wildfires here.  And, of course, wherever there are Marines, there’s Toys for Tots, which got started right here in Southern California.  And more than 60 years later, you’re still going strong, all over the country.

So I’ve been telling your fellow Americans — given all that you all and your families do to take care of America, America needs to take care of you.  It is our moral obligation, and every American has a responsibility to do our part.

So that’s why I’ve issued a national challenge — a challenge to every sector of American society to mobilize and take action to support and engage our military families.  And not just now, with our nation at war, but for the decades to come.  We have to build the capacity to support you and your families at every stage of your lives.  But to do this, we need a truly national commitment — no one can sit on the sidelines.  One percent of Americans may be fighting our wars, but 100 percent of Americans need to be supporting you in that fight. 

So this is a challenge — (applause) — this is a challenge to the government.  That’s why my husband and his administration have made military families a priority — increasing funds for military housing, childcare, counseling and career development support for spouses, extending the Family Medical Leave Act to more military families and caregivers, and recently, expanding veterans’ health care and giving unprecedented support to caregivers. 

And because we have to bring together the resources across the federal government for this mission, my husband has ordered a government-wide review that urges every department to make supporting your families a high priority, and it will lay the foundation for a coordinated government approach for years to come.

This is a challenge across the Department of Defense, including every branch of the military.  And I want to commend General Conway and his wife Annette for making family readiness a top priority.  After all — (applause) — it’s true, and people have to understand this, that the readiness of our armed forces depends on the readiness of our military families — you all know that.   And here at Pendleton, you’re a model of family support — spouses supporting spouses, and family team building.  It’s a true model.  That includes making sure that our families are healthy, which, as you know, has been one of my big focuses as First Lady.  So I was thrilled to hear about your terrific program — “Semper Fit.”

That’s a good thing.  But as you know, there’s still so much more we need to do to serve your families even better.  And that’s why the Defense Department has launched the Military Family Life Project.  This is a landmark study of spouses and service members to assess your quality of life.  So one thing I’ve been doing is urging every military spouse across America that if you’ve been selected or know someone who’s been participated to participate, please do, because the more we know about your priorities, the more we can do to meet them. 

But this can’t be a mission for government alone.  Every American has to play a role.  And that’s the other reason why I wanted to come here to Southern California, because the great civilian communities here really get it. You’re showing the rest of America what it means to truly support and engage our troops and families. 

Yes, it’s easier when you have a big base like Pendleton nearby.  But so many of the wonderful ideas and initiatives here can be a model for communities all across the country.  And after all, just like at Pendleton, most military families live off base, as part of the broader community.  Most military children attend public schools somewhere in this country.  Our National Guardsmen and Reservists are in virtually every community across America.  So I want the whole country to be inspired by what is happening here in Southern California.

I want local governments to see how San Diego, Orange and Riverside counties and communities have really, truly stepped up; how so many cities have adopted units — sending care packages to our Marines when you’re deployed, and giving spouses the support and friendship they need back home; how communities like Oceanside come together with “Operation Appreciation Day” — this is a beautiful effort just to say thank you; and how schools like Mater Dei offer special programs, football and dance, for our military kids.

I want the private sector to see how your local businesses have been so creative, like the Fallbrook Chamber of Commerce, which provided all-expenses-paid weddings for lucky Marine couples.  Now, that’s great — isn’t it?  (Laughter.)  It’s a good thing.  (Applause.)   

You can be like businesses all over this area, which have opened up their doors and helped our talented spouses and veterans develop their skills and pursue their careers, because the truth is, the discipline and dedication needed to succeed in the military are the same traits that any business would want in their employees.  And whether your company is big or small, every business leader can speak out against abusive practices like predatory lenders who target military families.  That’s the kind of stuff that needs to stop.

And I want organizations across the country to see the incredible difference that community-based groups make here in this area — often by just doing what they already do but connecting it to the priorities of military families — the groups all over the region that throw Mother’s Day brunches for Marine moms; the folks in San Onofre who returned the goodwill of Toys for Tots with Christmas Trees for Troops.  There are local museums, like the San Diego Museum of Art, which have joined with Blue Star Families, the National Endowment for the Arts, and hundreds of museums across the country to offer free admission to families — military families this summer. 

And a wonderful program that we were proud to help celebrate at the White House during National Mentoring Month — that was the Big Brothers Big Sisters of San Diego and their “Operation Bigs,” which provides mentors to so many great military kids here at Pendleton.         

So in short, this is a challenge to every American, because everyone can do something to support and engage our military and your families.

There are families like the Tuzons.  Norman is a master sergeant with the 1st Marine Division and is currently deployed to Afghanistan.  And I just met his wife Eliza, who is here at Pendleton, with their three beautiful children:  Kiana, who’s here — she’s nine; and Akina, who’s five; and Akian, who’s the little man with the mohawk, who’s one.  (Laughter.) 

And last year, Kiana — who was then a 3rd grader at Mary Fay Pendleton School — wrote an essay, which won the national recognition by the Armed Services YMCA.  And her essay — (applause) — they’re very proud of her — her essay was displayed in the halls of Congress, where it could be seen by Americans from across the country.

And this is what she wrote.  She said — and this is a quote — “We should all have military heroes…[who] do so many things for us that sometimes [are] taken for granted.”  Yes, she’s a 4th grader.  She said, “My military hero…is my dad.”  And she said, “He fights for our country.”  But she added, “When he’s deployed to other countries…my military hero is my mom.”  She said, “She is a strong Marine mom.  She has a very hard duty, just like a Marine.  My mom works 24 hours a day and seven days a week.  And she is always there when I need her.”

And by the way, her mom says Kiana is quite a kid too.  Kiana loves math and music, Disney and Mozart.  Her handwriting is excellent, because she wrote me a letter.  She writes better than a lot of my staff.  (Laughter.)  She misses her dad a lot, but she helps her mom around the house and her little sister with her homework.

And in her essay, Kiana had a message for every American.  She said — this is another quote — “If you do not have a military hero yet, find a Marine and thank him or her for serving our country.”  (Applause.)  Now that’s pretty good advice for a 4th grader.  It’s a simple message.        

Kiana, her mom and brother and sister, as I said, are here today, and I got a chance to meet them.  And I’d like to ask them, if they are here, to stand up.  I see them over there.  You guys?  (Applause.)  And they’re gorgeous.  Kiana, sweetie, thank you for helping to inspire us.  Now the whole world knows just how amazing you are.

And that’s really the challenge.  That’s what the challenge is all about.  It’s about every American remembering that you and your families, you are the heroes among us.  It’s about every American doing their part.  It’s simple, it’s about making sure that we realize our vision of an America that stands by you at every stage of your lives.

An America where every sailor, soldier, airman, Marine, Coast Guardsman and woman can deploy knowing that their family will be taken care of, so instead of worrying about benefits and bureaucracy, they can focus on their mission — that is, protecting our country.

We’re working towards an America where every spouse has the support he or she needs, including a clear understanding of the programs that are available and how to access them.  And this includes the courageous survivors of our fallen heroes, who we must support as they keep alive the legacy of their loved ones and continue to contribute to the life of our country.

We’re working towards an America where every military child is recognized as someone who serves too, in their own way, and where they receive the support that they need to pursue their dreams.

We’re working to be an America where our troops and our veterans and their spouses are recognized for what they are — skilled and talented leaders who have so much to offer our country, not only during their military service, but throughout their lives.

We’re working to be an American where more people not only understand the service and sacrifice that you and your families make, but where more Americans take action to help lighten your load.

That is the future that you all deserve.  And working toward that future is going to remain one of my defining missions as First Lady.  That is my promise to you.

So I want to thank you for what you do for our country.  (Applause.)  We are so very proud of you.  You all be safe, be strong, hold together, and God bless.  And Semper Fi!  Thank you all.  (Applause.)