Remarks by the First Lady at Basic Training Graduation Ceremony

Fort Jackson Army Training Center, South Carolina–(ENEWSPF)–January 27, 2011 – 1:26 P.M. EST

MRS OBAMA:  Well, thank you so much.  First, let me say thank you to Lieutenant Colonel Quincy Norman for that very kind introduction, as well as to Major General Mike Milano, Command Sergeant Major Brian Stall, and Command Sergeant Major Michael McIntosh.  I want to thank you for all for setting up this visit and making my stay so nice.  It’s exciting.

I also want to recognize Governor Nikki Haley and her husband, Michael, who’s an officer in the Army National Guard, for joining us today.  Let’s give them a round of applause — (applause) — as well as Assistant Democratic Leader Jim Clyburn, who’s here today.  Let’s give him a round of applause.  (Applause.)  Thank you all for being here.

Let me tell you I am thrilled to be with all of you today.  Thrilled.  (Applause.)  And I am especially thrilled to be back in South Carolina.  I haven’t been back here in a while.  This is what I consider to be my hometown in so many ways.  It’s good to be back.  (Applause.)

But I am especially thrilled to be with the extraordinary men and women who are graduating today, the members of the 1st Battalion, 34th Infantry Regiment!  (Applause.)

In just ten short weeks, you’ve done so much.  You’ve plowed through obstacle courses, you marched endless miles with heavier and heavier loads, you completed both Basic and Advanced Rifle Marksmanship.  You conquered Victory Tower, you made it through Omaha Range, and you probably did more sessions of P.T. than any of you care to remember.  (Laughter.)  And you did all of this during what I understand was one of the coldest months on record here in South Carolina.  (Applause.)

In fact, I understand that sometimes, you had to even break through the ice on the ground before you could start your training during the day.

So on behalf of myself and my husband and a grateful nation, I want to start off today by saying congratulations on all that you’ve achieved, and of course, “Hoo-ah!”  (Laughter and applause.)

Now, I know that these past ten weeks haven’t been easy.  And I call them short but I know that they haven’t felt short.  I know it’s probably felt a little more like ten years rather than just ten weeks.  I know that you all had plenty of moments when you wondered, what on Earth have I gotten myself into. (Laughter.)

Maybe it was that first wakeup call right before the sun was up, or maybe it was when you had to check to see what shade of blue your fingers had turned, or maybe it was when you were wondering how big the blisters on your feet had gotten.  Maybe that was when.

But the truth is you never gave up.  You never gave in.  Instead, you pushed yourselves to your limits and then beyond.  And in doing so, you found that those limits were often only just limits of will or maybe your own imagination.

You learned that “tough” isn’t something that you are.  You learned that disciplined isn’t something that you are.  Those are things that you become through persistence and hard work.  Yes, you learned to follow.  But you also learned to lead.

And you learned something that is also near and dear to my heart — and I know maybe some of the moms here will probably agree with me on this one — through the new “Fueling the Soldier” initiative here at Fort Jackson, you learned how to make better choices about what you eat during mess hall.

And this isn’t just an issue that’s important to me as First Lady.  In recent years, military leaders across the country have been speaking out about how proper nutrition is vital to the success of our armed forces.  And so they’ve designed some wonderful programs like the ones here at Fort Jackson with the goal of ensuring that every one of you is fit to serve.  And this is an important step, and one that I hope that each of you can keep with you for the rest of your lives.  I hope that these are lessons that you can take back to your own families, your own children, as you move forward.

But you didn’t just learn to take care of yourselves here at Fort Jackson.  You also learned to take care of each other. You learned that as individuals there are limits to your strength, but when you’re willing to work together, you can accomplish anything.

So you pushed each other.  You leaned on each other.  You formed friendships that I know will last a lifetime.  And slowly, but surely, you felt yourselves transforming — transforming into experts, into professionals, and yes, into warriors.  And today, you stand ready to guard our freedom and our way of life.  Today, you become American soldiers.  And you all should be so, so proud of what you’ve achieved because we know that we are proud of you.  (Applause.)

But I just want to be clear that none of you, not a single one of you, got here today on your own.  And I know you all know that.  Each of you is here because someone, somewhere along the way, pushed you, someone encouraged you, someone loved you, someone made sacrifices for you.  And I’m talking, of course, about these folks in the stands behind me, who are cheering you on right now –- (applause) — your families and your loved ones.  (Applause.) 

And as a mother, a wife, a sister, a daughter myself, I just want to take one quick moment to speak to them.  Families, the honor these men and women are receiving here today isn’t just a testament to them –- to their character, and commitment, and hard work.  It is a testament to all of you.  It’s a testament to the love that you gave them and the values that you instilled in them.

And I know it wasn’t easy to say goodbye when they left for training ten weeks ago.  I know that couldn’t have been easy.  And I know that the pride you feel in their achievement today might also be mixed with a little anxiety about what lies ahead. 

But I want you all to know that my husband has no greater honor than being their Commander-in-Chief.  He has no higher priority than ensuring that your sons and daughters have everything they need not just to do their job, but that they get the care and benefits they’ve earned when that job is done.  (Applause.)  And that’s why on Monday he outlined 50 specific commitments from his cabinet to support our troops and their families.

And so today, on his behalf and my own, I simply want to say thank you to all of you.  Thank you for holding these men and women tight for all those years.  But most of all thank you for letting them go so that they can serve this country, and protect and defend this great nation that we all love.

In these soldiers –- your sons and daughters, your spouses, siblings, and parents –- we see the very best America has to offer.  We see it in those of you who were born far from our shores, but who love this country, and signed up to serve it before it was even your own.  And we see it in those of you who are continuing a long line of service –- the third, fourth, or fifth generation in your families to wear our nation’s uniform.

We see it in the willingness of every soldier here today to serve your nation in a time of war, knowing full well the risks that entails. 

And we see it in how you’ve embraced the Army values that you’ve been taught:  Loyalty, Duty, Respect, Selfless Service, Honor, Dignity, and Personal Courage.  Values that aren’t just Army values, but American values.  Values that won’t just make you good soldiers, but good parents and spouses, good neighbors, and citizens and friends.

And finally, we see it in how you embody that most American of ideals:  E pluribus unum: out of many, one.

How you represent a force that brings together individuals from every corner of the country –- nearly every race, every faith, every culture –- in service of one overarching mission: to protect the values that we all share — freedom, equality, and limitless opportunity.

So soldiers, today, I want you all to know how proud we are of all you’ve achieved, and how all that you will continue to do to achieve in the months ahead, we are grateful to you all.  Congratulations to you all again.

May God bless you all and keep you safe.  And may God bless America.  Thank you all so much.  (Applause.)

1:37 P.M. EST