Remarks by the First Lady at Fisher House Tour and Ribbon Cutting

Bethesda, Maryland–(ENEWSPF)–December 2, 2010 – 11:25 A.M. EST

MRS. OBAMA:  Well, thank you.  Thank you, Ken, for that very kind introduction.  And I want to thank you and your wife, Tammy, for your outstanding work through the Fisher House Foundation.

I also want to recognize our Secretary of the Navy, Ray Mabus; the Commander of this medical center, Admiral Matthew Nathan and his wife, Captain Tammy Nathan; and all of the other military and community leaders who are here with us today.  And Chase, too, back there.  (Laughter.)

(Child makes noise.)

MRS. OBAMA:  Yeah.  (Laughter.)

I have to say it is a pleasure and it is an honor to join you as you open the doors of this beautiful house, one of the three new Fisher houses that you’re opening here at The National Navy Medical Center.

Every day, this house and others like it across this country remind us of a simple truth: that when our men and women in uniform are called to serve, their families serve, too.  Their sacrifice is their families’ sacrifice, as well.  And that’s particularly true in times of crisis when our service members and veterans are sick or wounded and are struggling to get well again.

We know the toll that can take on a family, both personally and financially, especially when a loved one is receiving treatment far away from home.  We know the fear and the anxiety that these families experience.  We know the prohibitive costs of hotels and transportations, costs that have kept many family members apart, and placed tremendous burdens on so many others.

Now, we’re fortunate to have places like this medical center that provide world-class care for our men and women in uniform.  But we also know that often, in order to heal, our service members need more than the best medical treatment.  They also need folks who will travel that road to recovery with them; the spouse who sits by the bedside and serves as their champion and their voice day after day; the parent who pushes and encourages them week after week; the son or daughter who reminds them of everything they have to look forward to.

That is what Fisher House provides for so many military families –- that chance to be together when they need each other most.  Now, houses like this one allow them to leave behind their worries about costs and logistics and focus on what matters most -– helping their loved ones heal.

And since the very first Fisher House was opened here at this hospital nearly 20 years ago, more than 130,000 families have been served.  And nearly 3 million days of lodging have been provided, saving families an estimated $100 million.

And these numbers don’t even begin to capture the impact these houses have had — the late nights families have spent in those kitchens laughing, crying and praying together; the lifelong friendships they’ve maintained; and the gratitude and relief they feel knowing that wherever they are, they’ll have a place to call home.

And we know the sacrifices these folks are making, putting their careers on hold, putting their own dreams aside, often working around the clock to care for those they love.

And that’s why earlier this year, my husband signed legislation to provide new assistance for wounded warrior care providers to make their jobs just a little bit easier.  This legislation provides financial assistance, counseling, health insurance and respite care to those who need it most.

The way I see it, this is the least we can do for these families.  And it’s the least we can do for the men and women who have sacrificed so much to keep us safe.

Now, I’ve had the privilege of visiting with many of these folks all across the country.  And I can tell you that they are simply extraordinary.  No matter how badly they’ve been wounded, no matter how much pain they’re in, they refuse to scale back their dreams.  They’re making plans.  They’re re-imagining their futures.  They tell me that they’re not just going to walk, but they’re going to run again, and that they’re going to run a marathon.

And I’ll never forget the handwritten sign that one young man –- a Navy Seal named Lt. Jay Redman –- posted on his hospital room door when he was here back in 2007.

Lt. Redman was shot eight times while serving in Iraq.  He endured dozens of surgeries, got 1,200 stitches, 15 skin grafts, and he spent 73 days here recovering.

And after he left, he donated the sign to this hospital.  And I had the privilege of reading it when I was here back in October, and I wanted to take a moment just to share that sign with you today.  It reads:

“To all who enter here: If you are coming into this room with sorrow or to feel sorry for my wounds, go elsewhere.  The wounds I received, I got in a job I love, doing it for people I love, supporting the freedom of a country I deeply love.  I am incredibly tough and will make a full recovery.  What is full?  That is the absolute utmost physically my body has the ability to recover.  Then I will push that about 20 percent further through sheer mental tenacity.  This room you are about to enter is a room of fun, optimism, and intense rapid re-growth.  If you are not prepared for that, go elsewhere.”

And as we open this house today, that is the spirit we honor –- the spirit of resilience and healing, that spirit of patriotism and service.

That was the spirit that Ken’s Uncle, Zachary Fisher, sought to honor when he founded Fisher House two decades ago.

And I think it’s worth noting that Zachary’s family was not a military family.  Neither Zachary nor his wife Elizabeth had ever served in our armed forces.

But they loved their country, they had the highest respect and appreciation for those who served it, and they spent their lives showing their gratitude in every way they could.

They remind us that even if we’re not part of a military family, we’re all a part of the American family, and every single one of us, every single one of us has an obligation to support the men and women who protect us, and the families who love them.

And during this holiday season especially, I hope that we all recommit ourselves to that critically important work.

So I want to thank you all.  I want to thank our service men and women.  I want to thank their families, the Fisher family.  You all are doing some incredible work.  And we’re proud to be a part.  Thank you.  (Applause.)


11:33 A.M. EST