First lady Michelle Obama visited the Women in Military Service for America Memorial Center at Arlington National Cemetery this afternoon to pay tribute to women who have served in the armed forces and bring attention to the service of today’s military families.
The first lady noted that women’s military service goes all the way back to the Revolutionary War, when in 1782 Deborah Samson disguised herself as a man and enlisted in the 4th Massachusetts Regiment.
“Throughout our nations’ history women have played an important role in the military as well as in organizations supporting the military during times of conflict. Our foremothers and our sisters today have joined our forefathers and our brothers today in securing our liberty and protecting our country,” Mrs. Obama said.
The visit is part of the first lady’s outreach to military families and a way to mark Women’s History Month.
Mrs. Obama highlighted the service of military families who “have a special courage and strength” and said she had been “honored and deeply moved” to meet with these families in recent years.
“They are mothers and fathers who have lost their beloved children to war. They are husbands and wives keeping the family on track while their wives and husbands are deployed on duty. They are grandparents, aunts and uncles, sisters and brothers who are taking care of children while their moms and dads in uniform are away,” the first lady said.
Mrs. Obama noted the special case of Col. Laura Richardson and her husband Col. Jim Richardson, helicopter pilots who in 2003 became the first couple to lead their battalion during a time of combat. While they were serving overseas, family members took care of their 14 year-old daughter.
“Military families have done their duty and we as a grateful nation must do ours. We must do everything in our power to honor them by supporting, not just by word but by deed," she said.
The first lady has often said that working with and for military families would be a central part of her portfolio in the White House. On the campaign trail, she hosted a series of roundtables for working women to discuss the challenges of balancing career and family. Mrs. Obama was particularly moved by her conversations with military wives, because of the added burdens they face with a spouse often abroad and in harm's way. As a result, she began hosting regular roundtables with military wives.
In announcing the timetable for the withdrawal of American forces from Iraq last Friday, President Barack Obama spoke of his wife's commitment to military families.
"My wife Michelle has learned firsthand about the unique burden that your families endure every day," the president told an audience of 3,700 Marines at Camp Lejune. "I want you to know this -- military families are a top priority for Michelle and me, and they will be a top priority for my administration."
Mrs. Obama was joined at Tuesday's event by Brigadier General Wilma Vaught (USAF Retired), president of the Women's Memorial Foundation; Army Gen. Ann Dunwoody, nation’s first female four star general; Coast Guard Vice Admiral Viven Crea, the first woman to serve as vice chief of a branch of the U.S. armed forces; Iraq veteran and assistant secretary at the Department of Veterans Affairs, Tammy Duckworth; and Reps. Mary Fallin (R-Okla.), Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) and Laura Richardson (D-Calif).
-- Karen Travers and Yunji de Nies