The White House
Office of the First Lady
Remarks by the First Lady at the Military Child of the Year Award
Ritz Carlton Pentagon City
6:04 P.M. EDT
MRS. OBAMA: Thank you. Thank you so much. (Applause.) Thank you. Thank you all. Thank you so much. Please sit down. Thank you. And good evening, everyone. Let me tell you, it is a pleasure and an honor to be here tonight for the 2011 Military Child of the Year Award. These aren’t children, they’re young adults, but, you know, we know the difference.
I want to start by thanking Jim for that very kind introduction and for his leadership as CEO of Operation Homefront.
I also want to recognize the leaders from each of our services who are here tonight to present these awards: General Schwartz, General Dunford, Admiral Greenert, Lieutenant General William Troy, and Vice Admiral Sally Brice-O’Hara. Thank you all for your leadership and for your continued commitment to the families.
I also want to thank my partners in these efforts, some of them who are here: Deborah Mullen, Bonnie Amos, Susan Schwartz, and all of the other spouses who have been so supportive to me and to Jill. They have been partners with us every step of the way, and I love them like they are sisters. But I want to commend them for their championship, for their leadership for military families. Let’s give them a round of applause. (Applause.)
And finally, I want to thank everyone at Operation Homefront for the vital work that you all are doing for military families across the country, including hosting this beautiful event for the five outstanding young people that we’re honoring tonight.
As First Lady, I’ve had the privilege of welcoming the 2009 and 2010 Military Children of the Year Award recipients to the White House. I’ve had the chance to get to know those young people and to meet and know their families, and to be inspired by their sacrifice and their spirit and their strength.
And I’ve seen them up close. I’ve been proud to share their stories with people that I meet all across our country. And that’s why I wanted to be here tonight to be a part of honoring the five of you all, our 2011 Military Children of the Year.
Now, each of you young people already knows that your families are proud of you. You know that your communities are proud of you. Your parents’ services are proud of you. But tonight I want you to know that my husband and I are proud of you -- very proud.
We’re proud because we know about your strength and your resilience and your spirit. We know about your achievements in school -- they’re amazing. We know about the countless hours you’ve spent volunteering in your communities and caring for your families.
And I’m here tonight because I want our country to know about you all as well. I want our country to know about the five of you and about all the military kids and families all across this country.
Most folks in this country are already aware of the incredible sacrifices that your parents are making. We’re already in awe of our men and women in uniform. But we often lose sight of the fact that our Armed Forces is largely a force of families.
More than half of our active duty troops are married. And there are nearly 2 million American military children. And a lot of folks don’t realize that when our troops are called to serve, their families serve, too. A lot of folks simply don’t know the stories of our military families and their kids. They don’t know what it’s like to kiss Mom or Dad goodbye as they head off to war, and then have to go back to class, and do homework, and act like everything is fine.
They don’t know about all the missed soccer games and the missed prom nights and the missed shared daily moments -- the hugs, the bedtime stories, the meals with an empty seat at the table. They don’t know that every day, military kids are stepping up and helping to run the household and care for their families.
That’s what Nicole Goetz has been doing. When her little brother is feeling down, Nicole is the one who takes him to the movies and cheers him up. When he needs help with his homework, Nicole is the one who tutors him. And somehow, she’s managed to perform 500 hours of community service, earn a 4.0 GPA -- right about that? -- do all kinds of activities at school, and work a job as well. Sheesh. (Laughter.) You must be tired.
And I understand that Nicole’s dad, who I got to meet, Chief Master Sergeant Michael Goetz, has come all the way from Afghanistan to see Nicole get this award today. So let’s give him a round of applause. (Applause.)
And let’s remember that our military kids aren’t just shouldering extra responsibilities when their parents are deployed. They often continue to do so once Mom or Dad returns home, and everyone has to readjust and reconnect as a family figures out how to come together after those months away. And when a parent comes home wounded, the result can be a real role reversal. It can mean taking care of Mom or Dad who once took care of you; taking on responsibilities that would be overwhelming for most adults, let alone for most kids.
And that’s what Taylor Dahl-Sims -- Taylor, where’d you go? There you go. That’s what she did.
Now, Taylor already had plenty of experience with adult responsibilities. Her new baby brother was seriously injured at birth, and her house was flooded I think at the same time, all while her stepfather was on his fifth deployment.
So Taylor helped care for the baby. She helped clean up the house. And when her stepfather returned home with traumatic brain injury, going in and out of the hospital for most of that year, she stepped up again to help hold everything together.
So when we talk about service to our country, when we talk about all that sacrifice for a cause, when we talk about patriotism and courage and resilience, we’re not just talking about our troops and our veterans. We’re talking about our military families as well. We’re talking about military kids like the young people that we’re honoring here tonight. They play their own very unique role in keeping our country safe and preserving the freedoms that we all hold dear.
Their strength and support helps our troops serve and protect every last one of us. So I think it’s time for every last one of us to step up and show our gratitude for our military families. And that’s why, for the past two years, I’ve traveled this country meeting with military families and working to raise awareness of the incredible contributions that these families are making, and it’s why next week Jill Biden and I are launching a new nationwide campaign calling on every single American to honor, recognize, and support our military families. And our message is very clear: It’s that every American has the ability -- and the obligation -- to give something back to our military families.
Everybody can do something. Schools can work to better meet the needs of military kids. Businesses can make an effort to hire military spouses. Ordinary citizens can do something as simple as offering to shovel the snow, babysit, organize events in their communities to celebrate these families.
And in the coming months, Jill Biden and I will be traveling the country -- Jill’s a Blue Star mom herself -- and we’ll be highlighting the best businesses and nonprofits and community efforts, and we’re going to be doing everything that we can to tell the stories of our military families. And I think we could learn a thing or two from a couple of our honorees tonight.
Kyle Hoeye -- there’s Kyle right there, quite handsome young man -- (laughter) -- he’s taught hundreds of his peers how to make videos educating non-military kids about the challenges faced by military kids. He also speaks publicly about his own experiences as a military kid and works with his school’s Key Club to send personalized care packages to troops overseas.
Margaret Rochon -- Margaret, where did you go? There you go, there’s Margaret. She singlehandedly convinced six nationally recognized experts to come lead a seminar for teachers about the effects of PTSD on military families. And it was so successful that it’s now a yearly training requirement for all the teachers in her county. And by the way, Margaret also managed to find time to volunteer more than 500 hours in the community herself.
So when you think about everything that tonight’s honorees have done with their lives, you can’t help but begin to think twice about the title of this award, because while these five Military Children of the Year might be young people, they’ve each shown maturity and grace and wisdom far beyond their years.
And that’s certainly true of our last honoree, Melissa, Melissa Howland. There’s Melissa right there. Now, she was diagnosed with a serious blood disorder and hospitalized several times while her dad was deployed. And because of her illness, she had to quit the basketball team -- an activity that she loved. But instead of sitting around feeling sorry for herself, she decided -- and these are her words -- “You can’t go wrong giving back.” She then went on to volunteer nearly 500 hours for a dozen different causes.
So in the end, while our five honorees come from different places and they’ve taken different journeys to this moment, it’s clear that they share the same ethic of service that led their parents to enlist in our Armed Forces in the first place. It’s clear that they share the same desire to help others, to serve their country, and to do something meaningful with their time on this earth.
And tonight, let me tell you, I am proud and I am honored to be here to congratulate them and to thank them for all that they have contributed to their communities and to our nation. We are really, really amazed by everything you all are doing. And again, we want this country to know your stories. We want you to be shining examples to all other young people of how much you can get done with a little will, a little passion, and a little determination.
So you all keep doing what you’re doing, and we will keep supporting you. God bless you all. Thank you so much. (Applause.)
6:17 P.M. EDT