The White House
Office of the First Lady
Remarks by the First Lady at a Joining Forces Entertainment Guilds Event
Writer’s Guild of America Building, Los Angeles, California
10:13 A.M. PDT
MRS. OBAMA: My biggest thing -- I didn’t fall coming down. (Laughter.) So I’m good, I’m good.
Q Nicely done. So thank you so much for being here. This is so exciting. So just for any of you who aren’t aware, I’m on stage with the First Lady of the United States. (Laughter.) Just want that to be clear -- what's happening. (Laughter.)
So how did you become involved in supporting military families?
MRS. OBAMA: Well, it started on the campaign trail, my husband, running, for this office. (Laughter.) So when I first went out on the campaign trail, I wanted to spend a lot of time talking to working women because that was really my connection. I wanted to make sure that their voices were incorporated into the campaign, potentially into the administration, so I spent a lot of time traveling around the country meeting with groups of women.
And as you mentioned, I didn’t come from a military background; didn’t know many people in the military. But at every one of these sessions -- and they were great, intimate discussion groups -- there were voices that I hadn’t heard before, and they were the voices of military spouses, many of them women, but many men.
And if you imagine talking to women about the day-to-day struggles that we’re facing -- trying to manage a career, trying to keep it all together, raise our kids, look good, stay fit, manage in a tough economic situation, all of that -- and then you couple and you multiply that with several deployments, what military families go through -- the average military kid has moved six times in their lives -- you think about what it takes for a family to re-engage with one another after a deployment -- it takes a while to reconnect and then you turn around and they have to be deployed again -- spouses trying to maintain a career while moving all those times, trying to finish their own education -- these stories took my breath away because they were so unfamiliar to me.
And I thought, well, if I don't know, and I’m educated and I consider myself aware, then where are we in this country? Why don't we know about these families? Why don't we know their struggles? Why aren’t we pushing for them? Why aren’t we talking about them every day? That's what I walked away from these conversations feeling.
And I vowed then and there that if my husband got elected, I would use my platform to help be their voice, because truly these families are amazing. That's the other thing. They’re strong, they don't complain, they don't ask for much. And I think that's one of the reasons why we don't know about them, because they’re holding it down. They’re holding it together. And that's not what you do in the military -- you don't complain. So they count on each other, and they don't ask for help.
Well, they shouldn’t have to ask for help. As the First Lady, along with my wonderful partner, Jill Biden, we’re going to make sure we keep shining a light on these families so that America understands that when our country goes to war, we have families who are serving right along with them. So -- (applause.)
Q So to that end, this initiative, how is this important to you? And what do you hope this accomplishes then, just to tell their stories and to share that?
MRS. OBAMA: Well, when I think about where I hope we are in a year, I want the conversation to be different. I want the military families to feel this support on the ground. This isn’t about, you know, empty words or deeds. This isn’t about politics. This isn’t blue or red or anything. This is about making sure that these families in the end feel like everyone in this country, first of all, understands their sacrifices, appreciates it, and that we’re all doing our part to step up.
One of the things that we can’t forget is that 1 percent of our population is protecting the rights and freedoms of the rest of us. One percent of our population serves, right?
So if we want a strong defense, if we want to feel safe in this land, we have to support our military, but they’re only as strong and as solid as their families are.
My husband says that every time he goes to Afghanistan or visits troops, they’re not asking him for better equipment, new armor, they’re not talking about their own deployment, they’re not talking about their safety. The one thing they need to know while they’re serving is that their families are good.
And you imagine you’re stationed halfway around the world and you hear that your kid can’t get the special education assistance that he needs because you moved again; or your wife is struggling because the heater blew out and she doesn’t have any help getting that done.
We need to make sure that by the end of this year, every American knows these families’ stories and that we’re all figuring out ways, large and small, to step up and find the families in our community so that they feel like they’re not alone. And that's really the goal of this campaign.
Q Obviously we’re in a room full of people who tell stories and do that professionally. In terms of -- but we all would want to say thank you to the military families that are sacrificing as much as they are. What are ways that we can do that, even those of us who aren’t writing stories and making movies and TV shows?
MRS. OBAMA: Right. Well, the storytelling piece is so important. We can’t take that for granted. That's why the work that this industry has done so far -- and I want to say thank you, because you all have stepped up in so many ways already, telling good stories. You all know how to seep into our conscience.
I just talked to my kids about whatever movie or show they’ve seen. I mean, they can rattle off the details -- gosh -- (laughter) -- yeah, I figure if we can do that with our kids on a certain set of subjects, we can do it with this one.
So I want to thank all of you who have already stepped up. But the key is that we -- there's more that we can do.
And the work isn’t that hard, because the stories are already compelling. The individuals are already pretty powerful. They do a pretty good job of telling their own stories.
But if it’s not just storytelling, it’s the little things that people can do in their own lives -- just making sure that they know who are the military families in their lives.
Many of us have kids in school, and in this war we have a number of families who are reservists. We’ve had to deploy many reservists into this Army because it’s gone on for a while. And reservists don't live on military bases. And that's one of the things we all assume; that if you’re in the Army, you live on a base, you live in a military community, if you’re a service member. But the truth is, is that there are many who are -- they’re our neighbors. They were a firefighter one day. The next week they were called up to serve, and they’re in the desert somewhere serving our country, and their families are back at home pretty isolated. They don't have people who understand what they’re going through.
So part of what we can do as individuals is look into our schools and our churches and our community groups and just identify the people who are military families. That should be a part of what we’re trying to do all the time.
And then those families will let us know what they need. Some of them don't need any help, but some of them need help babysitting. You know, women, we know every now and then it’s just good to have somebody who’s going to take your kid so you can breathe for an hour, right? (Laughter.) I mean, we laugh but, yeah -- Amen. (Laughter and applause.) And dads, too, because we have fathers who are raising children alone.
So it can be telling a story on the big screen, on the small screen, or it can be helping a neighbor mow their lawn. It can be making sure that teachers understand what military children are going through, if they’ve lost a parent, if they have a parent who’s come home severely wounded.
These are -- and this will not stop when the wars end -- the wars are coming to a close. But the real work happens when these men and women come home and they’re dealing with the ramifications of war. They’re dealing with the injuries and the wounds and trying to reintegrate into society. We have to make sure that we understand that this is a forever battle. This isn't about wartime or not-wartime. We have men and women who are serving our country everyday, and they’ll be dealing with the consequences of that dedicated service for the rest of their lives. And we have to be there for them and for their children. So.
Q Good answer. (Laughter.)
So there's never -- (laughter) -- there's never, in the history of time, been a crazier left turn than this question, but I’ve been asked to ask you the following thing.
MRS. OBAMA: All right, I’m with you.
Q I apologize for this in advance. Apparently there's some connection between you and the Screen Actors Guild. Mrs. Obama, what's happening on the set of iCarly today? (Laughter.)
MRS. OBAMA: Oh, yeah. Well, let’s say I’m the coolest mom on the face of the planet. (Laughter.) Can you believe we have friends of my children who don't believe that I’m going to be on iCarly? (Laughter.) But I was like, look, I stayed in Buckingham Palace. (Laughter.) Why is it such a huge leap that I would -- (laughter and applause) -- they don't believe that. (Laughter.)
Q That's fantastic. (Laughter.)
MRS. OBAMA: I’m like, really? (Laughter and applause.)
But yes, we are big fans of iCarly. This is an example of the way that we can integrate these story lines into shows, and it’s important for kids to hear themselves in the shows that they love.
But I’m going to be a -- I’m going to put on my acting cape. I’ve been memorizing my lines -- I am terrified. (Laughter.) I can give a speech, I can talk to you all, but oh, I’m shaking, yes.
Q How many scenes are you doing?
MRS. OBAMA: I think it’s two.
Q That's two scenes.
MRS. OBAMA: I think two.
Q Well, break a leg. It’ll be fun.
MRS. OBAMA: I’m going to break a leg. But the story line is very sweet. iCarly -- Carly is a -- they have a webcast, and Carly is a military kid, and that's always been a part of the script -- that's been a part of their situation. Her father has been deployed. And it’s just a way for us to recognize her challenges as well as how her friends are stepping up to support her. So I’m pretty excited about it.
Q That's fun.
MRS. OBAMA: Yeah, yeah.
Q Nice. (Applause.)
MRS. OBAMA: That wasn’t such an odd turn.
MRS. OBAMA: It was -- it’s connected, it’s well connected.
Q Oh, good, okay, okay. (Laughter.)
MRS. OBAMA: Well done. (Laughter and applause.)
Q Thank you. (Laughter.) Touché. (Laughter.)
Before we meet three of the amazing people we learned about in the film and knowing there are literally hundreds of thousands of more stories like these out there, is there anything you’d like to say to the writers and creators in the room about the importance of telling their story that you haven’t already mentioned, or anything specific that you think we should be considering?
MRS. OBAMA: Well, again, I want to say thank you. Thank you for coming together to listen, to learn. Thank you for the work that you’ve already done, because so many of you have already been telling those stories.
Joining Forces is really an initiative to shine a light on the work that so many people are already doing. It recognizes that as First Lady and as the Second Lady, Jill Biden -- she doesn’t like to be called Second Lady. (Laughter.) She’s right up there with me: the First and the First. (Laughter.)
What we know is that there's a power in this platform that we have -- that people follow us around and they look at our shoes, and while they’re looking at our shoes, we can actually turn their attention to something really important like these families.
And that's true for all of you. You all have the vehicle to tell stories that just pull people in. And if we think again about that year-long goal -- that in the end this isn’t just about the story, but it’s really about having the men and women and their families who serve our country feel the gratitude every day from a grateful nation -- if we can say we’ve done that, and if we set this foundation not just for today but forever, regardless of who the President is in office, that this is a part of who we are as Americans lifting these families up, if we are all a part of that, and I know this group is more than capable of doing that, then we’ve been successful.
So I would just urge you to do what you do best. Be creative. Be funny. Be powerful. Move us. Move America to think differently about these issues and about these families and about our men and women who serve so graciously.
And Jill and I will continue to use our platform. I am shameless. I dance in public. (Laughter.) Yeah, I do. If it’s going to help, I'll do it. You want me to dance? Is it going to help the cause? I'll dance. (Applause.)
So Jill and I are pretty much ready to do whatever we can for however long the country allows us to do it to keep this issue on the forefront of everyone’s mind.
And it isn’t difficult to do, because the truth is, is that people want to do something. They just don't know how. They think they maybe need to be a military expert in order to it. And I think these shows can demonstrate how easy it is and how small gestures make a really big difference, and saying “thank you” actually does matter.
But thanks has to be backed up with stuff like jobs and child care and the opportunity for spouses to continue their education; you know, thinking of creative ways that we can suggest to the business community and to the education community, how they can further assist families in some real tangible ways. Those are the stories that can be told by the individuals in this room.
Q Well, thank you so much for coming here. And I know you --
MRS. OBAMA: It’s my pleasure.
Q Well, thank you. I know that you’re looking forward, as everyone is here, to hearing from the real stars of this panel, the panelists.
MRS. OBAMA: Yes.
(The panelists share their stories.)
MRS. OBAMA: One thing I want to also remind people, because Kelly mentioned the research, too, one of the things I do -- I spend a lot of time on military bases. I spend -- I go to Walter Reed, I go to the Naval Hospital as often as possible. Whenever I’m in another country, whether it’s Germany -- there's a military facility there -- I think it’s so important for every American to do something like that, because it’s not just for the military members, but it’s for you as an individual.
I mean, there is -- people always say, when I’m going to Walter Reed, they’ll say, well, that's going to be depressing. And I’m like, no, no, it is the most uplifting thing that I do, because you go in those rooms, and these are kids -- no leg, no arm -- but they’re still talking about what they’re going to do next.
There is something in the water that you all drink. (Laughter.) No, I say this seriously because if we could just sprinkle that on a lot of other young people -- it’s the ability to keep moving ahead in the face of real change and difficulty -- and these young men and women do not want you to feel sorry for them. Their brains are moving to the next thing.
That kind of experience -- going to a Fisher House, where families stay when their loved ones are wounded or in the hospital -- they have facilities where families can come and stay; spending time on these bases where possible; going to the hospital -- we should be at the point where there is never an important day that goes by that Walter Reed isn’t packed with visitors, with people coming by -- because their families need it, too, because their families are there, these people who move their lives, change their lives, and they’re spending day and night in these hospitals next to their loved ones.
It’s powerful. And that's the kind of research, that's another piece of -- it’s not just research. It’s an experience that we should all have, because I think if we all experience that, we would think differently about all this stuff. We would even think differently about what it means to be an American.
I mean, I think that's one of my hopes with Joining Forces, is it’s reminding us really we’re all in this together. It sounds corny, but it is true. We are all -- we all have to have each other’s backs in the end. We are not fighting each other. And the world is getting so small that we’re not even fighting with the rest of the world. We’ve got to do this together.
And military members and their families understand this in a way -so they don't sweat the small stuff. And I think each of us experiencing that and trying to share that with others and encouraging others to do the same, I think that's what changes mindsets.
So I would encourage the people in this room and in this industry to think about devoting more time on the ground in places like that.
Q In terms of research, I’m just wondering if there's ever anything that you see sort of on a regular basis, or just, you know, every once in a while that you see a -- as the military is depicted that just drive you crazy, where you think, oh, come on, that isn’t right, that’s not the way it is, and it frustrates you.
MS. SMITH: I'll speak for Shiloh (ph.) (Laughter.) He said it drives him nuts about the uniforms.
MRS. OBAMA: What do -- what's with the --
MS. SMITH: That they’ll be incorrect. (Laughter.) People will have the wrong rank, maybe out of date.
MRS. OBAMA: Hmm. (Laughter and applause.)
MS. SMITH: Something I worry about, too, but, you know, that's a whole ‘nother story.
Q That's a good one. (Laughter.) Anything?
MR. JARMAN: The only thing I can say -- that major pain doesn’t exist. (Laughter.) There is no major pain. (Laughter.)
MS. SMITH: When did you go to Basic? (Laughter.) I have major pain! (Laughter.)
Q Anything, Anita?
MS. MOOORE: Army Wives, I love that. I think that's as close to -- (applause) -- you know, it’s close to how we live. (Applause.) So I think that's really accurate on point. But I think that they could include us, wives, when the husbands come home, how we deal with them, how we have to deal with them, you know, and the PST disorders. But I'd say that Army Wives is accurate to -- close to what we go through.
MRS. OBAMA: And the point about Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder -- that's one of the components of Joining Forces that we want to work on, because we have to work in this country to de-stigmatize mental health issues. I think that's a huge challenge for families coming back, because we hear time and time again that a lot of servicemembers don't want to acknowledge that they have it because they think there's going to be a penalty for it.
We need to have a stronger culture of support. We need a whole new generation of psychiatrists and people in the medical profession who know about this disorder, this condition, and can treat it properly. Those are some real interesting themes that I think would go a long to helping families as they try to readjust -- and telling those stories, and try to encourage people to seek help when they need it, because there are still issues of domestic violence, and there's a lot of challenges that families face when they reengage; children adjusting to so many different traumas, having that affect their school and a whole range of things. Those are some of the stories that we don't hear that I think are important so that we understand how deep these challenges can be for families.
Q Since we’re in Hollywood -- technically Beverly Hills -- but we’re talking about great stories and the thousands of miles that separate military family members from their loved ones, we thought we would end with a little surprise for Kelly.
(A surprise Skype live video from Afghanistan of Lacy Smith, Kelly’s sister, is shown.)
END 10:59 A.M. PDT