the WHITE HOUSEPresident Barack Obama

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The White House
Office of the First Lady
For Immediate Release

Remarks by the First Lady during Department of Defense Agency visit

11:11 P.M. EDT

MRS. OBAMA:  Thank you all so much.  You’re so sweet!  (Applause.)  And there’s so many of you.  (Applause.)

First of all, let me start by thanking Secretary Gates, first of all, for your very kind introduction, but more importantly for your outstanding service to this country -- not just under this President, my husband, but under seven other Presidents.  (Applause.)  His service has spanned more than four decades.  So he could be standing up there, too.  (Laughter.)  So on behalf of all of us, thank you.  Thank you for your commitment to our country, thank you for your devotion to the men and women of this department. 

And I would be remiss if I didn’t thank the real hero in that family, Becky Gates.  (Laughter.)  Let’s give Becky a round of applause.  (Laughter.)  I was told that back in college you and the Secretary met on a blind date.  (Laughter.)  So maybe you didn’t really realize what you were getting into.  (Laughter.)  But for more than 40 years, Becky has shared her husband with our nation, and served in her own way, as well, and we honor her for her commitment to this country and to our men and women in service.

And though they couldn’t all be here today, I want to also say thank you to the Joint Chiefs, the Combatant Commanders, the Service Secretaries and the Senior Enlisted Advisors, and to their extraordinary wives.  I want to thank you all for keeping America safe and all our military families strong.  It’s been a pleasure getting to know all of them.  They are true heroes, and they’ve been a wonderful support to me and my husband during our beginning of this term. 

It is truly wonderful for me to be here.  It is a beautiful day.  (Applause.)  I have been waiting for this visit for a long time. 

The President has been to the Pentagon before, thank goodness -- (laughter) -- for discussions with the Secretary, Admiral Mullen, and the Joint Chiefs.  And when he first came, he told me that he had been in “The Tank.”  (Laughter.)  And I wasn’t quite sure whether that was a good thing or a bad thing.  (Laughter.) 

And last September, the President and I had the honor of joining some of you and your families here at the Pentagon memorial outside of the Pentagon for a rainy celebration -- not celebration, but to mark the anniversary of 9/11 and to pay tribute to the fallen colleagues who gave their lives here.

But today, this visit is my very time actually being anywhere inside the Pentagon -- although we’re not quite inside.  We’re very close.  (Laughter.)  But I’m going to get in there.  I know there’s a lot going on -- miles of corridors and all the “rings” I’m hearing about, and the six different zip codes.  (Laughter.)  So I can see why General Eisenhower got lost.  (Laughter.) 

So I’m thrilled that I made it in.  And Secretary Gates, I’m counting on you to make sure I get out safely.  (Laughter.)

Today is a simple chance for me to do a couple of things.  First, I want to say thank you.  It’s one of the things that I’ve done as First Lady that's one of the favorite things that I do, and it’s coming to the different departments to really express my personal appreciation as well as the appreciation of me and my family for all that you do for this country.

The second reason I’m here -- as the Vice President’s wife, Jill Biden, and I have been doing all across this country, this visit is another chance to shine a spotlight on the service and sacrifices of the finest military in the world and your amazing families.  (Applause.)

As Secretary Gates mentioned, the visits that I’ve done to bases all across this country have just been inspiring.  Meeting you, meeting your spouses, your children has been one of the greatest privileges that I’ve had as First Lady.

At Fort Bragg and Fort Hood, I stood in awe of the United States Army.  (Applause.)

At Norfolk, I was truly inspired by the United States Navy.  (Applause.)

At Eglin Air Force Base, I was blown away by our United States Air Force.  (Applause.)

And at the White House every day, I get to witness the amazing commitment of the United States Marine Corps.  (Applause.)

And we can never forget our partners at DHS -- the outstanding men and women of the United States Coast Guard.  (Applause.)  What?  (Laughter.)  Let’s hear it for the Coast Guard!  (Applause.)  All right. (Laughter.)   

Next door at Arlington and around the nation, I’ve seen the unbelievable love of spouses, wives and husbands, sons and daughters who’ve lost a loved one at war. 

And today, and every single day, we all honor America’s Gold Star families. 

I’ve been inspired, beyond measure, by our incredible wounded warriors and their families.  (Applause.)

The one thing that I wish is that the whole country could see what you all did here this morning -- the thousands of you lining the corridors and clapping and cheering and saluting their service, honoring these brave warriors and their families as they passed in this proud procession. 

This is a phenomenal tribute to them but to all of you because it’s a reflection of the spirit of this department.  Service before self.  Love of country.  Dedication to duty.  Taking care of each other.  It’s the spirit that so many of you have shown in Afghanistan and Iraq and all around the world, year after year, tour after tour.

Our country has never asked so much, for so long, of our all-volunteer force.  But the beauty is you never complain -- at least not out loud.  (Laughter.)  You always step up and you always come through.

And it’s the same spirit demonstrated by all the defense civilians, as well -- the force behind the force -- (applause) -- developing the policies; purchasing the equipment; organizing the logistics; ensuring your readiness; and taking care of your families, our wounded warriors and our military retirees.  You all may not always get the glory, but our troops cannot do their job without you. 

And as Secretary Gates pointed out, standing up here on stage with us are some of the Pentagon’s largest -- longest-serving civilian servants -- each of them with more than 40 years.  That’s an amazing thing.  Yes, indeed.  (Applause.)  So we thank you, a special thank you, for your dedication and your commitment.     

Now, I could say “thank you” all day long.  I love to do it.  But what I want you to know is that these words of thanks are backed up by deeds, as well.  They’re backed up by a President, by the Secretary -- by Secretary Gates, by Admiral Mullen, by the military commanders all the way down the chain of command, because they’re working hard every day to make sure that you and your families have what you need to get the job done, whether that means increasing the size of the military, investing in the equipment that saves lives on the battlefield, or working to give you more time home between deployments.

They’ve worked to improve your quality of life, including better pay, better benefits and better military housing.  And they’ve worked to improve care and treatment for our wounded warriors, especially those with post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury.  This administration understands that we have to take care of these American heroes who take such good care of all of us.

And Secretary Gates, especially I want to thank you and this department for everything that you’ve done to support our military spouses and children, because you’ve done a lot. 

The Family and Medical Leave Act has been extended to military families and to caregivers of our wounded warriors.  That’s never been done. 

There are more funds for child care now, for family counseling and support for spouses, and to help spouses pursue their careers, which is difficult to do when you are moving from base to base to base.

And since April -- this month is the Month of the Military Child, I want to salute all our military children -- (applause) -- all of your sons and daughters, because the truth is -- and we cannot forget -- these are the most mighty of our servants.   

They serve in a very special way:  trying to stay strong while mom or dad is a world away; recovering -- helping their parents recover from wounds; and in some unfortunate cases they’ve made the ultimate sacrifice and they’ve lost a parent to service.  And it can be so hard for these kids, probably beyond what we could even imagine.  So they need all the support that we can give them, all the love, both at school and at home.

So I want to thank Secretary Gates for your leadership on these issues.  It’s a leadership that is strengthening youth programs and renovating or replacing more than half of the DOD schools.  It’s a leadership that will help tens of thousands of military families and their children.   

But supporting all of you and your families truly takes more than government support.  It’s more than any of us can do.  It also takes an active and engaged citizen. 

So I want all you to know that as long as I’m First Lady, I’m going to keep urging all Americans to do their part, whether it’s something as simple as volunteering time or pro bono services to help our troops and their families, or making a home-cooked-meal for a busy spouse who’s struggling to keep it together, or whether it’s something as simple as just saying thank you when you see one of our troops in your community.

Every American can do something -- every American can do something -- in service to this country and in service around the world.  And you of all people know that, right?

AUDIENCE: Yes!

MRS. OBAMA:  You all know about service.  It’s the code that you live by every day.  It is the spirit that you showed after the terrible earthquake in Haiti:  the Coast Guards, who were the first on the scene, evacuating those in need and repairing the port so that aid could flow through; the soldiers who helped distribute so much food, water and medicine; the sailors who brought fresh drinking water and treated the injured and the sick; the airmen who reopened that airport and then operated those relief flights 24 hours a day; the Marines, some of who had just returned home from the Middle East, who said good-bye to their families and immediately shipped out to Haiti to help sustain one of the largest relief efforts in recent times.

And, of course, every step of the way, there were all the DOD civilians and folks from other agencies, all who worked alongside of you. 

And this international relief and recovery effort continues today.  There is still so much work to do in Haiti.  With the support from America’s military, we’re going to be able to do so much more.  But the need continues to be great.
 
Every American is grateful for the service that you’ve shown to that country.  We’re humbled by it.  We’re inspired by it.  But nothing compares to the appreciation of the Haitian people, which they have expressed in so many ways.  The cheering crowds when you arrived.  The “thumbs up” they gave you as you passed.  The grateful mother who named her newborn for the Navy ship he was born in.  The man who said simply, “Without you, I would be dead.  Thank you, America.”  Now, I couldn’t say it any better myself. 

On behalf of the President, on behalf of the American people, thank you for the service that you display every single day, around the world, often in harm’s way.  Thank you all, military and civilian, and to your families.   You make us so very proud.

So I’m going to come down and say hello.  (Applause.)

END
11:25 P.M. EDT