First lady urges support for U.S. service families

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First lady Michelle Obama on Tuesday observed women’s history month by touring a memorial for women in the military. She said the country must do all it can to support not just the servicemembers on active duty, but their families, too.

Long and repeat tours of duty affect grandparents, parents, spouses and siblings, some of whom are left to look after the servicemember’s children, Mrs. Obama said at the Women in Military Service for America Memorial Center at Arlington National Cemetery.

The plight of military families is among the issues Mrs. Obama wants to focus on at the White House. She heard from military families during the past two years as she traveled around the country campaigning for her husband.

“As the president said last week during his address at Camp Lejeune, service doesn’t end with the person wearing the uniform. You all know that,” she told an audience of military personnel, members of Congress and other guests.

“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 them, not just by words but by deeds,” Mrs. Obama said. “And it is my great hope today that future generations will honor women and men in uniform by first of all never taking the blessings of freedom for granted and by doing their part to create a more perfect union.”

In her remarks, she highlighted some of the achievements of military women throughout U.S. history. Among those singled out for special recognition were the two highest-ranking women in the military - Gen. Ann Dunwoody, the first female four-star general, and Vice Admiral Vivien Crea of the U.S. Coast Guard, the first woman to serve as vice chief, or second in command, of one of the branches of the U.S. military.

Mrs. Obama also mentioned District residents Alyce Dixon and Mary Ragland. Both women served as company clerks in the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion during World War II. The all-black, all-female group was tasked with eliminating stacks of undelivered mail and packages addressed to U.S. servicemembers that were stored in British and French warehouses.

“These women and thousands of others set a standard of excellence that enables women who serve today to take on even greater responsibilities,” Mrs. Obama said.

Retired Brig. Gen. Wilma Vaught, president of the Women’s Memorial Foundation, compared Mrs. Obama to former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt because of their common focus on the military. Gen. Vaught also said Mrs. Roosevelt frequently invited servicewomen to tea at the White House.

“Do they still serve tea at the White House?” she asked. The audience laughed.

When it was Mrs. Obama’s turn at the microphone, she said: “All right. You’re all invited. That’s a great idea.”

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