- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 12, 2011

With her husband having just committed U.S. forces to enforce a no-fly zone over Libya, in addition to seeing through America’s two other wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, first lady Michelle Obama turned her attention Tuesday to military families by launching a program to ensure troops and their loved ones have the support they need.

Announcing the campaign with President Obama, Vice President Joseph R. Biden and his wife, Jill, by her side, Mrs. Obama said the effort, dubbed “Joining Forces,” is aimed at shoring up military families in a range of areas, including education, employment and wellness.

Mrs. Obama said the initiative will include a public-awareness campaign, additional help for children of troops and veterans and partnerships with some of the country’s biggest employers, who have agreed to redouble their efforts to hire veterans and their spouses.

“This campaign is about all of us, all of us joining together, as Americans, to give back to the extraordinary military families who serve and sacrifice so much, every day, so that we can live in freedom and security,” she said. “Joining Forces is a challenge to every segment of American society to take action, to make a real commitment to supporting and engaging these families.”

Attending the kickoff event at the White House on Tuesday were two men who have crossed Mr. Obama in very public ways.

Nearly a year after Mr. Obama relieved him of his command in Afghanistan after controversial remarks he made to Rolling Stone magazine, retired Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, who is serving as an unpaid adviser for Joining Forces, was on hand. Also in the audience was Rep. Joe Wilson, the South Carolina Republican who famously shouted, “You lie,” as Mr. Obama addressed a joint session of Congress.

The event raised controversy, but not because of the many invited guests.

Rather, it was the White House’s decision to exclude a representative from gay military families from attending - even after Mr. Obama late last year signed a bill calling for the repeal of the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on gay service members.

“It is rather unfortunate that both East Wing and West Wing staff have refused to allow a representative of gay military families to even be in the room at an event that is supposed to honor their commitment and sacrifice,” said Alexander Nicholson, executive director of Servicemembers United.

“Many straight organizational representatives have been invited to this event, including some with few or no military families in their constituencies. Yet our thousands of gay military families are shut out from being represented today because of nothing but lingering political homophobia,” he said.

In response, a spokeswoman for Mrs. Obama said her husband has been “crystal clear” that the administration is moving forward with the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

“However, it still remains the law. The White House, including the first lady and [Mrs.] Biden, look forward to working with the families of gay and lesbian service members after certification occurs and repeal goes into effect,” said Kristina Schake, Mrs. Obama’s communications director.