- Associated Press - Saturday, September 23, 2017

WASHINGTON (AP) — Melania Trump is set to take her biggest step yet as first lady.

She’s leading the U.S. delegation to an international sporting event for wounded service members, her first solo trip outside the United States to represent her adopted country.

On the agenda for daylong stop Saturday in Toronto: a first-time meeting with Britain’s Prince Harry, founder of the Invictus Games; a meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau; remarks at a reception for the nearly 100 American athletes participating in the weeklong Olympic-style competition; and attending the opening ceremony.

Her decision to lead the American delegation, whose members include Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin, professional golfer Nancy Lopez and entertainer Wayne Newton, reflects the first lady’s “utmost respect” for the hard work, courage and sacrifice of the U.S. military, said Stephanie Grisham, a spokeswoman for Mrs. Trump.

“She feels strongly that they - and their families - should be honored every day,” Grisham said.

Grisham said Mrs. Trump also has “great admiration for the role the games have played in empowering those who have been injured while serving.”

At an event last week marking the 70th anniversary of the U.S. Air Force, the first lady thanked the many members of the military who assisted thousands people in Texas, Louisiana, Florida and the Caribbean whose lives were upended by recent hurricanes.

A native of Slovenia who became a U.S. citizen in 2006, Mrs. Trump also thanked service members’ families.

“You endure time apart, are expected to move when new orders come in, and face the uncertainty that can come in times of need,” she said at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland, before introducing President Donald Trump. “This kind of lifestyle requires its own kind of courage and your sacrifices do not go unnoticed or unappreciated.”

Mrs. Trump has been slowly warming up to her new role, waiting to move to the White House until her 11-year-old son finished the school year in New York and holding few public events of her own. She accompanied the president on his three overseas trips so far this year.

Prince Harry established the Invictus Games in 2014 for sick and wounded service members from around the globe. More than 550 individuals from 17 countries are expected to participate in 12 sports during the coming week, ranging from cycling to wheelchair tennis to sitting volleyball.

London was the setting for the inaugural event in 2015, followed by Orlando, Florida, last year.

Mrs. Trump’s participation continues White House involvement with the games, which were launched during President Barack Obama’s tenure.

Jill Biden, wife of then-Vice President Joe Biden, led the U.S. delegation to London as part of a military initiative undertaken with then-first lady Michelle Obama. Mrs. Obama helped open last year’s competition in Orlando.

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Follow Darlene Superville on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/dsupervilleap

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