- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 1, 2009

NORFOLK | First lady Michelle Obama thanked sailors at the Norfolk Navy base for their service, and called on the public to support their families as they serve the nation in their own way when their loved ones are deployed.

Mrs. Obama spoke Friday at an event marking the return of the USS Eisenhower Carrier Strike Group and the Navy hospital ship Comfort from recent deployments. She also met with Navy leaders during her visit.

She thanked the commanders and crews of both ships and noted their military and humanitarian achievements, then turned her attention to those the sailors left behind.

Mrs. Obama called military families “quiet heroes who represent the best in our country” and asked people to “pledge to honor their service by doing more to serve them in their own communities.”

She said President Obama’s budget included pay raises for service members, more career development services and better military housing and financial assistance for families.

“But providing support requires more than good government, it requires active citizens,” she told the gathering of about 300 sailors and family members. “We must remember that when our troops are deployed, their families are left behind and face a different set of duties.”

She suggested several ways to support military families: helping with carpools, bringing them dinner, helping spouses get a job and providing free legal or mental health services.

Mrs. Obama was making her second trip as first lady to a military installation. She visited the Army base at Fort Bragg in North Carolina in March. She also met with military wives in Norfolk during last year’s presidential campaign.

Serving as the backdrop for Mrs. Obama’s speech, the Baltimore-based Comfort returned Thursday from a four-month humanitarian mission in the Caribbean and Latin America. The Comfort also was docked off New York City after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and assisted in efforts after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, Mrs. Obama noted.

The Norfolk-based Eisenhower carrier returned Thursday from a five-month deployment largely supporting U.S. military efforts in Afghanistan. About 6,000 sailors are based on the aircraft carrier and its air wing.

Hospital Corpsman Juana Ascensio was among the crowd of sailors and their families. She said the first lady’s visit was a welcome event after the carrier’s deployment.

“It’s nice to be recognized for something no one ever sees,” said Miss Ascensio, a pharmacy technician. “I’m glad to be just standing here.”

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