Yesterday was an Obama day for me.
I meet Michelle Obama. And immediately begin running my mouth non-stop.
As some of my regular readers know, I was originally an Edwards supporter. I switched my loyalty to Barack Obama only days before the Virginia primary. Since that time, as I've gotten to know more about Barack and Michelle Obama, their backgrounds and policies, I've grown to like Barack, and what he stands for, more and more.
I've written recently about the disparity between Senator McCain's vocal support for veterans and military issues and his abysmal record when faced with legislation that might actually back up his empty words. In contrast, Obama's voting record shows clear support for the military. Still, I've wanted to hear more about how Obama intends to bolster our flagging military and morale. Yesterday, I had the chance.
I had the opportunity to meet Michelle Obama at an invitation only event for the spouses of active duty and retired military members.
After some inspiring remarks by Congressional candidate Glenn Nye, Michelle participated in a round table discussing the issues facing military families today. The roundtable featured Claudia Kennedy (a retired 3 star general), Bud Buccha (a Medal of Honor winner and Obama campaign adviser), Virginia Delegate Joe Bouchard (a retired Navy Captain), Stephanie Schiffman Marushia (a military wife and disabled veteran), Beth Robinson (a Marine Corps officer's wife who is living with MS), Amanda McBreen (wife of a Marine Corps officer and activist for Blue Star Families for Obama), Elaine Guishard (Navy wife and breast cancer survivor) , Sandra Stockard (wife of a retired Navy man and mother of a Navy daughter), and Tammy Linton (Air Force wife).
Beth Robinson introduces Ms. Obama
Michelle ... I'm sorry, I have to call her Michelle. Calling her Mrs. or Ms. Obama seems too impersonal for such a warm woman. Michelle showed a deep understanding for the struggles of military members and their families, despite some local concerns that she couldn't possibly understand where we're coming from. (You know, being an "elitist ivy leaguer" and all.)
Make no mistake. Michelle gets it. In a way I don't think that Senator McCain, or Cindy McCain the heiress, could get it in a million years.
Many people look at the military and see only the surface: the man going off to war or to sea. Most politicians like to visit the soldiers, pose for photos, land on an aircraft carrier and declare "Mission Accomplished." Most politicians, hell, most people, don't see behind the pomp and circumstance to the women (and increasingly, men) who put on a brave face and keep the family going.
You don't always see how the family struggles financially because a spouse, moving every 8 months or 6 months or 2 years, can't advance in a career and sometimes can't even find a job on a base in the middle of nowhere. You don't see the children uprooted from schools and friends constantly. You don't see the long wait lists for childcare and housing and the families starting over at the bottom of the list every time there's a move. You don't see the money they lose on selling a house in a housing slump because the Army says it's time to go.
You don't see the small children struggle to become reacquainted with a parent they don't remember. But Michelle has seen it. She's taken the time to see it.
In her opening remarks, Michelle spoke with passion about the military spouses she's spoken to and the problems they face in their marriages, professional lives, and lives as mothers:
I am amazed at how you do it. You struggle with all this and more. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from these roundtables, it’s that when our military goes to war or deploys at sea – their families go with them.
You become everything at home while your spouse is away. You’re running the checkbook. You’re Mom, you’re Dad; you’re the disciplinarian. You’re making dinner and doing homework; and when the bills keep piling up, and that list of chores seems endless, you find yourself with yet another job: worrying late into the night.
And you don’t just struggle with the economic downturn like everyone else; it’s often more difficult for you to find jobs. I’ve heard from military wives who enter the job market with solid resumes, but find themselves fighting for jobs that pay seven dollars an hour. Employers look at your resume and wonder why you can’t keep a steady job – even though it’s only because you’re already doing your job as a military spouse by moving from base to base.
One spouse, former military herself, told me she gave up looking and went back to school to become a nurse – but now faces staggering student loans and $500 in monthly child care costs. Others have children stuck on base waiting lists, or face rules that don’t allow them to use on-base child care.
And I know your marriages face unique challenges. Your husbands or wives may be deployed for months at a time, working 16 hour days or more, in the toughest conditions imaginable. They sometimes come home with problems you’re simply not equipped to deal with, and there can be a stigma attached to asking for help. Or they come home, life is good, but it’s a readjustment period – and as soon as you get back to where you were before he or she left, the bags are packed for another deployment.
One woman told me, "For better or for worse, in sickness and in health…but it is tough sometimes." Another said that during the day, she puts on her pretty clothes and her bold face and holds her head high and holds the fort down. But at night, she lies in bed and cries.
You end up taking care of each other on base – from babysitting to delivering bad news – but you’re rarely trained or prepared for any of it.
I hear these stories everywhere I go, from women doing everything that’s asked of them and more. These women aren’t asking for much. They’re not asking for government to solve all their problems. They’re just asking for a Washington that understands what’s happening to our military families, and the variety of challenges they face as part of their extraordinary commitment to our country.
That's it. That's it exactly. We aren't asking for much, but we do want our military members and families to be appreciated. We want the Veterans Administration fully funded so that soldiers can get the care they need when they return and when they leave the service. We want support for military families struggling with educational, health, and childcare problems. We want adequate time between deployments so that families can heal and bond.
The military spouses in the roundtable, and audience members, brought up many similar concerns, from health care, antiquated medical record systems, and simultaneous deployments of two military parents, to deployment readiness groups and fostering a culture of service to our country.
The Obama campaign's new initiative, the Plan to Support Virginia Military Families, addresses all of these concerns and more. The campaign is also kicking off Blue Star Families for Obama, a grass roots organization started by military families supporting Obama because of his positive plans (and past votes) for veterans, military members, and families.
(You can read Michelle Obama's full remarks, as prepared, here.)
When I consider Barack Obama's voting record on military issues, his proposals to help military families and Michelle's visit to Norfolk, I'm convinced that he will be the best candidate to support our military families.
Aside from the political purpose of the event, I was struck by Michelle's warmth, candor, and sincerity. I'll save the content of my conversation with Michelle, which was personal in nature, for my personal blog, but it only made me determined to do everything I can to get Michelle Obama's husband into office.
She's a hand clasper. I like that. Notice the mouth is STILL running.
Later that evening, I also had the opportunity to hear Michelle speak at a fundraiser featuring Bruce Hornsby at the Harrison Opera House in Norfolk. But I'll save that for Part II....
Stephanie Himel-Nelson spills her personal life at Lawyer Mama. Her husband has just retired after 20 years in the Navy, on both active and reserve duty. Her brother is currently serving in the Middle East.