Does Michelle Obama support the troops?
By Rebekah Sanderlin
Very few people relate to the agony of sending a loved one into harm's way, knowing that there are people out there who want to kill him. Very few people know the exhaustion of raising your children alone in a town far from the help of family and friends. These last few years, we military spouses resigned ourselves to the knowledge that only other military spouses understand those emotions, emotions that are now far too familiar for us. And then, out of nowhere, Michelle Obama reached out to us during the presidential campaign. She, the most captivating first lady since Jacqueline Kennedy, lent us her voice.
She said that she had a newfound sympathy for military spouses because, like so many of us, she had hugged her husband goodbye knowing that there were people out there who wanted him dead. She said that, like us, she had spent lonely nights raising her daughters, comforted only by the knowledge that her sacrifice was for something bigger than herself. She, like many of us, quit her career so that her husband could pursue an all-consuming calling. She got us. More importantly, she told us - and the nation - so.
In a post on his The Best Defense blog for Foreign Policy magazine a few weeks ago, Tom Ricks criticized Mrs. Obama for being more interested in raising vegetables than in helping soldiers' wives. He based this assertion on Mrs. Obama's pledge during the campaign to help military families and he said that she has not made good on her promises. I beg to differ.
Since the election, the Obamas have strongly reminded the nation that the war continues, families still suffer and service members are leaving on their sixth - or more - deployments. Mrs. Obama has visited my Army post, Fort Bragg, and met with military wives whose husbands wear a variety of ranks. President Obama made the Fort Bragg area the second stop for his nationwide Fatherhood Forums initiative, a fascinating and necessary project to explore how to strengthen the role of fathers in troubled settings. I attended both of these events. My husband, our children and I were also among the military families invited to the White House Easter Egg Roll this year. And we didn't even vote for President Obama.
In fact, I was so adamantly opposed to Obama during the campaign that, with my husband deployed on his third tour in Afghanistan, I waited in a very long line to attend a John McCain rally. I even breastfed my then-seven-week-old daughter during the rally so that I wouldn't lose my spot in the front row. A picture of my precious baby girl (rest assured, it was taken well after the feeding was over!) wearing my friend's "Drill, Baby, Drill" pin hit the AP wires and appeared in newspapers around the world the following day. That's how much I opposed Obama - I let my daughter be the poster baby for the other side. But considering that I didn't want the Obamas in the White House, I have to say that since moving in, they have each repeatedly stuck their necks out to make my life easier.
My only suggestion for President and Mrs. Obama now is that they continue to lend their powerful voices to the military community and call on the rest of the country, in a way that their predecessors never did, to get involved in the war effort. I hope that the Obamas will draw on their past experiences to create new ways for Americans to show real, material support for service members and their families. Because that, more than any yellow ribbons or benefit programs, is what it will take to end this culture of War and War-Nots and to reunite a badly fractured nation.
Rebekah Sanderlin is an Army wife, a mother of two, a freelance writer and a member of Blue Star Families who lives in Fayetteville, NC. She writes a blog about military family life called "Operation Marriage" for The Fayetteville Observer.
May 17, 2010; 8:30 AM ET
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