A Day to Remember: I Met the First Lady!

michelle and michelle 2After a long hot afternoon at the base pool with my Mom and my three kids, the whole crew staggered in the door tired, hungry, dripping, whining and dragging wet towels. As much as I would have liked to just collapse on the couch – on a towel of course – there was much to do: rinsing, changing, dinner to prepare, dog to walk, and a blinking answering machine to check. My sunscreen haze cleared as soon as I heard the insistent tone of the Naval station public affairs officer asking to call her back immediately. From her wording I could tell it was an opportunity and not an emergency but I also knew it was urgent from the multitude of potential numbers I was given to return her call.

I’ve gotten several incredible invitations since I was chosen as the 2009 Heroes at Home Military Spouse of the Year in May but what the PAO had to tell me iced the cake.

The First Lady of the United States, Michelle Obama, was coming to town and, if I was available, would I like to meet her at the Naval Station? Ummm, let me check my schedule … OF COURSE I’m available and would like to meet her! It was to be confidential, I was told, and to wear church or business attire. That was all I knew – I didn’t know if it was a big group of spouses or just a few; I hadn’t a clue if it was a round-table discussion on military spouse issues or a handshake in passing; and most importantly, I had no idea what I was going to wear.

I go to church every Sunday and I work in an office every day, but somehow my closet and I didn’t seem prepared for such an exciting (and photographed) meeting. Two stressful hours at the mall with my hungry, cranky three children and I had the perfect dress. Read: one that would disguise all my body image issues and be one I could stand to look at in a picture frame for years to come.

By the time I was trying to think of a way to tell my boss I needed the day off without being able to tell her why, the visit had been announced briefly in the news and that hurdle was cleared. My husband also took time off to accompany me and was due home to change into his whites after morning PT. He came home late and limping after a “combat soccer” game but he brushed off my concern and we were soon on our way.

We met several other Navy spouses and their service members and mingled while waiting for instructions and a bus. Some were ombudsmen, some were senior officer spouses and a few were command master chief wives and they represented many of the Navy’s communities – surface, air, submarine, etc.

We boarded a bus for the short drive to Pennsylvania House, a scaled down replica of Independence Hall built in 1907 for the Jamestown Exposition, and after being screened by security, were ushered into the historic building to wait. Mrs. Obama arrived and went upstairs to meet with admirals and hear a brief on Fleet and Family Support services. I still didn’t know what to expect during the actual meeting but a Secret Service agent ushered us into another room with a backdrop, flags and masking tape “X’s” on the floor and said to sign in so our photos could be mailed to us.

I hoped it would be more than just a photo opportunity and suddenly the First Lady walked in, trailed by her photographer and staff, and said, “Hi, I guess we’re taking pictures,” and positioned herself on one of the X’s. I was toward the back of the line and we were all juggling each other’s cameras to take pictures of our own so we’d have them to email and post on our Facebook pages.

Michelle and MichelleI was pleasantly surprised to watch Mrs. Obama take the time to greet each of the wives, shake hands, and ask a question or two before the Secret Service returned their purses and ushered them out the door. This was not a political show, there was no media present. I panicked briefly, trying to think of something meaningful I could say in the time between shaking hands and saying “cheese.”

I needn’t have worried. The Secret Service agent announced my name and recent award to the First Lady and before I could even put out my hand, she’d enveloped me in a hug and a flurry of congratulations and conversation. She was very gracious and asked about our children, my husband’s recent deployments and joked about bringing her husband to mine’s command for a boat ride. A few photos later it was all over and we were back on the bus, but it was well worth the shopping, the worrying and the waiting.

We were all invited to hear the First Lady’s speech in honor of the Hospital Ship Comfort and Eisenhower Carrier Group homecoming. Our bus barely beat the motorcade and despite by husband’s injured ankle, struggled to keep up with him sprinting down the length of the pier in my heels. We joined the small crowd of media and sailors standing at attention for the National Anthem and Mrs. Obama’s remarks.

Politics aside, I think her efforts to raise awareness for the challenges of military life and encourage the country to continue to support our families can only be positive. Whatever the motivation or whether or not we voted for husband is irrelevant if the lives of military families can be improved and more families can be served. It was an honor to meet Michelle Obama and the morning was so special.

Epilogue: The rosy glow soon wore off though, and real life as a regular military family kicked back in when I changed out of my carefully selected dress and pearls and into shorts and flip flops to join the rest of the payday crowd at the commissary. My husband headed to the hospital to get his ankle checked out and returned home unable to help me unload the groceries – he was in a cast and on crutches.

Michelle Galvez is a Navy spouse, ombudsman and mother. She resides with her family in Hampton Roads, Virginia. A writer, volunteer and administrative coordinator for FOCUS (www.focusproject.org), Michelle is a proud member of Blue Star Families.

Michelle Obama Cites BSF Survey and Meets with Members in Norfolk

Blue Star Families members in Norfolk

Blue Star Families members in Norfolk

Today, Mrs. Obama spoke to families of the Comfort and Eisenhower Groups at Norfolk Naval Station in Virginia.  A few lucky BSF members were there and had the opportunity to speak with Mrs. Obama.  Keep checking back for more on that.  In the meantime….

The Virginian Pilot has an article about Mrs. Obama’s visit as does The Caucus, the political blog of The New York Times.  In fact, The Caucus, shows an excellent photo of BSF Membership Director, Vivian Greentree, with Michelle Obama and a photo of Mike Greentree on a stick!
In her speech, Mrs. Obama mentioned us, stating:

According to a recent survey by Blue Star Families, 94 percent of our military families don’t feel like their communities know of their struggles.

You can find more about our Military Families survey on the Blue Star Families website, or you can link directly to the BSF Survey Powerpoint and BSF Survey PDF as well.
Mrs. Obama’s remarks are, in full, below the fold.  Or you can watch the video.
***************************************************************************************************
THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the First Lady
________________________________________________________________________________
For Immediate Release                                                                   July 31, 2009

REMARKS BY THE FIRST LADY
UPON THE RETURN OF THE USNS COMFORT AND USS EISENHOWER

Norfolk Naval Base
Norfolk, Virginia
12:42 P.M. EDT
MRS. OBAMA: Thank you so much. Good afternoon.
AUDIENCE: Good afternoon.
MRS. OBAMA: I am delighted to be here in Norfolk today to welcome home so many heroes. Welcome home! (Applause.)
Thank you Admiral Tidd and Captain Negus for your kind words. And even more importantly, thank you for your service and leadership as commanders of the Carrier Strike Group 8 and the Continuing Promise 2009 mission.
I had the pleasure of meeting Captain Negus’s wife Afifi, just now in the photo line, beautiful red dress — and I know that she represents all of the military spouses who are thrilled to have their husbands and wives, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, and grandchildren back home. Isn’t that right? (Applause.)
I would also like to thank Admiral Harvey, Commander of the U.S. Fleet Forces Command, and Vice Admiral Williams, Commander of the U.S. Second Fleet. You are role models for all of us in our commitment to excellence and your dedication to your country and to your sailors. Continue reading

BSF Newsletter for June 2, 2009

blue-star-family-logo3

Blue Star Families Weekly News Round-Up

All the Latest in Everything Blue Star Families

It’s been another busy week for BSF! The highlight was having the honor of being invited to The White House for an amazing meeting with the First Lady and others about military family issues.  More on that below.

If you want your BSF info and links to articles and events  emailed directly to you each Tuesday, JOIN US today!  If you want your info more often than once a week with our Weekly News & Info Roundup, join is on Facebook, follow us on twitter and check out our Blue Star Families Blog

There’s a lot of excitement about Blue Star Families and the best way to make sure you are in the middle of it all is to join your local chapter.  Just shoot Vivian a note at members@bluestarfam.org and she’ll get you connected.

Enjoy! Heidi & The Blue Star Families Team

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BSF Meets with The First Lady and Others to Discuss Military Families

Last week, BSF Founder and President Kathy Roth-Douquet, and Executive Director, Claire Woodward hit the pavement in DC again to make and strengthen Blue Star Families’ relationships with some amazing folks.

Read all about it on Kathy’s blog posting, “The First Lady Quotes BSF Survey (again!) & more from Kathy’s recent trip to DC”.

It’s all VERY exciting!

TODAY Show Scheduled to Feature Blue Star Families Wednesday, June 3

Blue Star Families is scheduled to be featured on the TODAY Show this Wednesday! Our segment in the “Call To Action” series is scheduled to air June 3 between 7:00 and 9:00, most likely in the 8:00 hour. TODAY’s “Call to Action” series aims to get Americans to step up their support for service members and military families. Check out the TODAY Show website (where we are linked!) for more information.

The TODAY Show also wants you to send in a photo of your loved ones in the military. Be sure to mention Blue Star Families in your caption!

Have You Experienced Dramatic Career Changes as a Result of Being a Military Spouse?

If so, you might have the chance to take part in a radio show about dramatic career changes. As military spouses, many of us have followed different career paths than we expected. Did you leave a safe job to persue your dream? If you would like to talk about your experience as a part of a live radio show (June 12 from 9-10 am EST) email AMWhite@BlueStarFam.org.

Institute of Medicine to Start Comprehensive Study of the Needs of All OIF/OEF Vets & their Families ~ Calling for Interested BSF Members in NORTH CAROLINA!

The Institute of Medicine, part of the National Academies, is carrying out this important study and they are asking for Blue Star Families’ help. The IOM committee that’s carrying out the study will be in North Carolina from June 2-4 — around Fort Bragg and Camp Lejeune. If you are interested in potentially participating in town hall meetings in both communities, please let Vivian know by emailing her at members@BlueStarFam.org

Want to be featured on our Blue Star Families Website?

Why is Blue Star Families important to you? What is YOUR military family story? Let us know by sending your story and photo of you (and your military family if you like) to Rebekah at rebekahsanderlin@hotmail.com and you just might see yourself on the Blue Star Families website!

Reassuring Op-Ed Piece in The Flagship

Our own Casey Spurr penned a touching op-ed called Duty on the Homefront in a recent edition of Hampton Roads’ “The Flagship”. Casey, who is Blue Star Families’ Director of Programs, puts an eloquent voice to the internal struggle most of us feel as military spouses from time to time ~ and comes to a reassuring conclusion that ties us all together. Enjoy!

Touching Piece on Parenting.com

Be sure to check out Anita Tedali’s poignant piece titled The Children of Military Families on Parenting.com. She shares so wonderfully with other parents not so familiar with the military family lifestyle, the perspective of our little ones’ during deployments. Great work Anita!

Military Moms Hit NPR’s Tell Me More

‘For Family, for Country’ Military Moms Do It All For moms who are on active duty, meeting professional obligations while raising a family can be a tricky and challenging balance. Lt. Carey Lohrenz (ret.), Lt. Cmdr. Lina Maloney (ret.) and Pilar Artega, a petty officer first class in the Navy, discuss parenting in the military.

New Independent Documentary ~ Follow the Film’s Progress and Meet the Participants & Crew

Operation Ultimate Goal is film about honor, courage and commitment – core values of The US Marine Corps. The title story is from Iraq’s al Anbar province where in 2008, Marines created a soccer league for Iraqi children. The film follows such stories through interviews and live action video shot on location. Check out the website for more info.

In the News:

Homeowners Assistance Program Expanded for some Servicemembers

Congress has included $555 million in the economic stimulus package under a temporarily expanded Homeowner Assistance Program (HAP) to provide eligible military and DoD civilians some reimbursement for losses they may incur on the sale of their primary residence in conjunction with certain types of moves.

There are three groups affected by the expansion of the HAP: 1. Warriors in Transition with a 30% or greater disability (i.e. wounded service members relocating for treatment or medical retirement), and the survivors of fallen service members killed in the line of duty or who have died on deployment on or after September 11, 2001, 2. Service members and DoD civilians affected by the BRAC05, and 3. Service members and DoD civilians suffering a loss on the sale of their home as a result of a permanent change of station (PCS). For categories 2 and 3, the expansion of the program will expire by September 20, 2012 (or at an earlier date designated by the Secretary of Defense). For category 1, eligibility for the expanded HAP is not temporary.

For more information on the HAP, list of FAQ’s or to apply, visit the HAP web site at http://www.facebook.com/l/;http://hap.usace.army.mil/

Spouse Career Program Expanded Nationwide

Beginning mid-May 2009, DoD is expanding the Military Spouse Career Advancement Accounts (MyCAA).

Though the pilot program was available to E1 to E5 and 0-1 to 0-3 spouses in eight states and 18 installations, the expanded program will allow eligible military spouses of active duty and activated Guard and Reserve servicemembers in all ranks — and worldwide — to receive up to $6,000 of financial assistance, paid directly to their school, to help pay for expenses associated with pursuing a portable career, including tuition, fees, books, and equipment.

Originally limited to only E1 to E5 and 0-1 to 0-3 spouses, military spouses of active duty and activated Guard and Reserve service members in all ranks now will be able to apply for MyCAAs. For more information, visit Military OneSource http://www.facebook.com/l/;(www.militaryonesource.com).

Thanks to MOAA’s Sue Hoppin (& BSF Member!) for this great info!

First Lady Quotes BSF Survey (again!) & more from Kathy Roth-Douquet’s recent trip to DC

How exciting to be invited to the White House to meet with the First Lady about military family issues!  The First Lady’s office, specifically Trooper Sanders, had put a great deal of thought and consideration into the meeting, and dedicated an almost unbelievably impressive amount of talent to the afternoon.  This is already the White House the first identified military families even as an issue – but they really went above and beyond with this day.

We had three and a half hours of peoples time at this gathering.  Extremely busy and consequential people – of course the First Lady, but also Dr. Biden.  It reminds me of the song we sing on Passover – Diyanu (die-yai-new), which means ‘enough’.  We say, if you had freed us from Egypt and not parted the Red Sea, it would have been enough.  If you had parted the Red Sea but not sustained us in the desert, Diyanu.  If you had sustained us in the desert but not given the Ten Commandments, Diyanu.  You get the idea.  Well – if they had invited us to the White House, Diyanu!  Brought the First Lady but not the National Security Advisor, Diyanu!  Brought General Jones but not the Vice Chariman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, or the Director of OMB (the adorable Peter Orzag), or the Assistant Secretary of the Treasury, or the Deputy Chief of Staff to President Obama, and on, and on, and on – Diyanu!

The ambitious program included about thirty of us representing or serving military families.  The connections began even before we walked in the door.  Kristy Kaufman Turner, who wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post about the struggles so many Army families have with underfunded FRGs during deployment, and I met before-hand at Teaism, just around the corner from the Old Executive Office Building, and had a lovely, very non-Beaufort-SC lunch of vegetarian bento box and iced green tea (no one asked ‘sweet or unsweet’!).  Then in the first security screening post before we entered, I met the director of the Purdue Military Family Research Institute, which I’d heard so much about.  I’m going to try to visit them this summer when I drive my children cross country to see their cousins in Indiana.

Sherri Brown from the Red Cross was there – we are great fans of hers, and her interest and help with our survey. We certainly hope to do more projects with them.  Frank Gallo, another of our partners from our survey, the director of the Armed Services YMCA. I had been lucky enough to see him a couple weeks prior when my daughter won an award from them for a poster she drew (look for it in November – month of the military family!)  Ross Cohen, who we are partnering with was there, he runs a service program called Be The Change you will be hearing more about soon.  Holly Petraes, the general’s wife, was there, she is a director for the Better Business Bureau – shows the range of things we military wives may do.  The passionate Ken Fisher of Fisher House was a great addition.  Barbara van Dahlen Romberg, a psychologist who founded Give an Hour, who Laura Dempsey has been in touch with was there, also very articulate and focused on her issue of mental health.  I met the outgoing national president of Gold Star Mothers – her son was a Medal of Honor winner in Vietnam – its impossible not to be moved by a story like that. She sat next to me.  On the other side was Phil Riley of the American Legion, a real gentleman, who asked to see more about our survey, so I will send that to him.  Claire and I had just met the elegant and gracious Patty Shinseki the day prior, along with the president of Military Child Education Coalition Mary Keller, who is so smart and focused.  I have admired them from afar for awhile, and am very excited at the prospect of partnering with them for some projects – particularly for ways that we may be able to take advantage of the incredible work they’ve done, and work on getting it out to the bases.  Joyce Raezer was there of course, with NMFA, our unofficial godmother we think of her.  It was particularly terrific to meet Brittany McKee, the military representative from Sierra Club who wants to get more involved with us, and the Operation Homefront Rep, Nancy Tarr, who we expect to enjoy good partnerships from as well.  Finally, I spoke briefly with Sloan Gibson of the USO, another of our survey partners, and a very charismatic guy.

The afternoon was set up as a series of briefings, with opportunities for questions.  We were welcomed, got an overview of the stimulus package, the President’s budget, how the White House works.  We heard specifically about education, youth, and communities in one session, about veterans, wounded warriors and disability policy in another, about economic affairs in a third, and about White House engagement and public service in the last session.

The highlight of course was the First Lady.  In a letter included in our packet she said, “…this Administration is committed to reducing the stress on servicemembers and their families.   I truly believe that this is a cause that calls each of us to serve…  It is my great hope that all Americans will honor our men and women in uniform by never taking the blessings of freedom for granted and by doing our part to support the families of our military.”

When she spoke, she said she was committed to making sure that military families have a home in the White House no matter who is president.  She quoted the ‘survey by Blue Star Families’ saying that 94% of military families feel disconnected from the larger society.  She said that figure shocked her, and she says, if we do nothing else, she wants to lower that percentage.  How amazing and gratifying it was to hear that our voices reached her, and made a difference. In fact Patty Shinseki and others have told us they have heard her say this all over town.  So for all of you who participated in the survey, please feel that you have made a difference, and thank you.

There is certainly opportunity for follow up, and more work with them.  This meeting was a great start, and Trooper and the others who worked on it deserve a lot of credit.  We will continue to ask for input from Blue Star Families folks around the country for what we can do to help keep them up to date about our issues, challenges, and great ideas.

Kathy Roth-Douquet

Founder and President

Blue Star Families

Notes from our meeting with the First Lady

Blue Star Families joined representatives from about 30 other organizations in meeting with the First Lady about Military Families. Here’s the latest from Kathy Roth-Douquet, who was there for Blue Star Families:

“Meeting with the First Lady was GREAT! She quoted our poll “Blue Star Families poll says 94 percent feel disconnected” – and I’ve been hearing all over town that this is the line she keeps referencing! Its amazingly gratifying to have been useful to the dialogue and to be able to aggregate the experience of so many real families on the ground in a way that is heard by the First Lady. But there’s more – she said that if she could accomplish one thing in her tenure, she would just want to lower that number! She really listened to a broad range of groups – VSOs, NMFA, Operation Homecoming, American Legion, Sierra Club, Delaware Boots on the ground, etc. There were about thirty participants. They let us ask questions of administration officials, and asked for more input. I’m following up with more white house meetings today. I asked for a copy of her remarks for us to post – Gen Jones’ and Dr. Biden’s too – they were all fantastic! Dashing to more meetings now but I’ll write more.”

Thanks Kathy!

The First Lady at Fort Bragg

Michelle Obama

Michelle Obama spent Thursday, March 12 touring Fort Bragg and speaking to community volunteers and officials in neighboring Fayetteville, NC. It was her first trip away from Washington since her husband’s inauguration and was seen by many as her making good on a campaign promise to make military families one of her top priorities.

The first lady spent the early part of the day visiting with soldiers and their spouses and touring the Soldier Support Center and a child development center on post. She read the Dr. Suess book “The Cat in the Hat” to preschoolers in the center and when she told them that she had children of her own, a two-year-old called out, “I know Sasha! I know Malia!” which seemed to charm Mrs. Obama.

In the late afternoon she spoke to about 80 people gathered in the Arts Council building in downtown Fayetteville. The event was invitation-only and most of those present were volunteers with about 30 organizations that help military families. (Blue Star Families had a representative present at the event.) Many had worked on the Boots and Booties baby shower held in Fayetteville in November. More than 900 military moms received baby gifts at the shower and it received national media attention. Mrs. Obama told her audience that efforts such as the baby shower were an example for the rest of the country on ways to help military families.

“I encourage everyone out there, within the sound of my voice, to reach out on your own – through schools, PTA, Little Leagues, churches, workplaces – and find out if there is a soldier or a soldier’s family right there in the community who needs a little extra support,” she said.”

Representatives from Fort Bragg and Fayetteville all said they were thrilled that Obama chose the area as the destination for her first trip as first lady.

Charlene Austin, whose husband, Lt. Gen. Lloyd Austin, is the commanding general for Fort Bragg, called Mrs. Obama’s visit “a dream come true.” Austin spent much of the day showing the first lady around Fort Bragg  and said that she now feels like the military community has an advocate in the first lady. “We truly are all in this together,” Austin said.

Kristie Lozano, who works with the Fayetteville/Cumberland County Chamber of Commerce, said she thought it was especially nice that the first lady took the time to meet some of the civilians who support the military families at Fort Bragg. “She seems to completely understand that support around an installation is integral to the success of the soldiers,” Lozano said “I’m just glad the first lady understands how important it is for Americans to support those who have been sacrificing for us for a very, very, very long time.”

Michelle Obama for Military Families

Photo by Stephanie Himel-Nelson

Photo by Stephanie Himel-Nelson

Go check out this article from Operation Homefront today.  We’re thrilled to hear about our First Lady’s continued interest in military families.  It doesn’t hurt that BSF members Angie Morgan and Kimberly Taylor-Beer are quoted.

From the article:

In the days soon after President Obama won the election, she personally telephoned a group that organized energetically on the couple’s behalf: Blue Star Families for Obama.

“She made a point to personally thank us and reinforce her commitment to putting military families in the forefront,” said Angie Morgan, a founder of the group, which is now calling itself simply “Blue Star Families.”

First Lady for Military Families

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