After 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.
I 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.