ARLINGTON, VA — January 27, 2010 — resident Barack Obama’s fiscal 2011 budget request calls for a record $8.8 billion for military family support programs, First Lady Michelle Obama told military spouses today at Bolling Air Force Base here.
The request represents a 3 percent increase over current funding, she told attendees at the Joint Armed Forces Officers’ Wives Club annual luncheon.
The budget request will include $1.3 billion to reduce shortages in military child care and ensure its quality remains high, and also increases funding for youth programs, she said.
Another provision will provide $439 million to build 10 new Department of Defense Education Activity Schools. This measure, directed by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, is part of a major, five-year effort to renovate or replace 103 of the schools by 2015.
Obama emphasized the challenges military children face, and the need to ensure they’re cared for.
“We cannot forget that military kids also serve in their own special way,” she said. “They’re just like any other child in this country – except their lives are turned upside-down every time their mom or dad is gone halfway around the world, risking their lives so that all our children can enjoy the freedoms of our democracy.”
As a result, she said, military children often experience higher levels of anxiety and a higher risk of depression than their nonmilitary classmates, and a tougher time focusing at school.
“So, we can never forget just how much these wars affect our military kids, and we all have an obligation to ensure they have the support they need at home and at school,” she said.
Based on input from military spouses, the fiscal 2011 budget request also will include $84 million for spousal career development, Obama said, including tuition assistance and a federal internship program.
Another provision will provide $14 million in new funding for Coast Guard housing.
“These are all major investments, and they are the result of military families speaking up and being heard,” the first lady said. “They are part of a larger, ongoing commitment to care for our troops and their families after the fighting ends.”
Obama said her many interactions with military families over the past year has deepened her respect and gratitude for them, and her recognition of “the spirit and strength and courage that our military families display every day.”
“You put your own priorities aside. You take care of one another. You take care of this nation,” she said. “So, as first lady, I can’t thank you enough for that sacrifice, and I promise you that I will use every ounce of my energy to make sure that America always takes care of you.”
Obama said she recognizes that providing this level of support network will require “active citizens,” as well as the government, working hand in hand. She said she will continue making it a priority to keep asking all Americans to join in supporting military families. She noted, for example, the “Mission Serve” network she and Dr. Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden, helped to launch on Veterans Day to bring civilian and military services groups together to help in supporting military members and their families.
“We’re asking Americans to engage and support military families any way they can,” she said, through job opportunities, professional services, or even babysitting or providing a home-cooked meal. “Our men and women in uniform and their families sacrifice for every single one of us, and every single one of us can do something in return, even if it’s as simple as saying, ‘Thank you.’”
Attendees at today’s luncheon said they welcomed the first lady’s commitment to military families – one they noted that she has demonstrated continually since her husband entered the presidential race.
“The fact that she’s shown such an interest means a lot,” said Meredith Simpson, whose husband, Marine Corps Capt. Neal Simpson, is a student at the Expeditionary Warfare School at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va.
Simpson is no stranger to the challenges military families face. The couple’s 3-year-old twins were born when their father was deployed to Iraq, and they were 3 months old before he met them.
Simpson said she’s encouraged by Obama’s emphasis on putting military families first – and by the example she credits the first lady with showing by putting her own family first. “That’s very promising to me,” she said.