Recently, Michelle Obama appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show. She wasn't there to talk about her powerful husband, what she ate for dinner the night before or who designed the fuchsia dress she was wearing. Instead, the First Lady came to shed light on an issue that normally lies at the back corner of most Americans' minds. Mrs. Obama is shifting attention to military servicemen (and women) and how well they adjust to life after war and how their families cope with these often-uneasy transitions.
She told Oprah stories about members who experienced months away from home. They missed birthdays and holidays. Several parents were forced to raise children alone and answer heartbreaking questions like "when is mommy/daddy coming home?" Once they returned home, some members had trouble finding jobs or adequate healthcare coverage to treat their wounds or emotional battle scars. Some felt as if their communities had simply forgotten about them.
"Their stories took my breath away," Mrs. Obama said, "and I vowed then that if my husband had the honor of serving our country that I would be that voice."
Her dedication to the military didn't start or end with the Oprah show. When her husband was campaigning for president, Mrs. Obama became more aware of the need for a national movement to support the military. And when Barack Obama took office, Mrs. Obama, along with Second Lady Dr. Jill Biden, traveled all over the country and overseas to visit service members and their families. They talked to them about the concerns and challenges they faced and asked for solutions to these problems.
With the help of his wife and Dr. Biden, President Obama announced new initiatives to assist the 3.5 million people that make up the U.S. military. The federal government's approach will focus on four elements: the well-being and psychological health of the military family, ensuring excellence in military children's education and development, developing career and educational opportunities for military spouses, and increasing child care availability.
While the government's response is a start, Mrs. Obama believes every individual can also offer assistance. "One percent of our population is doing 100% of the fighting, but we need 100% of Americans working to support our troops and their families," Mrs. Obama and Dr. Biden wrote in a USA TODAY op-ed last September. The duo encourages every citizen to find out if military families live in their neighborhoods and then think of creative ways to offer support. It can be as simple as walking up to a person in uniform and saying "thank you for your service, welcome home."
"A lot of these women can use a girls' night out, a manicure, a pedicure, a break," she said, "There are things we can do as a nation big and small," Mrs. Obama said.
Visit serve.org for more ideas on how to get involved with the First Lady's initiative.