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Michelle Obama calls on nation to support military spouses

October 26, 2010 | 12:00 pm

Speaking before a crowd of thousands at the annual Women's Conference in Long Beach, First Lady Michelle Obama called on the nation Tuesday to honor and support the nation's military spouses, saying that their struggles and stories remain "invisible" to too many Americans.

"Their loved ones protect every single one of us. Their service keeps our entire country safe," Obama said. "So their sacrifice should be our sacrifice. Supporting them is our solemn obligation as a grateful nation."

The speech at Tuesday's event, hosted by California First Lady Maria Shriver and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, comes as Obama tours the country in support of Democratic candidates. On Monday, she spoke at a fundraiser for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and on Tuesday evening, she will attend a fundraiser for Sen. Barbara Boxer, who is facing a challenge from Republican Carly Fiorina.

On Tuesday, Obama said she was first struck by the stories of military spouses while she was on the 2008 presidential campaign trail, traveling the country and speaking with groups of women about her husband's candidacy. Obama related tales of extended deployments, missed birthdays or anniversaries and the challenges of moving from base to base every few years.

She said she was honoring a campaign pledge to be a voice for military spouses. "As women, we know how to reach out. We know how to support each other," she said. "And the question is, what can we as women do to support our military spouses? How can we as a nation give back to these families who've given so much?"

Obama detailed her husband's efforts to bolster support and counseling programs and increase funding for housing, child-care and career-development services, in addition to extending the Family and Medical Leave Act to more military families and caregivers. But she called on the crowd to volunteer in their own communities to help military spouses.

"The truth is that there is so much more that each of us can do -– and should do -– right in our own communities," Obama said. “Because it's not enough just to be proud. It's not enough just to feel grateful. It's time for each of us to act. It's time for each of us to be an architect of change for these families in whatever way that we can."

-- Michael J. Mishak in Long Beach