By Robin Givhan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 27, 2010; C02
First lady Michelle Obama, on Tuesday afternoon, delivered a promise of more federal money dedicated to supporting military families -- the first tangible results of her many visits to bases and hospitals, as well as conversations with veterans and their loved ones in 2009.
In a 20-minute speech to the Joint Armed Forces Officers' Wives' Luncheon at Bolling Air Force Base, Obama announced a 3 percent increase in funding over the 2010 fiscal year budget. That bump-up in dollars would bring spending on military support -- from child-care services and improved housing to spousal-education programs -- to $8.8 billion.
"These are all major investments," Obama said in her speech. "They are the result of military families speaking up and being heard. And they are part of a larger ongoing commitment to care for our troops and their families even after the fighting ends."
Even before Obama became first lady, she emphasized her concern for military families and the stresses placed on them as the country fights two wars. She spent part of last year reaching out to servicemen and women and their families through private conversations and public events. She thanked them for their dedication before she and vice-presidential spouse Jill Biden attended the opening game of the World Series. And she honored their history when she hosted a tea for military women at the White House. Mostly, however, Obama was on a listening tour.
But she was also quietly serving as a high-profile courier who delivered the concerns of military families to the White House, the Department of Defense, the Department of Homeland Security and elsewhere, according to two White House aides. Obama sought input from White House staff intimately familiar with the demands of military life. She was moved by the story of a teenage daughter having to take on the responsibility of running a household because her mother had to tend to the family's patriarch, who had been severely burned in Baghdad. She was inspired by a Navy SEAL who'd lost both his legs in a bombing in Afghanistan and four months later finished a half-marathon at Disney World. And she was informed by one of her favorite films of the year, "The Hurt Locker," the blunt story of a bomb squad in Iraq. Its scenes of a returning soldier facing the ironies and banalities of civilian life have resonated with real veterans.
The budget increase comes even as the administration is proposing a three-year funding freeze, with only national security-related projects exempt. The first lady, however, suggested in her speech that these support programs are part of national security. "All of you -- our troops and families -- you do your duty and you do it without complaint," she said. "You give your all and ask little in return -- only that we back you up so our troops can do their job."