Michelle Obama Speeches: Women in the Military, Health Insurance Reform, Diet and Exercise (2009)

Uploaded by thefilmarchived on 29.08.2012

MRS. OBAMA: I want to thank the General for that kind introduction, and to thank her for
her lifetime of service to this nation in the United States Air Force and as the leader
of the Women in Military Service for America Memorial. I just did a tour with the General,
and this is an amazing asset to this nation. It's something that many of us don't even
know exists, and I could have spent hours there.
I strongly encourage anyone in this country who hasn't taken the time to see this memorial.
It goes through the whole progression of women into the military, with contributions from
family members from around this country, pictures, uniforms. I'm going to spend more time here
and bring my girls, because it is something that I want them to see. So I'm grateful to
have the opportunity to see this, and will be working hard to make sure that this memorial
continues to be a part of this nation's heritage. (Applause.)
I also want to thank a few people, as well. I want to thank General Dunwoody, the nation's
first female four-star general, which deserves its own round of applause -- (applause); Vice
Admiral Vivien Cray of the United States Coast Guard -- and I know there a few Coast Guards
out there; I heard you -- (applause); and to Congresswomen Mary Fallin, as well as Laura
Richardson and my hometown congressperson Jan Schakowsky. (Applause.) I also have to
recognize someone else from home, our good friend, dear dear friend, Tammy Duckworth.
(Applause.) It's good to see you. (Applause.) I am honored to be here with you all. As the
General said, of course this is -- this month is Women's History Month, and it provides
an opportunity for Americans to discover and reflect on the accomplishments of women throughout
our nation's history. But it provides an opportunity to celebrate
the many contributions women make today in national life as leaders in business, government,
the community, the military, and of course in everyday life, which is how we women live,
mostly as mothers, daughters, wives, colleagues and friends. And I couldn't think of a better
way to begin Women's History Month than by coming here to the Women's Memorial at Arlington
National Cemetery to honor our nation's servicewomen. As I speak, servicewomen and men are at their
posts all across our nation and around the world. They're standing watch and providing
the security that allows us to live in peace and to continue on with our daily lives.
That includes two whom I have just met -– Lieutenant Grace Thompson and Corporal Crystal Moultrie
of the United States Marines. We keep them, the wounded who are recovering, and those
who gave the ultimate sacrifice, so that we may live in safety and freedom, we keep them
in our thoughts and our prayers. Throughout our nation's history, women have
played an important role in the military as well as in organizations supporting the military
during times of conflict. Our foremothers and our sisters today have joined our forefathers
and our brothers today in securing our liberty and protecting our country.
Women's military service goes back to America's early beginnings, and servicewomen have long
navigated the twists and turns of the women's rights struggle to secure a more equal and
fuller place in the United States military. This history was interesting to me. In 1782
Deborah Sampson disguised herself and enlisted in the Fourth Massachusetts Regiment. She
was wounded at the Battle of Tarrytown in New York. Later, she appealed for back pay
as a former Continental Army soldier and was supported by Paul Revere. The measure was
passed by the Massachusetts legislature and approved by the governor, John Hancock.
Then there was Dr. Mary Edwards Walker, a military doctor, who became the nation's first
female Medal of Honor recipient for her service during the Civil War.
And then we moved to the 20th century, where women became full-fledged members of the United
States military with the creation of the Army and Navy Nurse Corps in 1901 and 1908.
And we are joined here today by two amazing women -- they gave me their ages, but there's
no reason to know, because they look about 30, 40, to me -- (laughter) -- Mary Ragland
and Alice Dixon, who served in the "Six-Triple Eight," the only unit of African American
women in the Women's Army Corps to serve overseas during World War II. Please give them a round
of applause. I know Mary is here. (Applause.) Spring chickens. (Laughter.) And if you live
right, you may be sitting right there in a few decades. (Laughter.)
There's also Esther Corcoran, who is also with us, enlisted as a private in the Women's
Army Auxiliary Corps and was later entered into Officer Candidate School. She was eventually
promoted to Lieutenant Colonel, one of the first 10 women to achieve this rank. (Applause.)
Currently serving her country is Lieutenant Commander Cindy Campbell. She began her Navy
career as an E1, served at sea and on the homeland. She put herself through college
and graduate school at night and became an officer. She now works in the White House
Military Office, right outside my office in the East Wing. Cindy serves as a mentor to
servicewomen and men in earlier stages of their careers, and I and my staff benefit
from her expertise and dedication every day. Cindy, where are you? She's way in the back.
(Applause.) These women and thousands of others set a
standard for excellence that enables women who serve today to take on even greater responsibilities.
A recent Women's Memorial Women's History Month poster is called "Voices of Valor" and
spotlights five decorated servicewomen from each of the Armed Forces who've served or
are serving in the current war. One is Silver Star recipient Sergeant Lee
Ann Hester. She's the first woman to have been decorated for direct actions against
an enemy force. There's also Lieutenant Lisa Starr [sic],
a United States Navy Nurse, who volunteered for a nighttime flight in Iraq during a sandstorm
that had grounded all medical helicopters to save the life of a wounded Marine.
And there's Fighter pilot Captain Kim Campbell, who displayed extraordinary skill at the controls
of her aircraft to support and protect the lives of her fellow soldiers fighting on the
ground in Iraq. There's Second Class Marine Science Technician
Sarah Vega, who served in both Iraq and Afghanistan and is an example of the bravery that men
and women of the United States Coast Guard are displaying in war zones today.
And then Marine Corporal Ramona Valdez who, in addition to her other duties, was teamed
up with 16 other servicewomen to form an all-female search force in Iraq as a proactive effort
to calm Iraqi concerns that male soldiers might search Muslim women. Her convoy was
attacked and she was killed four days before her 21st birthday.
Marine Major General Douglas O'Dell Jr. wept as he awarded Purple Hearts to the survivors
from Corporal Valdez's force. He said he was moved, I quote, "not by special sympathy for
the women" but because of the display of equality born of that horrible day in Fallujah. The
general went on to explain that while military leaders believed women Marines could perform
as bravely as men under deadly attack, there had never been a trial like the one in Fallujah
to prove it. Members of the military and their families
have a special courage and strength. As the President said last week during his address
at Camp Lejeune, service doesn't end with the person wearing the uniform. You all know
that. And I have been honored and deeply moved to
meet many military families over the past couple of years. They are mothers and fathers
who have lost their beloved children to war. They are husbands and wives keeping the family
on track while their wives and husbands are deployed, on duty. They are grandparents,
aunts and uncles, sisters and brothers who are taking care of children while single moms
or dads in uniform are away. And there are moms and dads who both serve
in uniform -- like helicopter pilots Colonels Laura and Jim Richardson who in 2003 became
the first couple to have led their own battalions during a time of combat. And during that time,
they were able to leave their 14-year-old daughter in the care of family when they were
deployed. See, military families have done their duty,
and we as a grateful nation must do ours. We must do everything in our power to honor
them by supporting them; not just by word but by deed.
And it is my great hope that today's and future generations will honor women and men in uniform
by first of all never taking the blessings of freedom for granted and by doing their
part to create a more perfect union. I know that we will continue to do our parts over
the coming years. Again, I want to thank you all for your service,
for your courage, for your dedication, for your commitment. And may God bless you all,
and God bless America. Thank you so much. (Applause.)
MRS. OBAMA: Thank you, everyone. (Applause.) Good afternoon and welcome to the White House!
(Laughter.) Tonight's house is a little warm in here. (Laughter.) But it is a pleasure
to be here with you today to celebrate the 10th Anniversary of the National Design Awards
and to honor some of the country's most compelling innovators. And I got to meet them all. They
are terrific, and we are just thrilled to have you with us today.
Congratulations to all of you -- our honorees and those of you just working hard getting
the job done. How are you, sir? It's good to see you. (Laughter.)
You are scientists and artists. Your work is both practical and poetic, educational
and inspirational. You represent diverse fields of disciplines but you share the common thread
of superior design. What I love about design is the artistic and
scientific complexity that also becomes useful: a laptop, a bridge, an outfit -- (laughter)
-- a garden, all drawn from a thousand wells of inspiration and yet grounded in the basic
principles of math or science. Great designers also pursue a mission. Great
designers design with mankind in mind. Building on the innovations of the past, you help to
shape a better future. Like your lifetime achievement honoree Bill Moggridge, what would
we do without our laptops! (Laughter.) My kids would die. (Laughter.) They'd be -- they
wouldn't make it through the summer. I don't know whether to thank you, Bill, for that.
(Laughter.) But that future and our ability to solve the
great challenges of our time will depend on how we educate and engage the current generation.
That's why the President has made such a strong commitment to ensuring access to high-quality
education for all children, particularly in math and science.
And today the President and Secretary Duncan are announcing the "Race to the Top," which
is a competitive grant to spur education reform across the country and encourage educators
and leaders to embrace innovative approaches to teaching and to learning.
As part of the Recovery Act, Congress has allotted more than $4 billion for this competition
–- funding that'll be used for competitive grants to states, school districts, and non-profit
partners that are most successful at raising standards, improving student learning, and
turning around struggling schools. That is very exciting.
But when it comes to innovation, you all know full well that an educational foundation is
only part of the equation, right; that in order for creativity to flourish and imagination
to take hold we also need to expose our children to the arts from a very young age.
Even Albert Einstein knew better, right? He knew that there is only so much that a good
education could do. These were his words. He said, "I am enough of an artist to draw
freely upon my imagination." "Imagination," he said, "is more important than knowledge.
Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world." That's from Einstein, so I think
he knew what he was talking about. (Laughter.) We need to ensure that our children have both
–- knowledge and imagination. I know I want that for my girls. They deserve to have access
to a good education and access to ideas and images that will spark their creativity.
And as First Lady, I have spent a lot of time trying to break down barriers that too often
exist between major cultural establishments and the people in their immediate communities.
So we've been sending a lot of role models out there in the far reaches of this city
and then inviting kids to come back here to the White House. That's been a big part of
the messages of every single event that we've done here at the White House. These kids who
are living just inches away from power and prestige and fortune and fame, we want those
kids to know that they belong here, too. We want them to know that they belong here in
the White House and in the museums, and in libraries, and laboratories all over this
country. And I want to thank you all today for helping
carry that mission out by going out today into the community and making sure that kids
know that they belong on the cutting edge of design just the same; that they belong
in the world of discovery and science, reminding them that they belong in the presence of great
art and beauty; that it is theirs just as much as anyone's in this nation.
And earlier today you shared your visions, your ideas, your experiences and expertise
by leading workshops at Smithsonian locations across Washington D.C. And I am grateful to
all of you for taking the time to make that happen. From type fonts to technology, from
silks and satins to sustainability –- you brought science to life at these seminars.
And I've heard glowing reviews about them, and I hope you found them fun, as well.
And I want to thank you for inspiring the next generation of artists and scientists,
architects and engineers, innovators and educators and for your contributions to the advancement
of design. Thank you so very, very much. And as I mentioned, the crossroads of science
and art, innovation and inspiration are what I love about design. So I'm honored to introduce
a man who represents the combination of both. Wayne Clough, the man who leads one of our
nation's premier cultural institutions as Secretary to the Smithsonian, is a trained
civil engineer. His years at Georgia Tech planted him firmly on the science and technology
end of the spectrum. But here he is, ably leading, right -- he's doing a good job -- (laughter
and applause) -- he is ably leading the organization famous for housing the treasures of both science
and art, the wonders of nature and mankind, and the marvels of the heavens and the earth.
He is the perfect example of the symbiotic character of science and art. And I am so
honored to introduce him to you today, our wonderful guest, our host, someone who make
my life easier as we explore the Smithsonians with my kids, Wayne Clough. Thank you all.
MRS. OBAMA: Well, thank you. Yes, it is a little warm. (Laughter.) But it was cool in
there -- there's some cool air coming out. But I want to thank you so much for having
me here today. It's a pleasure to be with all of you to cut the ribbon and declare Caroline
Family Practice Community Health Center officially open for business. That's a good thing. (Applause.)
So you've been open for a little bit, but this is the official opening.
I want to thank Rod for that wonderful introduction and for everything that he's done and the
Central Virginia Health Services are doing to keep families and communities healthy across
this nation. I want to do a few more thank you's. I want
to thank and acknowledge Bettina Reed, who you just saw, the Site Director here at Caroline
Family Practice, for her tireless hard work in getting this center up and running in such
a short period of time. It's a miraculous endeavor even when you do have the money.
So this is a wonderful thing. I also want to recognize Mary Wakefield, who
I saw earlier. I think she's in the air-conditioned room, but don't be mad. (Laughter.) She's
the Administrator of the Health Resources and Services Administration, and some of her
colleagues are here with us today, and I want to recognize them for their work to promote
centers like this all throughout the country. And we also have the First Lady of Virginia
here, a good friend of mine, and her lovely daughter, Anne and Annella, who are joining
us here. We're thrilled that they could come. I've gotten to know this lady over the course
of the last couple of years, and I just love her to death, and I am grateful for everything
that she and her husband and her family are doing to support places like this. And it
means so much that you're here, because I know this is your thing just as much as anyone's.
I also want to thank the Vice Chair of the Caroline County Board of Supervisors, Max
Rozell; the Mayor of Bowling Green who's here, David Storke; Town Manager, Steve Manster,
for all their dedication and leadership -- because none of this stuff happens without the right
leadership. So, thank you. And finally, I have to thank all the health
care providers who are here and all the health care providers who are listening -– the
doctors and the nurses and all the others who've chosen to work in underserved communities
like this one. When you know that many of these folks could have gone to fancy practices
and made a lot more money, it's just important to know that there are people who are making
commitments to places like Bowling Green, and they're making these communities a primary
focus of their practice. And we have to commend those folks and encourage others to join them
in what is a fulfilling and important endeavor. So we have to acknowledge all of them for
their hard work. (Applause.) And that's sort of one of the things I'd like
to talk a little bit about -- oh, no, one more person -- Ms. Maggie James, who -- I
don't know if you know, but I know she is the oldest living person in Caroline County.
And she came here to see me. (Applause.) She is 109 years young, and looking great in that
fuchsia. (Laughter.) It's pink, but it's fabulous. (Laughter.) And I'm grateful, Ms. James, that
you came to see me. But I wanted to talk a bit about why the work
that everyone is doing here is so critical, not just in this community, but all across
the nation –- and not just for the health of our families, but for the future of our
entire health care system. So I know many of you have been following
the debate that's going on out there in Washington where I live now. And I know that with all
the numbers, and the ads, and the back-and-forth on TV news shows, it gets easy to lose sight
about what it's all about -- all that discussion. But as I've traveled the country over the
past couple years, campaigning for my husband, and even working in health administration,
no matter where I've gone, no matter who I've been talking to, they always want to talk
about health care. I don't care if you're lucky enough to have a good health care system
or not, you either know someone who has struggled under the current system, and it has been
the number-one issue on the minds of the majority of Americans that I've talked to.
And I think that there's one fact –- one statistic –- that should remind us all exactly
what's at stake here, and that is that we spend more money on health care than any other
nation on Earth. We do, already today. Yet we are nowhere near the healthiest. And that
says something. We're nowhere near the healthiest. In fact, people in some of the countries that
spend less than we do are actually living longer than we do here in this nation. And
one of the main -- that's other than Ms. James, of course. (Laughter.)
And one of the main reasons for this is the reason why we're all here today –- and it's
because that right now, today here in America, 60 million people in this country don't have
adequate access to primary care. They don't have any access at all. Many of them are uninsured
and can't afford any kind of health care at all. That's a good chunk of them. Many actually
have insurance, but live in underserved areas, like this one –- inner cities or small rural
towns where there aren't any primary care providers to speak of. They have to drive
hours. So what happens to folks in America in this
situation is that they don't get check-ups. They don't get regular, routine screenings
that keep us healthy. When they get sick, their only option is to wait until it gets
so bad that they have to visit the emergency room. And then they wind up lurching from
illness to illness, and crisis to crisis, getting emergency care instead of health care.
And we wind up spending billions of dollars each year to treat diseases that –- for
far less money –- we could prevent in the first place.
We will spend thousands of dollars for an emergency room visit and hospital stay for
a child, for example, having an acute asthma attack that could have been prevented by a
$100 doctor's visit and a $50 inhaler. We'll spend tens of thousands to treat complications
from diabetes that could have been prevented by a couple hundred dollars worth of counseling
on nutrition and blood sugar monitoring. And today, chronic -– and preventable -- illnesses
like diabetes and obesity, heart disease and high blood pressure consume 85 percent of
all health care spending in this country. That's what we're spending our money on here.
And if you think that's bad, just wait a few years. Because right now, if we think about
our children, nearly a third of them in this country are overweight or obese, and a third
will suffer from diabetes at some point in their lifetimes. In the African American and
Hispanic communities, that number goes up to half -- half of all those kids will be
in that situation. It's gotten so bad that this week, experts from across the country
are meeting in Washington for what they're calling a "Weight of the Nation" conference
sponsored by the CDC to discuss how we can address the rising threat of obesity, particularly
in our children. So we know that something is not quite right
with the current system. We sort of know that. Our experiences tell us that. We know we need
to start focusing on primary care and preventative care –- on promoting wellness, and not just
treating sickness. That's the mission of this community center
and health centers like it across the country that serve 17 million of our fellow citizens
-– not just to make diagnoses and hand out prescriptions, but to understand why people
are getting sick in the first place, and how they can get healthy and stay healthy in the
future. See, when someone goes to the emergency room
with a fever or a sore throat, chances are they'll get a quick exam, they'll get some
antibiotics, and they’ll get a pretty hefty bill. But when they come to a place like this,
the providers here may very well ask them when they had their last blood pressure checked.
Or they'll delve a little deeper -- they might ask whether they're getting regular mammograms,
and how often they exercise, and if they've gotten that mole on their arm checked out.
They just dig a little bit deeper in places like this. It's an approach to care that's
about curing illness and preventing it at the same time.
And it's an approach that's about making sure that people can actually take advantage of
the care that's provided. There's a whole 'nother level to care, making sure that people
actually can access what's available. In community health centers across the country, they don't
just give people appointments; they help folks find transportation to actually get to those
appointments. Right here, folks don't just write prescriptions;
they make sure that people can actually fill them out, that they can connect with programs
to ensure that they do. And folks here don't just tell someone that they need a specialist,
but they actually get on the phone and find that specialist, even if it means making dozens
of calls until they find someone that the patient can afford.
In places like this, care is provided in languages that patients can understand, in a way that's
respectful of their various cultures, and that takes into account the challenges they
face in their everyday life. Ultimately, practice here isn't just about
diagnosing problems –- it's about caring for people. It's about educating people so
that they can better educate themselves. And it's about giving people the security of knowing
that health care will be there for them and their families whenever they need it.
And when you get right down to it, that's what the debate in Washington is all about.
And if you really think about it, that's why my husband and so many folks in Congress are
fighting so hard for reform that lowers people's costs and ensures that all families have good
coverage that they can actually afford. What they're doing is critical not just for
the work this center is doing here in Bowling Green, but for all people across this country.
It's critical to all of us. And that's one of the key points that I want to make: that
health insurance reform isn't just about the nearly 46 million Americans who don't have
insurance; it's also about all those folks who do.
If you think about it for a minute, right now, for example, you might have a good plan
that you really like and think our health system is great just the way it is. Show of
hands? (Laughter.) But the question becomes, even if you're in
that situation, what happens if you lose your job, and then your coverage goes away, and
then you can't find a new job right away? Those are some of the stories I've heard.
Or if you want to change jobs, but your new employer doesn't offer any insurance at all
because more and more employers are finding it difficult to keep up with the cost of health
care? Or what if you decide you want to change insurance plans, but your new insurer decides
that you have a preexisting condition, or your age or your gender or your health status
means that they need to charge you a fortune for that insurance? What if you get sick,
and they decide you're too expensive to insure? That happens. And then they drop your coverage
completely. See, these are the things that happen to hardworking, responsible people
who've done exactly what they thought they should do. It's happening every single day
across this country. And of course, there are plenty of folks who
won't experience any of these misfortunes. There really are. They're blessed. And despite
rising costs and declining coverage, some of them are convinced that things are just
fine right now. But even if that were true, even if the status quo were acceptable to
us, then the question becomes, what about 10 years from now?
If we don't pass reform, within a decade we'll actually be spending one out of every five
dollars we earn on health insurance. In 30 years, when my kids are ready to come into
the world, it will be one in every three dollars spent on health care. So think about that
-- one in every three dollars by the time our kids get to be where we are. And without
reform, what we spend on Medicaid and Medicare -- government programs -- will eventually
be more than what our government spends on anything else -- anything else -- that we
spend today.
Right now, premiums are rising three times faster than wages -- right now, today. And
if we don't pass reform, they're going to keep on rising in this way. So think about
how much we'll be paying 10 years from now without reform. That's what we have to project.
Folks who have insurance they like now could find themselves overwhelmed with sky-high
premiums and much higher out-of-pocket costs. Think about all the businesses that will have
to drop their coverage or lay people off, if we don't pass reform, because they can't
afford the cost. Think about the millions of people who will lose their coverage, and
many whom will wind up using the emergency room as their primary care provider, which
will mean higher costs for all of us. And then let's go back to the statistics on
the childhood obesity and diabetes for a minute. If a third of our kids are overweight or obese
now, what's that going to mean 10 years from now? How much will we be spending on obesity-related
conditions like heart disease and cancer and high blood pressure in 10, 20, 30 years? How
much money will our economy lose in missed days of work and decreased productivity? And
how much will all of this diminish our quality of life here in this nation?
And what does it mean that for the first time in the history of our nation, medical experts
today warn that this generation -- my children, our grandchildren -- may be on track to have
a shorter lifespan than their parents? You know, this isn't who we are as Americans.
If there's one thing that defines what it means to be an American, is that we always
do better for our kids. We always do better for our kids. We sacrifice so that we can
give them opportunities and advantages that we never had. That's what I was taught. That
is our obligation to the next generation. That's why my husband and I think about -- that's
what we think about at night when we tuck our kids in. We don't think about the life
they have today, we think about the life we're going to provide for them when they're older.
And that's why he ran for President in the first place. It's not about us, it's not about
now; he's running because of the world he wants to leave them. That's why he's fighting
so hard to fix our health care system. Not just to make it more affordable today; not
just to ensure that it covers more people; but to make sure that it provides better,
higher-quality care that makes us all healthier. All of us.
That's why his plan makes historic investments in prevention and wellness –- investments
to help people quit smoking, and to lose weight, and get immunizations and screenings.
That's why he included $2 billion in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to upgrade and
expand community health centers, including the $1.3 million to fund the one that we're
here to open today. This money is going to allow for the expansion of desperately-needed
primary care services to more than 2.8 million more people, and it's going to create jobs
in places that desperately need them, as well. And that's why he's investing $300 million
in the Recovery Act for the National Health Service Corps -- something we talked about
in our earlier meeting. It's an outstanding program that helps doctors, dentists, nurses
and other health care providers repay their student loans in exchange for practicing in
places like this. It’s a great idea. And I want to take a moment to recognize all the
current and former Corps members who are here with us today, who shared their stories –- because
we're so proud of you and so grateful for your contributions to these communities all
over the nation -- because you could be doing something else.
The new investments in this program will more than double its capacity. Right now there
are 38* Corps members serving four million Americans; with the new money there will be
8,000 providers serving 8.5 million Americans by the end of next year if we get this passed.
And many of them will be working in community health centers just like this one, doing the
kind of work that means so much to so many Americans.
And that's what Dr. Regina Benjamin –- who is my husband's nominee for our next Surgeon
General –- this is what she did after graduating from medical school. She joined the Corps,
and was sent down to Alabama. And what does she do? She stayed there, eventually running
the clinic herself. And those were stories that we heard here today. And what she said
she was doing was so meaningful that, as she put it, she said, "I don't feel like I'm giving
to the community. I think they're giving to me." And I heard those same sentiments echoed
by the National Health Corps members who are here.
In the end, that's what the work in this community center is all about. It's about the human
connections that people make with the people and the communities that they serve. It's
about the steps you take above and beyond what's required, because you really care about
your patients. It's about the peace of mind that you give to people with nowhere else
to turn. And that is the story of community health centers in America.
It's the story of a man named Ed who was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia at a community
health center in Oklahoma. The center not only got him to the oncology services he needed,
they came to his house to draw blood when his immune system was too weak for him to
go outside. That's the kind of work you do.
It's the story of a man named Randy, all the way in Indiana, who went to a community health
center because of an allergic reaction to his blood pressure medication. The doctor
there noticed the lump on his neck and did some tests, and diagnosed him with cancer.
Randy had no insurance and no way to pay for treatment, but that didn't stop the clinic's
Medical Director and CEO. They spent hours making calls until they found a surgeon who
would treat him at a reduced fee. And today, Randy is cancer free.
And then there's the story of a nine-year-old boy named Michael who was brought to a community
health center in Kansas with a high fever and an abscessed tooth -- something that you
will see here on a regular basis. After having been in severe pain for weeks, he finally
got the treatment that he needed. And then when the staff of the center later came to
his school to screen the other kids, they said Randy took their hands and walked into
his classroom, and announced to his classmates, "These are my friends and they will help you."
These are the stories you'll soon be telling here at this center. Wonderful stories. I've
heard some of them already. And that's why so many folks in Washington are putting in
these long hours to pass health insurance reform -- because all our families deserve
this kind of care, and all our kids deserve the chance to have a healthy future.
And I think it's fitting that the town of Bowling Green used to be called "New Hope
Village" -- that's what I was told -- because that's exactly what this center will be giving
to so many folks in this community. And we look forward to supporting you in this work
in the months and years ahead. Thank you so much for your work, and God bless
you all. Now let's get this opened. (Applause.) Thank you.
MRS. OBAMA: Well, hello!
MRS. OBAMA: It's good to see everybody. Perfect weather, right?
MRS. OBAMA: Thank you so much. I am thrilled to have you all here today at the White House.
And I also want to thank a few people before we start, not just the young people here who
also -- some of you brought your parents, so let's see the parents. Give the parents
a round of applause. (Applause.)
But in addition to all of you, we've got a few pretty special guests. We've got some
talented chefs and nutritionists here to teach us how to make healthy breakfasts, lunches
and snacks.
So I want to first want to introduce Koren Grieveson, who I just got to meet. Koren,
where are you? There she is, over there. (Applause.) She's from my hometown, Chicago. (Applause.)
Yay for Chicago.
And then we have Todd Gray. Todd, where are you? Raise your hand. Todd is from my new
hometown right here in Washington, D.C. (Applause.)
And then we've got Sam Kass who a lot of you probably met -- (applause) -- but Sam is in
charge of the White House Garden, so he oversees all of that along with all of our wonderful
White House chefs. Everybody from the White House team, raise your hands, all of our White
House crew. (Applause.)
And we also have Vahista Ussery and the rest of the staff from the School Nutrition Association
who are on the frontlines every day in our schools. (Applause.) So Vahista, where are
you and all of the nutrition experts? (Applause.)
And Elie Krieger, one of the nutritionists from the Food Network, she's way in the back
with her family. Thank you, Elie. (Applause.)
And I want to thank all the folks from the YMCA and Playworks. They helped us set up
all the fun things that we're going to have to do after we get through talking. So let's
give them a round of applause. (Applause.)
(Inaudible) -- U.S. Department of Agriculture for joining us today and for all of his hard
work and leadership on making our food and our schools healthier. He's been doing a phenomenal
job. And it seems like just yesterday that Secretary Vilsack and I were out here to begin
digging for the garden. And it seems like just yesterday.
And one of our goals was to focus on the importance of educating our kids about healthy eating.
So it wasn't just about planting a garden. It was also to begin to talk about nutrition
and to highlight the little ways that each of us can add more healthy fruits and vegetables
to our diet, something that I think about all the time as a mother.
We felt that this was especially important right now when so many children in this nation
are facing health problems that are entirely preventable. So we've got our kids who are
struggling with things that we have the power to control.
Right now one in three children in this country are overweight or obese. And as I've said
many times before, if we think we're dealing with a serious health problem now, you know,
then we project out to five, 10, 20 years from now when we see these rates increase
and all the illnesses that result from obesity, whether it's high blood pressure, or heart
disease, cancer.
And believe it or not, which is a very surprising thing, medical experts are now warning that
for the first time in the history of this nation, we're headed for the next generation
being on track to have a shorter life span than us. That's the way we're going right
And none of us wants that. None of us wants that for our children and for our children's
futures. Even if we don't care about ourselves, we don't want that for our kids. We want our
children to eat right, not just because it's the right thing to do but because quite frankly
healthy good food tastes good and we want them to experience that. We don't just want
our kids to exercise because we tell them to. We want them to exercise because it's
fun and they enjoy it. And we want them to learn now how to lead good, healthy lifestyles
so that they're not struggling to figure out how to do that when they're older.
But as a parent, and I know all of you here today, we know that sometimes doing all that
is easier said than done, because we all care but it is becoming so increasingly difficult
to provide all that for our kids. And you all know that better than anyone here, as
parents. We're all pulled in a million different directions, working hard, working long hours,
trying to do everything, be perfect parents. We love you guys so much we just want everything
for you.
But it's hard to do everything. And when you come home from a long day at work, and the
refrigerator is empty, and you know you don't feel like cooking -- (laughter) -- the easiest
and sometimes the cheapest thing to do is to get in a fast food drive-thru. We've all
done it because we are overwhelmed and we don't know what the options are.
And today life is so different from when I was growing up, kids. And I know your parents
tell you this. I tell my kids this. When I was growing up, fast food was a treat. You
know, we couldn't afford to get fast food every week, because my parents couldn't afford
it, so it was something you did on a special occasion.
We had pizza about once every school year -- once every semester when we got good grades.
That's when we got pizza. It was pizza day. That's what we got for getting good grades,
And we didn't have dessert every single night. My mother would tell us, "Dessert is not a
right. It's a treat." So we had it on special occasions. We didn't have -- and I have to
tell my kids this -- you don't get dessert every night of the week. Otherwise it's not
a treat; it's just something that you do.
And my mother was also very clear in our household that you ate what she fixed. Mmm, yes. (Laughter.)
You ate what she fixed, and if you didn't eat that, then you didn't eat. And in my household
-- is if you say you're not hungry, then you have to eat your vegetables, and then you
get up and leave, and you don't ask for anything else, and go to bed, right?
So these are the kind of rules that I grew up with, that all of your moms and your dads
grew up with, and these are the kind of rules and boundaries and guidelines that we want
to set for all of you.
But in my household, there were no absolutes, right? I mean, we love good food, too. That's
why I always say there's nothing that the First Family loves more than a good burger,
right? (Laughter.) And look, my favorite food in the whole wide world are French fries.
I love them. Dearly. (Laughter.) Deeply. (Laughter.) I have a good relationship with French fries
and I would eat them every single day if I could. I really would. But I know that if
I'm eating the right things -- and I tell my girls this -- if you're getting the right
foods for most of the time, then when it's time to have cake and french fries on those
special occasions, then you balance it out.
So it's not about any absolute no's. It's just about striking a balance. And that's
what I know your moms are trying to teach you all. That's what I'm trying to teach my
But these days, even when parents do have the time and the resources to buy healthy
foods and make a simple meal at home, the reality is that kids are spending a third
of their time at school, right? So we don't have control over what you eat when you're
at school. So even when we're -- when we're working hard to give our kids healthy food
at home, if they go to school and eat a lunch that's loaded with calories and fat, then
all the efforts that we try to instill at home, it gets knocked off a little bit.
And many kids don't have any access to physical education in the schools -- and that's also
something that's also changed. When I grew up -- and I went to public schools in my neighborhood
-- I don't care what you did; you had recess and you had gym on a very regular basis. So
even though we're encouraging our kids to exercise, if they can't go to school and that
-- get the same kind of exercise opportunities, then it makes our jobs as parents harder.
And one of the things that I want to do is to begin focusing on ways that this administration
can help parents, kids and families in tackling all these challenges. We want to make it a
little easier on you all -- not just tell you what to do and what you should look like,
but help you with some resources so that it doesn't feel so impossible.
And that's one of the reasons why we're here today, because we know that schools can play
an important role in the work that we hope to achieve. And that's why the Department
of Agriculture has started this wonderful challenge called Healthier U.S. School Challenge.
And the goal of this challenge is to find schools who are going to commit to making
fresh healthy food available -- we want them to pledge that, that's part of the challenge
-- but in addition to making healthy foods available, getting rid of the junk food in
the school, making that pledge, get rid of it, but also to be sure that they're setting
aside time for physical activity during the day in the curriculum and teaching kids about
healthy food choices during the day.
And I am pleased to announce that there are about 635 schools from across the country
who have met the challenge, and we have some of those schools with us today.
But my goal is to challenge more schools and more communities to take part in this, particularly
middle and high school students, because right now those 635 students are at the elementary
school level, and we need to take this challenge up to kids in middle schools and high schools.
So I'm looking forward to visiting some of the schools that have joined the Healthy School
Challenge. That's a pledge that I have. If your school commits to this challenge, there's
a possibility that I'll come and check it out. But I'm not coming if you're not a part
of the challenge, right? So we want to get more schools to follow this lead.
And of course changing old habits is never easy. That's why it's going to take a broader
team effort with everyone pitching in, and it's going to take government doing its part.
And that's why this administration is going to be working hard to reauthorize our federal
Child Nutrition program, because with 30 million kids relying on a school breakfast or a lunch
as one of their primary meals of the day, we need to make sure that these meals are
nutritious and well balanced, and that more kids can have access so that they don't have
to go hungry in school.
And the chefs and nutritionists here today are going to show us how we can use the food
that the USDA provides to schools as a way to prepare really tasty, healthy foods. That's
why they're here today, because they're going to take that food that you get in the schools
and do some special stuff to show that with the food that we have, we can probably do
even better than we're doing.
We'll also need all you kids to be a part of that. Now, I know you're dozing off. I
see it. (Laughter.) It's hot, I want to play. (Laughter.) But we're going to need you, too.
And what are we going to need you to do?
CHILD: Stay healthy.
MRS. OBAMA: Yes, sir. What?
CHILD: Stay healthy.
MRS. OBAMA: Stay healthy. And how do you stay healthy?
CHILD: Eating the right things.
MRS. OBAMA: Eating the right things. We're going to need you to help your parents with
these choices. So when vegetables on your plate -- we don't want to hear, "I don't want
to eat it. I don't like it." (Laughter.) "It tastes bad. I don't want it." We don't want
to hear the whining. We want you to eat it. Just eat it, right? (Laughter.)
And what else do we need you to do? If you're going to be strong and healthy, what do we
need you to do?
CHILD: Be good, be healthy, and be nice.
MRS. OBAMA: Be good, be healthy, and be nice. (Laughter.) Yes. And exercise. You've got
to play. So in order to play, you've got to turn off what?
MRS. OBAMA: Turn off the TV. In our household, no TV during school days. And only a couple
hours during the weekend, I'm sorry. But because the TV is off, my girls get up and they move.
Even if they're pushing each other down, they're running. (Laughter.)
So we're going to need you to help your parents. Turn off the TV on your own. Get up and throw
a ball. Run around the house. Don't break anything, but move. Try to go outside if you
That's why we're here at the White House, because we're reaching out to schools, to
families, to kids. And we're inviting you guys to be a part of our team and think about
all of us doing our part.
And one of the children who came here and helped us with the garden -- this was a very
powerful moment in this whole garden experience, was after we planted and we harvested and
we ate together, the kids talked about this experience.
Some of the kids from Bancroft School -- yay -- (applause) -- they're a little older than
you, but they were fifth-graders. And one of them -- a few of them wrote that -- she
said she's "a pretty regular fifth-grader who loves sweets." And she said because of
her time in the garden, she said "…has made me think about the choices I have with what
I put in my mouth." So she learned about the power of what choices she makes -- not what
her mom tells her what to do, not what her teachers, but the choices that she makes.
And another child wrote -- he said -- it was inspired -- "It has inspired us to eat better
and work harder."
And then there was the student who wrote with great excitement about what he learned about
tomatoes. I remember this because he read this report to me. He said, not just that
they're both a fruit and a vegetable but that "…they fight diseases like cancer and heart
problems, and that they have a lot of vitamins in them, too." And armed with that knowledge,
he declared, "So the tomato is a fruit and it is now my best friend." (Laughter.)
That's what we want you all to think, that vegetables and fruits are not the enemy; it
is the power to a good future. And in the end, that's what we're all trying to do here.
That's why we've invited you to the South Lawn. That's why all these cameras are here.
That's why Secretary Vilsack is here, because we are now focused on your future and what
are you going to feel like and be. And part of that has to do with your health. And it
starts with how you eat and how you exercise.
So we hope you guys are all game to join the fight. We hope that there are schools all
across this country that will join the challenge. We hope that there are more parents that are
going to be focused in thinking about ways that we can help you all.
But I now want to turn it over to Secretary Vilsack who has been a phenomenal partner
in this effort. We couldn't do this without the work of the Department of Agriculture,
and he has been steadfast in this fight to ensure that children have healthier options
in the schools. So he has been a dear friend, and I want you all to give him a big round
of applause and welcome him to the podium. Thank you so much. (Applause.)
MRS. OBAMA: Thank you. Good afternoon, everyone, and welcome. I am so thrilled you could join
us today as we mark National Breast Cancer Awareness Month right here at the White House.
And I want to thank Jill so much for that kind introduction, as well as her phenomenal
work that she's done to educate young women about this disease.
I think Jill is one of those examples of how one passionate advocate can really make a
difference, and we are grateful to you for your leadership and the successes that you've
had in your work. And most of all, I am grateful to you for your friendship, as always.
I also want to thank Tina Tchen, who many of you already know for her outstanding work
as Director of the Office of Public Engagement. Tina, thank you so much. And I want to take
a moment -- yes, let's give Tina -- (applause.) I don't want to step on your applause, Tina.
And I also want to take a moment to recognize all of the survivors and the advocates who
are here today who have worked so hard and for so long to raise money and raise awareness
to fight this disease, particularly Vernal, Joni, and Venus, for having the courage to
share their stories with us today. I mean, it's hard getting up and speaking about good
news, right, let alone to talk about something that is so personal to a crowd of strangers
and a whole lot of cameras. (Laughter.)
So -- but it's important for them and for us to remind them that it's sharing these
stories that really makes a difference. It takes the veil off of this disease, because
it wasn't that long ago that people thought that breast cancer was something to be ashamed
of and to keep it a secret; something that you didn't discuss in polite company. Some
people even wondered, if you can believe it or not, whether breast cancer was contagious.
And at the first fundraising lunch hosted by the Komen Foundation, the description of
the event was written in one paper as a "women's cancer event," because the word "breast" was
considered too risqué to print.
But then, people like you, all of you here, started speaking out, including two of my
predecessors, First Ladies Betty Ford and Nancy Reagan. They began speaking out.
Survivors and those who love them started organizing and advocating and lobbying for
more money, for more research, and better treatment for this disease.
And then folks like Venus and Jill started working to educate and empower people to promote
early detection and make sure that people were getting the care that they needed.
And today, because of that work, the number of women getting regular mammograms has dramatically
increased, and the five-year survival rate when breast cancer is diagnosed in time is
98 percent -- and that's compared to 74 percent in the early 80s.
And today, we spend $900 million on breast cancer research, which is 30 times more than
what we spent in 1982. So we have come a long way. (Applause.)
And you should all be proud of what you've achieved to get us this far. But what we all
know is that we are not finished yet. We are not finished yet. We know we're not finished
when nearly one in eight women is still diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime -- a
total of one woman every three minutes -- and nearly 2,000 men are diagnosed each year as
well, and that's something we don't often discuss.
And we know we're not finished when 40,000 women a year still die from this disease.
That's one woman every 13 minutes who's dying from this disease today.
And we know we're not finished, especially not when we have a health care system in this
country that simply is not working for too many people with breast cancer and too many
people who are surviving with breast cancer. It's a system that only adds to the fear and
stress that already comes with the disease.
And I'm not just talking about women without insurance, who face the terrifying prospect,
as you've heard, of having to pay the full cost of their treatment on their own.
I am talking about people in this country who have insurance who have breast cancer
-- folks who all too often find themselves also paying outrageous out-of-pocket costs.
According to a new report released by the Department of Health and Human Services today,
breast cancer patients with employer-sponsored insurance paid an average of more than $6,200
in out-of-pocket costs over the course of a year. And some wound up paying as much as
$10,000 or $20,000, and 5 percent with private insurance paid more than $30,000 a year for
their treatment.
This is with insurance. These are people who are blessed.
And then there are those annual lifetime caps that insurance companies set, where once you
go over that cap -- as many women do because some forms of breast cancer are so expensive
to treat -- then that cap makes it impossible to pay a penny more for that treatment.
And one recent survey showed that 10 percent of all cancer patients report hitting a cap
on their benefits, leaving them scrambling to find alternative insurance to figure out
how to pay out of pocket for the rest of their lifetime.
And then there's what happens when you've gone through all the treatment and you're
finally in remission, which should be good news. You're finally in remission and you're
finally feeling like yourself again. You feel whole and happy. But then, as you've heard,
you're stuck, as Joni said, with a target on your back for the rest of your life with
a "preexisting condition," which means that insurance companies can deny you coverage
or charge you higher rates for coverage -- sometimes much higher.
That's exactly what happened to Vernal, to Joni, and to Venus. These women were denied
insurance, and now Joni and Venus are each paying very high premiums for their coverage.
And as you've heard, Venus's insurance won't even cover treatment if she has a reoccurrence.
So I know that a lot of survivors like them are terrified. They are living in fear of
losing their jobs or changing jobs or even moving, because they worry they won't be able
to find affordable insurance.
And perhaps most heartbreaking of all is the fact that right now, today in America, there
are people in this country who have breast cancer but don't even know it, because they
can't afford a mammogram. According to our new report, one in five women age 50 and above
haven't gotten a mammogram in the past two years. And while that's better than it was
a few decades ago, it's nowhere near good enough.
And this is not acceptable. This is not acceptable in this country. This is something that could
happen to any of us.
And this is a disease, as we know, that affects not just those diagnosed with it, and not
just those who've survived it and those who've lost their lives to it, but it is a disease
that also affects those who love and know them -- which these days seems like almost
every single person in this country.
That's why it is so critically important that we finally reform our health care system that
is causing so much heartache for so many people affected by this disease. Now is the time.
Fortunately, that's exactly what the plans being considered by Congress right now would
So just to be clear, under these plans, if you already have insurance that works for
you, then you're all set. You can keep your insurance and you can keep your doctors.
The plans put in place some basic rules of the road to protect you from abuses and unfair
practices by insurance companies. That would mean no more denying coverage to people like
women we heard from today because of so-called preexisting conditions like having survived
cancer. (Applause.) Because there's a belief that if you've already fought cancer, you
shouldn't have to also fight with insurance companies to get the coverage that you need
at a price that you can afford. (Applause.)
These plans mean insurance companies will no longer be allowed to cap the amount of
coverage that you can get, and will limit how much insurance companies can charge you
for out-of-pocket expenses, because in this country, getting sick shouldn't mean going
bankrupt. (Applause.)
And finally, these plans will require insurance companies to cover basic preventative care
-- from routine checkups, to mammograms, to pap smears -- at no extra charge to you. And
though I want to emphasize that in the end, as we all know, it's our responsibility as
women to also talk to our doctors about what screenings that we need and then make the
appointments to get those screenings, even when it's inconvenient or maybe a little bit
uncomfortable. It's something that we owe not just to ourselves but to the people that
love us.
Because we know the difference that early detection makes. We know that if breast cancer
is detected early, it's far easier to cure and much less costly to treat. So we can save
money, we can save lives, and we do right by the people that we love.
So that's how health insurance reform will work. That's how it will help people who have
been diagnosed with breast cancer and those who've survived the disease. But first, we
have to get it passed. First we have to get it passed. (Applause.)
But that's the hard part. We know that there are all sorts of myths and misconceptions
out there, and we know there are folks who will do anything they can to stop reform because,
for whatever reason, they want to keep things the way they are.
From where we stand now, it might seem like an uphill battle. But fortunately, folks like
you know a little something about an uphill battle, right? You know a thing or two about
overcoming long odds and rallying people to an important cause.
Now, let's remember that there was a time when those affected by breast cancer never
could have imagined all these pink ribbons that would one day grace the White House,
offices, storefronts, lapels. I don't think they could have imagined some hulking NFL
player decked out in pink cleats and pink gloves. (Laughter and applause.) I don't think
they could have imagined a day when so many people would wear jeans to raise money for
a cure. I don't think they could have imagined how many people would lace up their shoes
to take part in walks and runs and races all across America.
And it is my hope that if we pass health insurance reform, then 20 or 30 years from now, just
imagine, our daughters and our granddaughters won't be able to imagine a time when any woman
in this country couldn't get a mammogram because she couldn't afford it. (Applause.) I hope
that our children and grandchildren won't be able to imagine a time when anyone in this
country went bankrupt just because they had the misfortune of getting sick. And I hope
that statistics like one in eight and one every 13 minutes will be incomprehensible
to our kids -- incomprehensible -- because of all the strides that we've made and the
work that we've done for this cure and for this reform.
And in the end, that's really what health insurance reform is all about. It's not about
us. It's about them. It's about the future. That is what we're fighting for. That's what
we have to remember. That's what this fight is about.
And that's why we're so grateful to all of you for the hard work and commitment and sacrifices
that you've made. And we look forward to working with all of you in the weeks and months ahead.
Thank you so much. Thank you.
MRS. OBAMA: Thank you. Thank you, everybody. Thank you. Please. Thanks so much. First of
all, forgive me -- I’ve got children, and now I have a cold. (Laughter.) It goes along
with the territory.
Let me begin by first thanking Tina Tchen, who’s doing an outstanding job as Director
of the Office of Public Engagement by opening up this White House to the American people
and organizing events like this one today. She’s just been a terrific asset and a dear
friend -- and let’s give her a round of applause. (Applause.)
And I also want to commend Nancy-Ann for her extraordinary leadership on health care -- health
insurance reform. I know my husband, who is traveling abroad right now, would agree with
me when I say that without her, we wouldn’t have come this far, and because of her, we’re
going to get the job done. So we are grateful to you, Nancy-Ann. (Applause.)
And of course, I want to thank all the women who are here today. This is a wonderful, lively
group -- I heard you all giggling earlier today. (Laughter.)
But I also want to thank the women who spoke today -- to Kelly and Fran and Judy -- for
sharing their stories. What they’ve been through isn’t easy, and I’m grateful that
they have been brave enough and open enough to share their stories with all of us. It
takes a lot of courage.
These stories touch our hearts. They spark in us just a fundamental sense of unfairness.
But the sad truth is none of these stories are unique. These kinds of stories are being
told in city after city, town after town, all across America. They’re being told by
women who lost their coverage when their husband lost a job, or their husband passed away.
They’re being told by women who aren’t getting regular checkups because it’s simply
too expensive. They’re being told my women living on fixed incomes who can’t afford
the prescription drugs that they need.
All of these stories reflect the fundamental reality -- and that is, women are among those
struggling most under the status quo, the way things are. And women are among those
who will benefit most from health insurance reform because the truth is that women, we
have a special relationship with our health care system. In a lot of families that’s
true because we are the health care system in so many ways. (Laughter.)
Eight in 10 mothers say they’re the ones responsible for choosing their children’s
doctors, taking them to appointments, and managing the follow-up care. And over 10 percent
of all women are now caring for a sick or elderly relative.
Our entire lives as women, we are asked to bear much of the responsibility for our family’s
health and well-being. And yet, we often face special challenges when it comes to our own
health insurance. Part of it has to do with the fact that women are more likely than men
to do part-time work or to work in a small business -- in jobs that are less likely to
offer the kind of insurance that you really need. In fact, over half of all women in this
country don’t have the option of getting insurance through the workplace at all.
But even women who do have insurance face inequities under the status quo. Because women
make less than 80 cents for every dollar their male coworkers make, it’s more difficult
for them to pay their premiums -- especially when studies show that they’re paying far
more than men for the same coverage.
And I don’t think anyone here will be surprised to learn that a recent study found that one-third
of all women have either used up savings, taken on debt, or given up basic necessities
just to pay their medical bills. And as many of you know firsthand, these kinds of problems
-- the problems of coverage and cost -- only grow worse when you get older, making quality,
affordable coverage harder to come by just -- as we’ve seen today and heard today -- just
when you need it the most.
In the individual market, people in their early 60s are more than twice as likely to
be denied coverage than people in their late 30s. Older women are more likely than men
to face a chronic illness, but they’re less likely to be able to afford the cost of treating
that illness. And in recent years, studies have shown that women over the age of 65 spend
about 17 percent of their income on health care. And that’s just not right.
Our mothers and grandmothers, they have taken care of us all their lives; they’ve made
the sacrifices that it takes to get us where we need to be. And we have an obligation to
make sure that we’re taking care of them. It’s as simple as that. America has a responsibility
to give all seniors the golden years they deserve and the secure, dignified retirement
that they worked so hard to achieve. (Applause.)
And that’s exactly what health insurance reform is going to help us do in this country.
Now, I can tell you -- I can’t tell, actually, what the bill that will ultimately land across
my husband’s desk will look like -- none of us can. But I can tell you just a few important
ways that the insurance system will be impacted.
For starters -- and this is very important -- your insurance will not change unless you
want it to change. So if things are great for you, you’re fine. (Laughter.) It will,
however, become more stable and more secure, no matter what your situation is. There will
be a cap on how much you can be charged in out-of-pocket expenses in a year or in a lifetime.
So there will be a cap. It will be against the law for insurance companies to deny you
coverage for preexisting conditions. (Applause.) And that change alone will help us end the
discrimination women face in our health care system. And also, insurance companies will
be required to cover, at no extra cost, routine checkups and preventive care.
And I’d like to speak just a moment about what reform will mean for seniors, in particular.
There’s been a lot of misinformation on this topic so I want to be clear -- Nancy-Ann
mentioned this: Not a dime of the Medicare Trust Fund will be used to pay for reform.
Health insurance reform will not endanger Medicare; it will make Medicare more stable
and secure. (Applause.) By eliminating wasteful subsidies to private insurance and cracking
down on fraud and abuse throughout the system, this administration believes that we can bring
down premiums for all our seniors and extend the life of the Medicare Trust Fund.
My husband believes that Medicare is a sacred part of America’s social safety net, and
it’s a safety net that he will protect -- he will protect with health insurance reform.
And I know that many seniors on Medicare are also concerned about the cost of prescription
drugs; we’ve heard about it here.
Right now, millions of seniors face huge out-of-pocket costs when their spending on drugs falls within
a coverage gap. My husband is committed to closing that gap, which will save some seniors,
as you’ve heard, thousands of dollars on medications and make prescription drugs more
affordable for millions of older Americans. (Applause.)
So what we’re talking about -- affordable prescription drugs for Americans who need them; Medicare that’s protected
today and tomorrow; stability and security for Americans who have insurance; quality,
affordable coverage for Americans who don’t. That’s what reform will mean for older women,
for seniors, and for all Americans.
So that’s why I believe in this so strongly. That’s why I believe in this so strongly.
But in the end, I’m not here just as a First Lady. That’s not why I’m doing this. I
am here because I’m a daughter. I’m here because I have an extraordinary mother who
is 72 years old -- young. (Laughter and applause.) And I know there are countless women in this
country who have loved ones who feel the same way about them as I do about my mother.
And when all is said and done, part of why I believe so strongly in reforming our health
care system is because of the difference it will make for these women who gave us life
-- so simple -- these women who raised us, these women who supported us through the years.
They deserve better than the status quo. They deserve a health care system that heals them
and lifts them up.
And that’s what my husband is committed to doing, to building that kind of system
in the weeks and months to come.
So thank you all. Thank you for sharing your stories. Thank you all for your hard work
and dedication, for listening, for being a part -- and let’s get to work. Thank you
so much. (Applause.)
MRS. OBAMA: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you everybody. Thank you so much. Thank you. Isn't
this nice? (Laughter.) Just so very nice.
Let me begin by thanking Secretary Napolitano for that very kind introduction and for her
outstanding work in keeping this country safe. She is a true friend and she has been doing
an amazing job and we are so proud to have her on our team.
I'd also like to thank to Dr. Jill Biden -- a Blue Star Mom, by the way -- and a dear friend
of mine as well. She has just been a tireless advocate of highlighting the service of the
National Guard and Reserve members and families. It has just been a thrill for me to be able
to work with her on this issue and many others. Jill, thank you for everything you’ve done.
And I also would like to acknowledge Representatives Susan Davis, Gwen Moore, as well as Jan Schakowsky,
who are here, for their terrific work and for joining us here today; it's good to see
you all. And I also want to recognize General Cartwright, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs
of Staff, along with the members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who are here, and their wonderful
wives -- and this wasn’t in the script, but please stand so that we can recognize
and thank all of you -- I know you weren't supposed to this, but you can do it, it's
my house. (Applause.)
You know, Jill and I are particularly grateful to the wives of the members of the Joint Chiefs
of Staff because they have -- from day one we sat down with them and got advice and guidance
on sort of how to develop our initiatives. So we're grateful to you.
And I also want to thank to the senior enlisted advisors who are here today and their wives
-- and I'd also like to ask them to stand as well so we can give them a round of applause.
(Applause.) Thank you so much.
Again, with the spouses, we met with shortly thereafter and we had a terrific conversation.
The guidance that you have given us has meant a great deal. It's really ensured that the
efforts that we've undertaken are substantive and accurate. So thank you all. Thank you
for your support and thank you for being here today.
Let me also thank Patty Shinseki for her tremendous efforts on behalf of our nation’s military
children. Her husband, Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki, is doing a terrific
job and Patty has become just one of my dearest friends and just always a spot of courage
in a sea of work. (Laughter.) So where's Patty? Patty, where are you? Thank you, Patty. (Applause.)
And if any of you are still wondering why you're here -- (laughter) -- it's not just
tea. You have to thank General Wilma Vaught. General. (Applause.) I had the privilege of
meeting this amazing woman at the Women in Military Service Memorial that occurred at
Arlington National Cemetery -- when was that? That was a few months ago. And as you all
know, she has just poured her heart and soul into that memorial, just to ensure that America’s
servicewomen receive the recognition that they’ve earned.
And I had a tremendous visit that day and one of the things that she said -- she turned
to me -- who was there? You remember, she said, Eleanor Roosevelt did a tea, and she
said something else, and she said, "We're coming for tea, right?" (Laughter.) I said,
of course we're going to have tea. And here we are. So this is why you're here. (Applause.)
It was an excellent idea -- excellent idea.
But I also want to honor two very special ladies who are here today, and I got to meet
them as well, earlier this year: Esther Corcoran, who was born in 1905 -- I hope you don't mind
me telling on you -- (laughter and applause.) Esther was one of the first women in the Army
to achieve the rank of Lieutenant Colonel -- pretty amazing. (Applause.) And she is
joining us today with Alyce Dixon, who was born in 1907 -- Alyce. (Applause.) And Alyce
served with the famous 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion during the Second World
War. So let's give them both another round of applause. (Applause.)
These ladies have contributed a great deal to this country, and while their lives may
span a century, they’re both young at heart -- I've talked to them, they're pretty spunky
-- (laughter) -- and we are thrilled to have you both here today, thrilled and honored
and grateful for your service.
And finally, I want to thank all of you -- all the women who have served this nation with
courage, determination, and distinction, from World War II to today in Iraq and Afghanistan.
You have served in times of war and in times of peace -- an all-volunteer force right from
the beginning -- part of a proud tradition that stretches back more than two centuries.
Long before women had the right to vote -- long before we even had the right to vote -- or
own property, before America even existed, women were serving this country -- facing
danger, risking their lives, even dressing up like men so they’d be allowed to serve.
And it’s never been an easy path. I can only imagine how challenging it has been and
continues to be. I know that some of you have faced skepticism and ridicule. Some of you
had to contend not just with the challenge of doing your jobs, but with others’ perceptions
that you weren’t up to the job simply because of your gender. As Air Force veteran Dr. Donna
Loraine put it -- this is a quote -- "To be a success, a woman had to be confident, self-assured,
persistent and have a great sense of humor. At times you had to employ a certain desperate
deviousness to get the job done." (Laughter.)
So maybe you had to work a little harder -- and a little smarter. You may have felt a little
lonely at times. At times, you may have gotten downright discouraged. But you stuck it out,
each and every one of you. You found colleagues who supported you -- of all genders and all
races and all backgrounds. You found superiors who pushed you and encouraged you. And then
you rose to the challenge. You rose and you found opportunities to advance and to build
exciting, amazing careers. And along the way, you all broke one "brass ceiling" after another.
In this room alone, we have the first female four star general. We have the first woman
in the Navy to be promoted to Master Chief. The first woman in the Army Reserve to be
promoted to the general officer rank. We have the first woman in the Army to receive the
Expert Field Medical Badge. We have the first African American woman to serve as Chief Nurse
at Walter Reed Hospital. And so many more "firsts" and "onlys" -- and that's the result
of your hard work and your courage and your persistence.
But we know these achievements aren’t yours alone. That's something that Jill and I have
talked about, we've learned more about over the course of this year, because we know that
service doesn’t just end with the person wearing the uniform. You all know that. We
know that our servicemen and women’s sacrifices are their families’ sacrifices as well.
And many of you have spouses, partners, children, parents who stood by you and encouraged you
and prayed for you every step of the way. And this day is their day too, as far as we're
concerned. So let’s take a moment to recognize those members of our families who supported
you in your service as well. (Applause.)
But I hope you all know that your service -- that your legacy is more than just your
own service. I hope that you know that your legacy will be measured in the service of
every woman who follows in the trails that you've blazed -- every woman who benefits
from your daring and determination. It will be measured in the inspiration that you provide
to our daughters and our granddaughters -- and to our sons and our grandsons as well.
Because of you, when young women wonder how high they can rise in our military, they can
look at General Ann Dunwoody and her four hard earned stars. That can see that, it's
real. When they ask what kind of jobs they can do, they can look to women like all of
you who’ve played just about every kind of role imaginable. And when they ask whether
they can cut it -- whether they have what it takes to succeed -- all they have to do
is to look at your lives, to look into your lives and to look at the careers that you've
developed that inspire us all.
They can look to the example of Coast Guard Commander Dorothy Stratton, who led the SPARS
during World War II. She stated, "We wanted to serve our country in its time of need."
She said, I'm proud to sponsor -- oh, she didn't say this, but I am proud to sponsor
a new Coast Guard cutter bearing her name to ensure that her service will be remembered
for generations. (Applause.)
They can look to Jennifer Grieves, who made history by becoming the first woman Marine
One aircraft commander, and by commanding the first-ever flight with an all-female crew
-- I remember this -- proudly carrying my husband from the White House to Andrews Air
Force Base back in July. That was a wonderful day.
They can look to Tammy Duckworth, who flew combat missions in Iraq and lost both her
legs when her helicopter was hit by a grenade. She went on to become a fearless advocate
for veterans and wounded warriors, and now serves as Assistant Secretary for Public and
Intergovernmental Affairs at the Veterans Affairs Department. Thank you, Tammy. (Applause.)
And they can look to the example of women like Amy Krueger, who lost her life in the
unthinkable violence at Fort Hood two weeks ago. Amy had enlisted in the Army after the
September 11th attacks. And when her mother told her that she couldn’t take on Osama
bin Laden all by herself, Amy replied, simply: "Watch me."
She said, "Watch me." And I think that more than anything, that phrase "watch me" sums
up the spirit of our women in uniform throughout our history. When others doubted you, or dismissed
you, or questioned whether you could endure the training or complete the mission -- that
was your response: "Watch me." Right?
Watch me succeed. Watch me risk everything I have for the country I love. Watch me do
my part to protect this nation and protect this union. Watch me.
So we thank you for your courage and your service. We're honored to have you in our
presence. We're thrilled, General, that you came up with this brilliant idea. (Laughter.)
And we hope that you don't spike the tea until after we leave. (Laughter.) But we are thrilled
to have you here. Welcome to the White House and thank you so much for your service. Thank
you and God bless. (Applause.)
MRS. OBAMA: Thank you. Welcome, everyone. How are you all doing? It's good to see you.
Well, as Desiree mentioned, this is a very exciting time here at the White House and
we are just excited to welcome all of you. We've got a big day going on -- this is our
first official state visit of the Obama administration. It's very exciting for us.
And today the President is welcoming and working with India's Prime Minister Singh. And this
evening, tonight the President and I are going to be hosting our first state dinner -- and
we're hosting for the Prime Minister and his wife, Mrs. Kaur, who we met earlier today.
So one of the things we thought -- and I don't know about all of you -- is whether you wonder,
what are these state dinners all about and these state visits? Because when I was your
age I didn't know what they were doing. So we thought it would be fun to take a little
time to expose you to what's going to happen today and this evening. So that's why you
are all here today and we're really excited to have you.
These state visits and dinners are a really important part of our nation's diplomacy.
Throughout history, they've given U.S. presidents -- and the American people -- the opportunity
to make important milestones in foreign relations. So these dinners and events are really critical
to what we do internationally. And they've helped build stronger ties with nations as
well as people around the world. That's what President Obama and Prime Minister Singh are
doing today.
And I know that all of us on our team here at the West Wing and the East Wing, we wish
that we could include many, many more people in today's events and this evening's events
because it's not often that you get to do this. But even with a house like the White
House, there's only so many people that we can invite. So one of the ways that First
Ladies in the past have tried to include the broader public in on what's going on is by
holding these types of events where we invite the press to share some of the incredible
behind-the-scenes work that goes into planning and pulling off this amazing day.
But today we're also doing something a little different by having you all here. As our mentees
know, one of the things we've talked about that the President and I have tried to do
is really open up this White House to our neighbors here in Washington, D.C., especially
to local students and to children in our community. Because what we know is that even though many
of you guys live just a few minutes, maybe a little bit away from here -- but you're
close -- these events probably seem like they're miles and miles away, like they're just untouchable.
So that's why we really tried to think about ways to include kids in the community all
throughout today's event. At the opening ceremonies today we invited about 50 students from local
schools to attend the welcoming event. And that's why we're so happy to have you guys
here with us today. And for those of you who don't know, these girls are a part of our
young women who participate in the White House Leadership and Mentoring Program. And we're
really thrilled to have you guys here, because this is your White House and we want you to
be a part of what we do here.
So, how do we get this stuff done? The President and I are going to host this really neat dinner
outside in the tent. But we describe it, it's sort of like a swan, where we're kind of calm
and serene above water -- but we're paddling like mad, going crazy underneath, trying to
look smooth. But there's a lot of work that goes into making this happen and we have a
lot of people who are helping to put it together. And it takes everyone at the White House and
the State Department and the Military Office who've worked so hard to put all of the events
together today -- the guest list, the invitations, the place settings that you see here, you've
got to figure out who sits where -- all that fun stuff.
It takes all the folks in the kitchen -- we have our incredible White House Chef Cris
Comerford -- who some of you guy met -- and the rest of our kitchen staff. And tonight,
we're going to include a guest chef tonight, a gentleman by the name of Marcus Samuellson
-- and he's one of the finest chefs in the country, who is going to cook the dinner this
evening. Cris, Marcus and our kitchen staff are working on a wonderful menu tonight that
you'll be able to share in a little bit. It's going to showcase the best of American cooking.
It's going to include the freshest ingredients from area farmers and purveyors. And because
of all of the hard work of some other kids in the community, we've got this wonderful
White House kitchen garden out in the South Lawn and we're going to use some of the herbs
from that garden in tonight's dinner as well.
But there's also more to the dinner than just the food, even though that's going to be exciting.
Dinners like these also need great entertainment. So who do we have tonight? We've got someone
you guys probably know a lot about: Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson is going to sing tonight
-- yay! But also have A.R. Rahman. He's also an Oscar winner and he helped create some
of the music for the film "Slumdog Millionaire." I don't know if you guys got to see that movie
-- incredible movie. We're also going to have Grammy-nominated jazz vocalist Kurt Elling,
who's a Chicago hometown guy and we're pleased to have him. And we're also going to have
the National Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Marvin Hamlisch, who's one of
the greatest composers in this country.
So it's going to be an incredible night for a lot of our guests. And in just a few minutes,
you're going to hear a little bit more about the whole process of state visits and dinners
from White House Historian, Bill Allman. He's going to give you a little bit of the background
to how these things have worked in the past. And you're also going to hear about the importance
of protocol from Tanya Turner, who is a protocol officer from the State Department. And protocol
is critical -- protocol, how you stand, how you sit, who walks where -- all of that is
really important. So Tanya is going to share with us how all that works and how we think
about it.
But before I turn it over to them, I just want to take a few moments to share with everyone
here also why today means so much to me, personally.
As you've seen from this year, I have been on the other side of these visits and dinners
-- as a guest in many countries. Since becoming First Lady, I've had the opportunity to visit
eight countries with my husband, the President. And in each and every country, during each
and every visit, I have been moved by the warmth and gracious hospitality that our hosts
and the citizens of the countries that we visited have extended to the President and
to me.
It means a great deal when you're visiting and your hosts make you feel like you're at
home, like they're excited to see you. It means the world.
Each visit has also been unique and profound in its own way. It's not just the pomp and
circumstances and the lights and the cameras and the fancy dresses. But when we've gone
to other countries we've done some incredible things. We've seen the Jewish Quarter in Prague;
we visited the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican; we've been to the Coliseum in Rome; and the
American Cemetery on the beaches of Normandy in France, where the world comes to honor
the brave soldiers who died there.
These places are more than just monuments to history, truly. They compel us to see the
world through a broader lens -- not just from your own backyard or your school or your neighborhood
-- but they teach us to look at the world broadly and to look at our place in it in
a different way; to respect and admire each other's culture and traditions in a very different
way; and to honor all the values and the interests we have in common across the world.
You see this not in the pomp and circumstances, but in the people that you meet. We've met
tons of incredible people over the course of our trips: the children, and the nuns who
care for them, at a beautiful orphanage that I visited in Russia; young girls, girls just
like many of you, that I got to spend some time with in London at the Elizabeth Garrett
Anderson School, it was an amazing day; the nurses in the maternal health clinic in Ghana,
in Africa, that we got to see.
See, all these people -- you know, the children, these caretakers, the girls, their teachers,
these nurses and mothers that you've seen, that we met -- what you learn is that they
all want the same things as you do, as we do. Folks around the world, they want to live
in peace; they want to pursue their dreams just like you guys do -- and they have big,
huge dreams just like you; and they hope for a brighter future for the next generation,
just like we hope for you. Doesn’t matter where you're from -- these dreams are the
So what we figure out from these visits is that all across the world -- non matter what
our religions or races are -- that we are all building that future together. And building
that future is not just the job of any one country alone. No one country can do it by
themselves. It's the responsibility of all our countries all over the world to work together.
And that's why the President has worked so hard to begin what he's called a new era in
our relations with the world and other countries. He's worked to strengthen diplomacy. He's
worked to renew old alliances, so that we're talking differently with countries and people
that we haven't talked to before. He's building new partnerships -- and these partnerships
he hopes will be based on mutual trust and respect.
But one of the things that the President has said is that this new era of engagement can't
just be between governments -- you know, it's not just about the presidents and prime ministers
getting along. This new era of engagement also has to be between the people -- the diplomats,
the business leaders, the scientists, the health care workers. And yes, the teachers
and the students. Young people just like you are a part of building that future and that
engagement, the ability to exchange with one another as young people as you are is critical.
And that's why the President, when he goes to another country he makes it a point to
visit and to speak with students all around the world -- whether he was in Europe or Cairo
or China -- he always reaches out to young people. And we need to expand that type of
educational exchange, so that students like all of you here have the opportunity to experience
and learn from other cultures -- and to share your own culture, however unique and different,
with other parts of the world.
Deepening these ties is one of the things that the President and the Prime Minister
are working on today, one of the reasons for the trip and the state dinner is for these
leaders to work together -- whether it's along the lines of working on the economy or climate
change or global health -- they know that young people like you, students, our future
leaders are among America's greatest ambassadors and India's greatest ambassadors as well.
In fact, India sends more students to study in this country than any other country -- this
year alone more than 100,000 students from India came here to America to study somewhere.
So by doing that they learn from us, and we learn from them in a very fundamental way.
And as a result of those interactions, we're all the richer for it. And after today's visit,
we'll hopefully expand these exchanges even more. And who knows, maybe one of you all
sitting at this table, one of our little mentees, will be living and studying somewhere in India
-- maybe New Delhi or Mumbai or Bangalore. Just imagine that, start thinking about your
future in that way. This visit at this table is the beginning of that for all of you. Because,
again, governments alone can't build the future that we want for the world. That's the job
for each and every one of us.
So that's one of the lessons for today. It's our job -- and that's one of the lessons of
the relationship between the United States and India.
Back when the President was a senator, he kept a picture of Mahatma Gandhi, the father
of India, in his office. And it was before he was a senator, he was always a big supporter
and admirer of Gandhi, because Gandhi inspired so many people -- in India and all around
the world -- with his example of dignity and tolerance and peace. And with a simple call,
Gandhi would say: To be the change we wish to see in the world -- we are that change.
We are that change.
So again, today is a celebration of the great ties between the world's two largest democracies
-- that's the United States and that's India. But it's also an opportunity to deepen those
ties -- and a reminder to be the change that each of us seeks -- whether that's in your
home or in your school or in your community or in your country, you are all the change
that we need.
So I'll stop lecturing and I will now turn it over to Bill and to Tanya, who will talk
a bit more about the history and protocol. And then we get to test out some of the food.
So again, we are proud to see you, happy to see you. We're going to see you again in December,
because we're going to do some more fun stuff. I know we have three new mentees here. Can
you guys, the new mentees, raise your hands? I see some new faces. Welcome. It's good to
have you. We're going to have a lot of fun. Just ignore them, pretend that they're not
here. (Laughter.) And I'll turn it over to Bill. Thank you guys, so much. Bill.
MRS. OBAMA: Good afternoon. Welcome to the White House and Happy Holidays! Thanks to
all of you for joining us here today as we preview how we will mark the holidays here
at the White House.
Now, like many years past, we've actually been planning this day, and the holiday season,
since the summer. And our starting point was a very simple idea: that we include as many
people, in as many places, in as many ways as we can.
So we decided to do something just a little different. We took about 800 ornaments left
over from previous administrations, we sent them to 60 local community groups throughout
the country, and asked them to decorate them to pay tribute to a favorite local landmark
and then send them back to us for display here at the White House.
And today, thanks to the East Wing and Residence staff, and 92 volunteers from 24 states who
spent more than 3,400 hours decorating over the last several days, we have ornaments hanging
on the tree behind me throughout the White House and everywhere else that include the
Statue of Liberty, Mount Rushmore, the Kennedy Center -- Space Center, as well as some less
known places like Davy Crockett Park in Tennessee, Pompey's Pillar in Billings, Montana and one
of my favorites, the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago.
We also have one of the favorite traditions here at the White House on display -– it's
the gingerbread masterpiece by our brilliant chef Bill Yosses, and his team.
But this year we've included something a little bit different. In addition to the gingerbread
White House we also have the White House Kitchen Garden on the South Lawn, a shadow box that
lets you look into the gingerbread White House and view the State Dining Room. And I just
saw there's also a little Bo replica. (Laughter.) So that's a new addition.
And we opened the doors last night to the first of more than 50,000 visitors who will
come to the White House during this holiday season, and it's safe to say that everyone
was really impressed. And I heard you all partying last night. You had a great time.
For many people, a visit to the White House is a once-in-a-lifetime experience and it
has been made even more magical because of all of your hard work, all of our volunteers.
So I want to take just a moment again to thank all of our volunteers who spent so much time
making this White House such a special treat, and we hope you had as good a time as it sounded
like you had last night. (Laughter.) Your work has really transformed the White House,
which is, as we always say, the people's house, and we're so grateful for everything that
you've done to make this really a special treat for all of us.
And finally, I want to take a moment to talk about why we chose this year's theme, which
is "Reflect, Rejoice and Renew."
And for the Obama family, Christmas and the New Year has always been a time to reflect
on our many blessings, to rejoice in the pleasure of spending time with our family and our friends,
and to renew our commitment to one another and to the causes that we believe in. And
I wanted to continue that part of the tradition during our first holiday season here at the
White House.
And this year has been filled with an infinite number of blessings for me and my family.
And I say this all the time, but every day I am honored to be this nation's First Lady.
And from the day that my family arrived here, I have wanted the American people to share
in our journey, to share in the history and the excitement that makes the White House
such a special landmark in this nation.
That's why we've worked so hard throughout this year to invite as many people as possible
to events here at the White House. We've tried to showcase talents and contributions of our
artists and our inventors, of students and masters, of exalted heroes and ordinary citizens
of every age and every background. The idea has been to create an environment where every
story and every voice is welcome in the White House, and for all of us to rejoice in their
accomplishments and to celebrate their contributions to the life of this nation.
And in the new year, we all intend to renew this effort and continue this kind of outreach,
so that everyone feels like they have a place here at the White House. And I know many people
approach the holidays in the same way in their own lives, and that at this time of year for
so many people, they are looking for opportunities to give thanks and to give back. And we're
doing the same thing here at the White House. We're focusing our efforts this year on two
very important causes -- we're supporting local food banks, and the Toys for Tots program.
Hunger is on the rise here in America, hitting its highest levels in nearly 15 years. A recent
report released by the USDA reveals that in 2008, an estimated 1.1 million children were
living in households that experienced hunger multiple times over this year. And, of course,
no child in the United States of America should ever go to bed hungry, and no family in this
country should have to worry that they won't have food on the table, not just during the
holidays, but every day.
So to combat hunger this winter, in coordination with the Corporation for National and Community
Service and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, we're launching the United We Serve "Feed
a Neighbor" initiative. And this is a program that will provide all Americans with resources
to help combat hunger in their own communities. This initiative is a great way for you, for
all Americans, along with their friends and families, to give back not just during the
holidays, but throughout the year. By going to serve.gov, this program will connect Americans
to opportunities like delivering meals to homebound seniors, offering professional skills
at a food pantry, or planting a community garden and sharing produce with neighbors.
We're also pleased to be supporting the Toys for Tots program. Over the past year, I've
had the privilege of visiting servicemen and women, and their families, all across this
country, and have spent much of my time in the White House working to ensure that we
properly honor their service.
And each time I visit a base or meet with members of our Armed Forces and veterans,
I'm struck not just by the extraordinary sacrifices they and their family make to serve our country,
but by all they do to help others right here at home in their own communities.
And the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots program is a great example of how servicemen
and women are doing even more than just serving our country in uniform. For more than 62 years,
Marines have distributed more than 400 million toys to more than 188 million needy children.
And in 2008 alone, the program was active in 657 communities in all 50 states, the District
of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. Marines and volunteers distributed more than
16.2 million toys that year to 7.6 million children. That was one of their best years
So I'm thrilled this year that the White House staff is going to be supporting these efforts
with a toy drive to help make the holidays a little brighter for children in the surrounding
communities. The Toys for Tots headquarters is located outside of Marine Corps base Quantico,
and I look forward to visiting there later this month to personally deliver the toys
that we collect here at the White House.
So these are just two important ways that we'll be marking the holidays here at the
White House. So the President and I are urging everyone to join us in these efforts, or to
find some way to give back some time during this holiday season.
So on behalf of the Obama family, I wish all of you a joyous and meaningful holiday season.
And it is my pleasure to introduce Toys for Tots President and CEO, Lieutenant General
Pete Osman, who will provide some additional information about this year's program.
Thank you all very much.
MRS. OBAMA: Well, thank you, everyone. It's good to see you all. Man, okay, you can make
some noise. (Laughter.) I know they've told you to be restricted and -- but it's Christmas!
(Laughter.) And we brought toys. It's so good to see everybody.
Let me thank a few people -- Major Stapp for all his work and leadership, and his wife
and his family, all of your families who have helped. We know that the Marine Corps, you
guys do a lot of the work, but you couldn't do what you do if you didn't have your families
supporting you. So I want to thank all the spouses who've stepped up, as well.
I want to thank all the volunteers who have lent a hand to this effort. We've tried to
do our part at the White House. We've made an announcement. We've led a wonderful drive
that Tara and Lindsey have worked on on our end. And I want to find Tara and Lindsey.
Where are you, guys? Just raise your hands because -- oh, you guys are back there. (Applause.)
Tara and Lindsey helped to coordinate the effort at the White House, and they did a
phenomenal job.
We only brought 30 percent of what we actually collected because that's all that we could
fit into the van, but we are still collecting as we speak. Every office in the White House,
not just in the actual White House building, but in the executive building, everyone has
chipped in and stepped up beyond belief. This was one of the easy asks that we've had to
do this year.
So I want to thank you for allowing us to be a part of this. The work that you do, particularly
in these economic times, are so important. And what you guys represent, the Marine Corps,
in this effort, as I was saying earlier, is that in a time where you all are already serving
and making such a huge sacrifice, all of you -- the troops and their families -- that you
show America that you can dig even deeper in this time, and put your time and effort
into making sure that kids all around this country have something wonderful to wake up
to on Christmas morning, that's what America is all about -- people already sacrificing,
stepping up, and doing a little bit more.
And we are just so proud and so grateful for what you were doing for this country, what
you've done for this effort. And we will be a part of this as long as I'm in the White
House. We will be continuing to help this effort.
So I want to thank you all from the bottom of my hearts. And on behalf of the President,
Malia, Sasha, Bo, and Grandma -- (laughter) -- we wish everybody a Happy Holidays, a Merry
Christmas, a Happy Hanukkah, everybody out there who's celebrating anything happy. (Laughter.)
So let's get to work. We've got work to do. Alright. (Applause.)