MRS. OBAMA: Thank you so much. I am thrilled to be here -- thrilled and honored. We've had a wonderful day today, as Jill said, and this just tops it off.
First let me begin by thanking Jill for her kind introduction. As a Blue Star Mom, as she said, whose son recently returned from Iraq, Jill has brought her personal experience to our work in the White House and it has been invaluable. She's working tirelessly to highlight the extraordinary service of our National Guard and Reserve members and their families.
She is a wonderful partner and a dear friend to me and my husband and I lover her dearly. Please, let's give Jill another round of applause. (Applause.)
It is such a privilege to be here with all of you today, on this Veterans Day, to help launch Service Nation's new civilian-military initiative, Mission Serve.
I want to thank Senator Merkley, who's here, and Major General Steven Roman Abt for joining us today. And I'd also like to recognize Colonel Rob Gordon, Mission Serve's Chair; as well as Ross Cohen, the Director for Civilian-Military Partnerships for Service Nation; and all of the people and partners who have worked so hard to create this effort. You all have done just a fabulous job.
And I also want to thank GW. (Applause.) Go GW! (Applause.) And your president, Steve Knapp, for hosting us today. (Applause.)
As some of you know, a couple of months ago I issued a little challenge to this university: that if students, faculty and staff here did 100,000 hours of community service -- that I'd do what?
AUDIENCE: Speak at commencement!
MRS. OBAMA: Speak at commencement. Well, in just seven weeks -- just seen weeks -- you all have done more than 19,000 hours of service. That is pretty amazing. That's wonderful. (Applause.) So if you all keep it up, maybe I'll see you here in May, right? (Laughter.)
Finally, I feel particularly privileged to share the stage today with Mrs. Alma Powell, who knows -- she knows a thing or two about service and sacrifice. (Applause.) She's devoted her life to giving our young people every opportunity to fulfill their dreams. And she is a wonderful role model to me, just a tremendous asset to this country -- another round of applause for Mrs. Alma Powell. (Applause.)
One of the greatest privileges that I have as First Lady is the chance to meet with veterans, and to meet with service members, and their families all across America. And I have to tell you, I always come away from every single visit with this sense of pride, and gratitude -- but also with a sense of awe. True awe.
I'm in awe of sacrifices they make -- if you think about it, a tiny fraction of our population bearing the burden of eight years of war, serving tour after tour of duty, missing out on birthdays and anniversaries and those precious moments with the people that they love most.
I'm in awe of the men and women that I meet who have been wounded -- and some very seriously -- who will tell you that all they think about is not their injuries but about the folks that they left behind; and all they want to do is to be back in their unit, serving this country again. I'm in awe.
And I'm in awe of the military families that I meet: spouses who play the role of both parents, trying to juggle getting to baseball games and ballet recitals, doing it all; grandparents who step in to care for the children when a single mom or dad in uniform is away; people who find the strength to carry on after those they love most have made the ultimate sacrifice.
And we witnessed their courage and grace this past week in the aftermath of the unthinkable tragedy at Fort Hood. And we hold those who lost their lives and those who love them in our thoughts and prayers today. All of these men and women, they joined our armed forces because they love this country so much that they're willing to give everything they have to protect it.
And that commitment, it doesn't just disappear when they return to civilian life.
See, that's the beauty of it -- it doesn't go away. For many of these folks, service is the air they breathe. It's the reason they were put here on this Earth. And they don't just want to serve for a certain number of years of deployment -- they want to make their entire life a tour of duty.
And whether it's technical skills in engineering, logistics, public safety; whether it's leadership skills like team building and performing under intense pressure -- what they've learned standing watch over the homeland and fighting wars abroad is precisely what we need to meet our biggest challenges here at home.
And that's whether it's turning around a failing school or managing a big-city homeless shelter -- we need that energy; whether it's running a rural health clinic or rescuing a community struck by a natural disaster -- our veterans have what it takes for success.
So they have the skills to serve, and they have the will to serve -- and it's up to us to give them the opportunity to serve. And that's why the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act that my husband signed into law establishes a Veterans Corps. That's why our United We Serve summer of service program engaged veterans groups all across America, deploying them to serve their communities right here at home.
And that's why we're so thrilled about the endeavor you all are launching here today. Through the partnerships in this new coalition, wounded warriors are mentoring young people and combating gang violence. Through this initiative veterans are building homes in New Orleans, and working to reduce the dropout rate in Boston and Philadelphia, and helping their fellow veterans reintegrate into communities all across America.
And ordinary citizens are mobilizing to give something back to our men and women in uniform who've given us so much -- like offering free summer camps for military kids; or working to expand economic opportunity for military families; providing job training, educational support and mental health services for veterans.
It's this kind of work this administration has been doing since my husband took office. His budget called for the largest percentage increase in the Veterans Administration budget in 30 years, and that includes pay raises to our troops; it includes improvements in health care, education and housing; and career development for military spouses. (Applause.)
This administration is providing more on-base childcare and expanding the Family and Medical Leave Act to help military families and wounded veterans keep their jobs and fulfill their responsibilities as parents, spouses and caregivers.
And just this week, my husband signed an executive order that will dramatically step up our efforts to hire veterans throughout our federal government.
But we all know that in the end, supporting our military and military families requires more than just good government -- I say this all the time -- it also requires an active citizenship. Because when our troops go off to war, they are protecting every single one of us. The freedoms they fight for are ones that every single one of us enjoys.
So it's up to every single one of us to honor their service with service of our own. It's up to us to recognize our veterans not just for all they've done for this country -- but for all they will continue to do for this country. That's what Mission Serve is all about.
It's about honoring the dedication that led a young man named Kent Park to West Point and then ultimately to Iraq. And it motivated him to continue his service as a mentor to young people when he returned back home. And as Kent put it, he said,
"You have to be an active participant by giving back to your community and doing your part," he said, "…that's what being a citizen means. It's a lifetime of steady dedication to service."
It's about honoring the courage that led Amber Bahr, a soldier whom I met at Fort Hood yesterday -- see, Amber rushed to the aid of others during the attack last week -- as she helped out a number of her fellow soldiers, not even realizing she had been shot in the back herself. She later explained, this is her quote, "…my own personal safety wasn't really what mattered to me…making sure that my battle buddies were safe," she said, "that was my number one priority."
And it's about honoring the service and sacrifice of our military families, too. It's about honoring people like Daniel DeCrow, who I met at Fort Hood. He lost his son Justin. He said the last time he spoke to Justin, he told him how proud he was. And he later said, "That's what I said to him every time I saw him -- that I loved him and I was proud of what he was doing." He said, "I can carry that around in my heart."
So may each and every one of us carry that same pride, that same gratitude, that same love in our hearts -- not just on this day, but every single day.
Thank you so much and God bless you all. (Applause.)