Michelle Obama applauds military families at Coors

'You all are sacrificing'
The Colorado Statesman

DENVER — First Lady Michelle Obama helped children of military families run the bases at Coors Field during an appearance to launch an effort aimed at supporting service members and their families on Wednesday.

“You all are sacrificing,” Obama told about 200 members of military families who spent a couple hours cavorting on the grass at Coors Field before a sudden rainstorm drove the festivities up into the concourse. “Your lives have been turned upside down, but you guys are doing it with grace, and we’re so, so very proud of you. And America needs to know that, and we need to rally everyone around you.”

First Lady Michelle Obama, right, cheers on children from military families during an appearance at Coors Field on April 13. Obama and Jill Biden, left, the wife of Vice President Joe Biden, made a stop in Denver as part of a nationwide tour to promote an initiative to support military families.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman
Colorado Rockies public address announcer Reed Saunders, right, welcomes mascot Dinger to a stage already crowded with celebrities at Coors Field. From left, pop singer Jessica Simpson, wife of the vice president Jill Biden and First Lady Michelle Obama prepare to launch an initiative supporting military families.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman
About 200 military families had the run of Coors Field on April 13 as part of the launch of the White House’s Joining Force’s initiative.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman
Colorado Rockies owner and CEO Dick Monfort introduces Gov. John Hickenlooper on the concourse after a sudden rainstorm drove the program inside.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman
Members of the Air Force Academy baseball team watch pop singer Jessica Simpson sing “God Bless America.”
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman
Children show First Lady Michelle Obama their Obama memorabilia while an Air Force Falcons player helps another youngster at bat at an event to support military families.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

Dr. Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden, joined Obama on the two-day, five-city tour to promote the Joining Forces initiative, a program that encourages everyone to support the troops and their families. In Denver, members of the Air Force Academy baseball team helped the military children practice — the home team Colorado Rockies were in New York beating the Mets 5-4 in a game displayed on the giant screens — and pop singer Jessica Simpson belted out “God Bless America” to inspire the families.

Describing herself as “a proud military mom” — her son, Beau, serves in the Delaware Army National Guard — and giving a shout out to National Guard families, Biden rallied troops and tykes alike to their cause.

“One of the things that Michelle and I are doing is we’re going out across the United States, and we’re trying to send out a message of how important military families are,” she told the excited crowd. “And we want to get the word out to all Americans about the sacrifices that you make for all of us.”

The first and second ladies’ whirlwind, cross-country tour started Wednesday morning in North Carolina with a visit to Camp Lejeune, then stopped in San Antonio before arriving in Denver. On Thursday, the schedule included a stop at Fountain-Fort Carson High School in Colorado Springs — where military families predominate — for a science and math competition and wound up in Columbus, Ohio, with a concert featuring one of the Jonas Brothers and Elmo from Sesame Street.

Along with their husbands, Obama and Biden kicked off the Joining Forces initiative the day before in Washington, D.C.

“This campaign is about all of us, all of us joining together, as Americans, to give back to the extraordinary military families who serve and sacrifice so much, every day, so that we can live in freedom and security,” Mrs. Obama said on Tuesday at a White House ceremony.

The initiative includes a website, JoiningForces.gov, that rounds up opportunities to support military families with employment, education and public awareness.

Gov. John Hickenlooper welcomed the celebrities to Colorado and gave the families some words of encouragement.

“What an honor it is to be able to take you a little bit outside the world of your cares and give you a unique experience of Coors Field that no one else gets to see,” he said. Then he turned to the dozens of youngsters sitting rapt at his feet. “You kids especially, you’re not going to realize it right at this moment, but you’re going to remember this night for the rest of your lives.”

Tiffany Swisher of Westminster — whose boyfriend, Capt. Erik Houk Whitaker of Boulder, flies Blackhawk helicopters in the Army National Guard and is nearing the end of a year-long deployment in Iraq — was one of the military family members who came to Coors Field to watch the game and spend time with others who have loved ones serving overseas. She said she was thrilled to meet the first lady and that Houk was excited when he heard the news in one of their regular online video chats, though she added that keeping in constant touch is getting more difficult.

“It’s getting tougher and tougher to communicate,” Swisher said, explaining that as troops draw down in Iraq, the internet providers are pulling up stakes to move to Afghanistan and the service has become less reliable.

Still, she acknowledged it’s a far cry from what previous generations of military family members endured. “I have a star from World War II in my window,” she said, a reminder that that generation’s wives and girlfriends didn’t have the luxury of complaining about spotty video chats. “I cannot imagine just getting letters,” she said with a sigh and then displayed a broad smile. “I can’t wait until he comes back.”

Ernest@coloradostatesman.com