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Michelle Obama hails servicemembers and families in Vicenza

Michelle Obama greets members of the military community at Vicenza,Italy, following her speech about supporting military families Friday, June 19, 2015.

JASON DUHR/STARS AND STRIPES

By NANCY MONTGOMERY | STARS AND STRIPES Published: June 19, 2015

VICENZA, Italy — Before Michelle Obama told military families stationed in this small northern Italian city how much she loved and admired them, she took a moment Friday to speak to the grief and tragedy of the killings of nine people in a Charleston, S.C., church.

“As my husband said yesterday, simply saying our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and community of Charleston does not convey the heartache we all feel,” Obama said, of the attack Wednesday in a historic black church.

“There is something particularly horrifying about something that happens so senseless in a house of worship,” she said, and she has hope “that tragedies like these will come to an end.”

She said she found hope in servicemembers and military families, “and that’s why I’m here today. To thank you all. To thank every single one of you.”

Obama told the hundreds of troops and their families gathered to see her that she was committed to promoting their cause. “I want to tell all Americans that the service of families like yours never stops. You are the most heroic, patriotic and strong families our country has to offer.”

The first lady has emphasized the importance of supporting military families for years. In 2011, she and Jill Biden, Vice President Joe Biden’s wife, announced Joining Forces, a program to help veterans and military spouses connect with the resources and training they need to find jobs.

Obama’s trip to U.S. Army Garrison Vicenza was, as far as anyone knows, the first time a first lady had visited the base since Americans took up residence after World War II. The visit took place at the Villaggio housing area near Caserma Ederle.

She mentioned the difficulty of living overseas, heightened when a servicemember deploys. “When one of your kids has a fever, you have to work through a translator at the hospital,” she said. “And your loved ones can be whisked away on very short notice.”

Her welcome was warm, with people repeatedly shouting out, “We love you!” during her 15-minute speech. “I love you more,” she replied on one such instance. “I really do. It moves me to see you all looking so good and being so happy.”

After her remarks, Obama moved among the crowd, shaking hands and chatting.

“She shook my hand,” said an excited Camille Qetlah, a Vicenza High School junior. “She just said, ‘Thanks for everything.’ She’s beautiful.”

Pablo Caballero’s 4-year-old daughter, riding on his shoulders, also shook the first lady’s hand, her father said. He and his wife, carrying their new baby, were hoping to give the first lady a present: baptism favors wrapped in pale blue paper.

Next, Obama, along with her teenage daughters, her mother, a niece and several soldiers, served up ice cream and sprinkles to a long line of children, many of whom then moved to a school gym for story time. Sasha and Malia Obama read, followed by their mother, and Col. Robert Menist, garrison commander, who read the part of the monster in “Don’t Play with Your Food.”

The final event was a surprise baby shower for 23 expectant mothers, who knew they’d be meeting with the first lady but did not know there would be a room full of baby strollers, baby and maternity clothes, expensive jewelry and cosmetics, as well as fashion advisers and stylists.

That event was sponsored by Operation Shower and GLAM4GOOD.

Some of the women had asked to discuss with Obama their concerns about delivering their babies in the local Italian hospital, which some Americans have found unresponsive to their needs. The garrison for years had a birthing center that allowed Vicenza women to deliver their babies on base. But the center closed a year ago; officials blamed funding cuts.

The visit was part of a trip that took the first lady and family to London and Milan for a mix of official events and sightseeing. They were scheduled to go next to Venice, where no official duties were planned.

montgomery.nancy@stripes.com

First lady Michelle Obama approaches the stage at an event in Vicenza, Italy, to promote and support military families Friday, June 19, 2015.
JASON DUHR/STARS AND STRIPES

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