After meeting with wounded Marines, first lady Michelle Obama told thousands of troops and their families Sunday that she is launching a national challenge for every American to find ways to make life easier for those fighting U.S. wars.
Since her husband took office, Obama has been visiting bases across the country as part of her mission to help military families. She called Camp Pendleton and the surrounding Southern California cities a model for community support of troops.
But California Republicans called the event a publicity stunt to help Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer, who is running for a fourth term and has been criticized by opponents for not doing enough to support troops. President Barack Obama has flown to California twice in recent months to help the imperiled incumbent's fundraising efforts.
Boxer and U.S. Rep. Susan Davis, D-Calif. accompanied Obama during her visit to the San Diego-area base on a sunny afternoon.
Counseling, support funding proposed
The first lady paid tribute to the five Camp Pendleton Marines killed in the last week in Afghanistan. She told the crowd of 3,500 troops and their families that she came to the base for a simple reason: "To help the rest of our country better understand and appreciate the incredible service of you and your families, and to make sure your voices are heard back in Washington and that your needs are met."
Obama began focusing on the needs of military families during the 2008 presidential campaign as the country fought two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and service members and their loved ones endured multiple deployments to the combat zones.
President Obama has proposed millions of dollars more for counseling, support services and military child care in his 2011 budget. Aides justified the spending on military families by saying their welfare is an important part of U.S. national security.
Marine Sgt. Keyonna Adkins, a single mother, said she could use the help.
The 23-year-old has struggled to find day care for her 3-year-old son. The base had such a long waiting list for its day care center, she finally went to a private one in nearby Oceanside, where she pays high rates.
"It's good there are a lot of programs, but we need day care," Adkins said.
Local communities praised
Obama praised nearby Fallbrook, whose chamber of commerce offers Marines the chance at an all-expense paid wedding package, and also lauded Oceanside, which has an "Appreciation Day" for troops. She said many cities in the area adopt Marine units and send the troops care packages.
"I want the whole country to be inspired by what is happening here in Southern California," Obama said.
Boxer spoke only minutes to the crowd, telling them how the president's economic recovery act provided funding to build a new hospital that will replace the 36-year-old facility on base, and gave money toward a new child care center.
She thanked the military wives who met with her, saying some of her best ideas that have led to legislation in the areas of mental health care, benefits and compensation "have come from you directly."
Legislation supported by Boxer recently provided $7 million for a Naval medical center in San Diego and another bill she co-sponsored gave $10.9 million for treatment for burn victims at a military facility in San Antonio, Texas.
Republican rival Carly Fiorina has challenged Boxer's legislative record on the military, and the former Hewlett-Packard CEO has tried to fire up the GOP base by circulating a video clip of the longtime senator reprimanding a general for calling her "ma'am" at a Senate hearing last year.
Fiorina's campaign manager called Boxer's appearance at Camp Pendleton rich in irony.
"The bottom line is that Barbara Boxer has shown a total disregard for our men and women in uniform, and her record on security issues is, to put it generously, dismal," Fiorina's deputy campaign manager, Julie Soderlund, said in an e-mail to The Associated Press.
"Today, she's getting some help yet again from the Obamas in an attempt to try to mask that over. But the facts are the facts. And the facts bite, especially for those who put their lives on the line everyday to protect this great nation."