Two days before Father’s Day, I visited U.S. Army Garrison Vicenza, our military installation in northern Italy that is home to thousands of American service members and their families. For most Americans, the fathers and families who serve here probably aren’t very well known. Their incredible service often just doesn’t make it onto our radar.
So often, when we think of our men and women in uniform, we think of troops serving in a combat zone; families living on bases in California, Texas or North Carolina; or maybe a friend or neighbor who serves in the National Guard or Reserves.
But the fact is that we’ve got tens of thousands of military families stationed overseas in places like Germany, Korea and Japan. So this fall, thousands of military kids will start the school year on another continent, just hoping to make a few friends. Thousands of military spouses will put their careers on hold to move halfway around the world, worrying about whether they can keep their skills current for the job hunt when they return home.
For these families, being stationed overseas means they have to learn new customs and languages, and find their way around new parts of the world. For those at Vicenza, daily tasks like picking up supplies in town, taking a bus or planning a family outing can be a lot more complicated than they are back home. When a child has a fever or takes a fall, they have to speak to the doctor through a translator at the emergency room. When something happens back in America – a wedding, a funeral, a medical crisis – it takes a lot of time and money to get back to their families.
On top of all the usual challenges of leaving home and adjusting to a new culture, our troops in these places can be called at any moment to respond to threats or crises, often with just a few hours of lead time. And when that happens, their families serve right alongside them. Yet they never complain or ask for any special favors. They endure the stress of those deployments with courage and grace, celebrating milestones, birthdays and holidays with an empty place at the table.
That was certainly the case in Vicenza where, just a few days before I arrived, many of the troops had recently deployed to Eastern Europe for three or four months. So Sunday, on a day when families across the country are spending time with Dad – cooking him his favorite meal, writing notes in those construction-paper cards, maybe getting together with Grandpa, too – many of the kids at Vicenza will be thousands of miles away from their dads.
We did our best to make their Father’s Day weekend special, teaming up with USO, Disney, Blue Star Families, Operation Shower and Glam4Good to hold a barbeque, give new books to kids on base and surprise expecting mothers with gifts for them and their babies.
But supporting our military families simply cannot be just a one-day event. We need to serve these families every day, all year round. That’s why, four years ago, Dr. Jill Biden and I started Joining Forces, a nationwide effort to rally all Americans to honor and support our veterans, troops and their families.
And on this Father’s Day weekend, I want to challenge all Americans to ask themselves what they can do for our military families, especially those stationed overseas. You can start by going to JoiningForces.gov or reaching out to organizations like USO and Blue Star Families that support our military families.
These families have given us so much – even if we don’t always see their service and sacrifice on TV or in the news. That’s why, as first lady, I’m working as hard as I can to honor their commitment and dedication to this country. It’s why I intend to keep serving these families long after my time as first lady ends. And it’s why I’m going to ensure that whoever follows our family into the White House continues to honor these incredible families – not just with words, but with real action that makes a difference in their lives.
So, this Father’s Day, I hope all Americans will join me in this effort – because together, we can serve our military families as well as they have served us.
First lady Michelle Obama wrote this for McClatchy Newspapers.