May 20, 2011

 
 
 
 

WASHINGTON — First lady Michelle Obama, who has visited with troops' spouses and children at bases across the USA, today takes her message of support for military families straight to the young men and women who will be leading future troops in battle.

Obama will address roughly 1,000 graduating cadets and their families at West Point's annual graduation family banquet held the night before commencement ceremonies.

Her appearance will break with tradition — those who speak at graduation events generally come from within the military's chain of command — and will mark the first time a first lady has addressed graduating cadets at the prestigious United States Military Academy.

West Point "reflects all of the things that mean so much to me — young people engaged not just in strong academics but a willingness to serve at a time of war," Obama said in an interview with USA TODAY on the eve of her appearance at the academy. "These are the best that we have to offer, and I'm honored and privileged to have the opportunity to speak to them."

She said she just found out that she'll be the first first lady to address the academy's cadets. "I think that it's kind of cool," she said.

West Point thinks so, too.

The cadets, who will be commissioned Saturday as Army second lieutenants. "are very much looking forward to Mrs. Obama's first visit and are honored to have her as the graduation banquet speaker," said Lt. Col. Sherri Reed, the academy spokeswoman.

At West Point, she will urge the cadets to remember that in their new role as officers, they will be responsible for more than just leading men and women in battle. "You'll be serving not just for yourselves and not just for your own families, but for these families, too," she said in her prepared remarks. "Just as our troops need your leadership and support, their families do as well — because they sacrifice and serve this nation right alongside anyone who wears our uniform."

In the interview, the first lady said she's eager to see the storied academy mess hall where she will address the evening banquet. "It sounds truly awe-inspiring," Obama said. "It's the kind of thing I wish my girls could see if it weren't past their bedtime."

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