First lady Michelle Obama lauded military families for their sacrifices and joined the vice president's wife and Martha Stewart on Wednesday for a lavish baby shower for pregnant military mothers, who opened gift boxes of baby clothes and other donated items.
"For all of you out there who might be spouses or moms or dads, I know that you're doing it all," the first lady told a pep rally of thousands of military members and base workers at North Carolina's Camp Lejeune before the baby shower. "Military families are so good at keeping everything together that it's almost like you're wearing camouflage, even though you're not the ones on the battlefield."
Later, at the party for some 40 mothers-to-be, the first lady and Jill Biden joined in saluting the women. Michelle Obama told them that she knows well the stress of running a household, juggling family finances, holding down a job and keeping up with child care duties.
She told them not to be afraid to seek help from a new program she unveiled a day earlier called Joining Forces, which is designed to raise awareness and support for military families.
Glancing over at Jill Biden, Michelle Obama told the crowd: "We're all proud of you for holding it together while your man is doing something hard."
Operation Shower, a nonprofit group formed to help women in military families who are expecting, organized the shower that featured an appearance by Stewart in a scrapbook demonstration that encouraged the women to preserve family memories. Gifts handed out at the shower also included blankets, stuffed animals, pillows and diapers for newborns.
Many of the items were donated by White House employees.
"We had boxes all over the West Wing and the East Wing," Michelle Obama said. "This was a fun way to give back."
Sponsors of the event included a company that donated a $600 crib to each of the expectant moms, a child- and elder-care provider that raffled off a $12,500 check — enough to cover child-care costs for a year — and a baby bedding retailer that gave each woman a $400 gift certificate.
Becky Palmer, from Pensacola, Fla., won the drawing for the $12,500 check. Her husband, Daniel, is a Marine who was wounded in Afghanistan last year and lost part of his leg.
"When I told him about winning the check, he asked me how I did it," Palmer said. "I said, 'I don't know.' All I know is it is going to be really helpful."
The shower was an emotional experience for Kaniya Knight, 20, who is expecting twins in June. Not only is her husband deployed, her mother will be leaving for Germany with her Army husband at the end of April. Knight moved to Jacksonville three months ago and has been hospitalized part of that time due to premature labor signs.
"I didn't have any of this stuff," she said, eyeing a large box of diapers, clothes, and baby accessories. "I feel lucky."
Later Tuesday in San Antonio, the White House spouses toured Brooke Army Medical Center, which cares for soldiers among those most severely wounded in combat. They include Air Force Tech Sgt. Israel Del Toro, who received severe burns to 80 percent of his body and received a robotic left hand after being ambushed in Afghanistan in 2005.
Del Toro watched as Michelle Obama and Jill Biden toured the privately funded Warrior and Family Support Center, where visitors are greeted by a sign that reads: "Life is all about how you handle Plan B." At a craft table, veteran David Jayne demonstrated how soldiers learn to re-use their hands by creating intricate mosaics made from hundreds of pieces of glass and metal.
"You'd be surprised what 6 months can do to someone with messed up hands," Jayne said.
Although the support center is on Fort Sam Houston, it runs entirely on private funds, helping families as their loved ones are rehabilitated. The building is designed like a large house with a spacious kitchen and living room. Michelle Obama said it's the type of place needed for families all over the country.
"Not every military family is going to live near a base ... But they need to have this type of resource where they live," Michelle Obama said.
After San Antonio, the White House spouses were headed to Denver for a baseball game with Colorado military families later Wednesday.
Associated Press writer Paul J. Weber in San Antonio contributed to this report.
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