March 12, 2009 — -- First lady Michelle Obama wants military families to know they have a friend in the White House, she told "Good Morning America's" Robin Roberts in an exclusive interview today at Fort Bragg, N.C. -- her first network television interview since her husband took office.
"It hurts. It hurts," the first lady said of hearing about military families on food stamps. "These are people who are willing to send their loved ones off to, perhaps, give their lives -- the ultimate sacrifice. But yet, they're living back at home on food stamps. It's not right, and it's not where we should be as a nation."
Mrs. Obama also spoke about why she has faith the country will pull through its tough economic times, how her mother, Marian Robinson, has helped her family ease into the White House and how the Obamas are adjusting to their new home and life in Washington, D.C.
Watch "Good Morning America" Friday, March 13, at 7 a.m. ET for Robin Roberts' interview with first lady Michelle Obama.
Mrs. Obama's comments to ABC News followed an emotional private meeting with military families at Fort Bragg. The first lady traveled to North Carolina to hear their stories about the support services that are available to them and what can be done to better serve those who serve their country.
Mrs. Obama believes that she has an opportunity to bring attention and awareness to these issues and to accomplish something on behalf of military families across the nation.
"I think that's one of my jobs, is to try and shed some light on some of these issues," she said, "to not just be in that conversation with military spouses and hear those stories, but to take that information back to the administration to share it with the nation, so that we can think again about how we can better support these families."
Later, she met with community groups that provide such support to talk about how to improve coordination and to reach the people who need help the most as they struggle with the challenges and stress of deployment and the economic crisis.
Working with and for military families is at the top of the first lady's agenda as she settles into her new role in the White House -- so for her first trip outside of Washington, she chose to highlight the struggles of the nation's servicemen and servicewomen.
While on the campaign trail, the first lady hosted a series of roundtables for working women to discuss the challenges of balancing career and family. Aides said she was particularly moved by her conversations with military wives because of the added burdens they face with a spouse often abroad and in harm's way. As a result, she began hosting regular roundtables with military spouses.
Mrs. Obama is just beginning to delve into this outreach. She kicked off the effort with a visit to the Women in Military Service for the America Memorial Center at Arlington National Cemetery earlier this month. There she paid tribute to women who have served in the armed forces and the service of military families who "have a special courage and strength."
She said she has been "honored and deeply moved" to meet with these families in recent years.
Recently, when President Obama announced his administration's timetable for withdrawing U.S. forces from Iraq, he highlighted his wife's commitment to military families.
"My wife, Michelle, has learned firsthand about the unique burden that your families endure every day," the president told an audience of 3,700 Marines at Camp Lejune earlier this month. "I want you to know this: Military families are a top priority for Michelle and me, and they will be a top priority for my administration."
At Fort Bragg, the first lady paid a visit to the "Iron Mike" dining facility and drew cheers and applause from the lunch-hour crowd. Mrs. Obama stopped to chat and pose for pictures with soldiers and civilians before attending a private lunch with family members and Fort Bragg volunteers.
Reaching out to the entire military family is not just lip service for the first lady. At Fort Bragg, she read "The Cat in the Hat" to a dozen preschoolers at the Prager Child Development Center.
Mrs. Obama, who has visited local schools in Washington to read to young students, showed off some of the pictures and chatted with the 3- to 5-year-olds, asking them questions. She also sat down at a table with four toddlers who were making their own "Thank You" cards for wounded soldiers.
This is a setting that the first lady seems comfortable in -- combining the issue that is at the top of her policy agenda and the qualities of the "mom-in-chief" that she aims to be.
"It was like she was reading to her children," said Mattie White, a lead education technician at Fort Bragg.