Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

Does Mrs. Obama care more about vegetables than about soldiers’ wives?

I ask because as I understand it, after more than a year in the White House, Michelle Obama still doesn’t have a full-time aide for military family issues, despite having her concern for the military family part of the Obama presidential campaign. There is a White House aide named Matt Flavin who handles both, but ...

PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images
PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images

I ask because as I understand it, after more than a year in the White House, Michelle Obama still doesn’t have a full-time aide for military family issues, despite having her concern for the military family part of the Obama presidential campaign.

There is a White House aide named Matt Flavin who handles both, but mainly the veterans’ portfolio, and a bunch of other people with a finger in the pie, but no one dedicated to the issue. This is one reason we are seeing screw-ups like promising tuition aide for military spouses and then trying to shut down the program when it proved unexpectedly popular.

A big part of the problem has been the disarray in the Pentagon’s personnel office. This might have been resolved lately, with retired Marine Maj. Gen. Clifford Stanley finally being sworn in, but it is amazing that it went on for so long.

When Michelle Obama does engage, she seems to hang with generals’ wives at officers’ clubs, which indicates a certain tone deafness. Maybe that’s how they do things at Princeton, but those are not the people with whom she needs to connect. Have lunch with the wives of the enlisted — and make sure there is day care provided. This is another indication to me that she needs full-time help on this. It is time to get beyond lip service, and monitor implementation of policies and executions of budgets. The bureaucracy will spend all that money on itself unless pushed.

Here’s an interesting question: How many soldiers’ wives committed suicide last year?

I ask because as I understand it, after more than a year in the White House, Michelle Obama still doesn’t have a full-time aide for military family issues, despite having her concern for the military family part of the Obama presidential campaign.

There is a White House aide named Matt Flavin who handles both, but mainly the veterans’ portfolio, and a bunch of other people with a finger in the pie, but no one dedicated to the issue. This is one reason we are seeing screw-ups like promising tuition aide for military spouses and then trying to shut down the program when it proved unexpectedly popular.

A big part of the problem has been the disarray in the Pentagon’s personnel office. This might have been resolved lately, with retired Marine Maj. Gen. Clifford Stanley finally being sworn in, but it is amazing that it went on for so long.

When Michelle Obama does engage, she seems to hang with generals’ wives at officers’ clubs, which indicates a certain tone deafness. Maybe that’s how they do things at Princeton, but those are not the people with whom she needs to connect. Have lunch with the wives of the enlisted — and make sure there is day care provided. This is another indication to me that she needs full-time help on this. It is time to get beyond lip service, and monitor implementation of policies and executions of budgets. The bureaucracy will spend all that money on itself unless pushed.

Here’s an interesting question: How many soldiers’ wives committed suicide last year?

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

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