By Maj. Kimberly Holman, 146AW
/ Published July 07, 2011
BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. -- Michelle Obama wants to see more stories of military families on TV and in movies, so on June 13, 2011, she came to Hollywood to do something about it. The First Lady met with members of the writers, producers, directors and actors unions to discuss Joining Forces, an initiative aimed at increasing public consciousness and support of military families. She pleaded with the entertainment industry to bring the story of military families to the big and small screens.
Capt. Kelly Smith, a pilot with the 146th Airlift Wing at Channel Islands Air National Guard Station, was invited to the event as a representative of the military who, like so many people in the armed forces, has a fascinating real-life story.
The First Lady told 500 people crammed into the Writers Guild Theater in Beverly Hills that the sacrifices and challenges facing military families deserved more attention -- and one of the best ways of doing that is through movies and TV shows. TV and movies have the power to teach, she said.
"The work isn't that hard because the stories are already compelling," Obama said to the writers, actors and producers. "So I would urge you to do what you do best: Be creative, be funny, be powerful. Move us. Move America to think differently about these families and our men and women who serve so graciously."
Smith's story is about three sisters who grew up in rural Washington state on a farm--a farm with an airstrip. Both Mom and Dad are pilots, and Dad required each of the three girls to get their private pilot's license. The story took off from there, thanks to much encouragement from their parents and many inspiring words of confidence. Flying seems to be in their blood, with several generations of pilots in the military preceding them. Kelly flies the C130J cargo plane with the Air National Guard, and her sisters fly the Blackhawk and the Kiowa helicopters on the active duty side.
Hit shows like "Army Wives" and even Nickleodeon's "iCarly" are based upon military families and the challenges they face. While in Hollywood, Obama was scheduled to make a brief appearance in an "iCarly" episode. Obama's daughters are "iCarly" fans, so her role on the show makes her "the coolest mom on the face of the planet," she said. The "iCarly" episode is a perfect example of how stories of military families fit perfectly into our everyday entertainment.
Smith sat directly next to the First Lady and shared the stage with a retired Soldier and the wife of an Army officer. Writer-director J.J. Abrams (behind blockbuster movies like "Star Trek" and "Super 8") moderated the discussion, while Obama spoke about inspiring Americans to better understand the sacrifices made by military and their families so that appreciating them becomes part of our national fabric.
"I didn't come from a military family," said Obama. "I began to realize how little I knew, so I began to ask the question, 'why?'"After researching the issues and working with the Vice President's wife, Jill Biden, together they learned that while military service members represent only one percent of our population, they shoulder the responsibility of protecting our entire nation. "They miss birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, and so many of the daily moments we spend with the people we love; they make incredible sacrifices," she said.
"In the end, this isn't just about the stories, but about having the men and women and their families who serve our country feel the gratitude every day from a grateful nation," Obama said. "If we set this foundation, not just for today but for forever, regardless of whom the president is in office, that this is a part of who we are as Americans and lifting these families up ... then we've been successful."
The Hollywood effort to highlight military through the Joining Forces initiative includes three public service announcements presented by Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks and Oprah Winfrey, each describing how military families are coping with deployments. The public service announcements are scheduled to run in July in theaters and on TV.
After the panel concluded, the First Lady took the time to personally thank each service member in attendance for their commitment, dedication and service.
"It was awesome!" said Army Sgt. 1st Class Dorothy F. Jarman, platoon sergeant, 2nd Heavy Equipment Transport Unit, 916th Striker Brigade, out of Fort Irwin, Calif. "The First Lady is very well grounded and seems to not only understand the needs of the American service member, but the changing needs of military families too."
And what lies in the future for Kelly and her sisters? Our exposure has been challenging, fun, and stressful at times. I hadn't done any public speaking since running for eighth grade president! But if the result of this publicity sheds light on the true lives of military members and helps their families get credit for all they sacrifice, then I say 'bring it on, Hollywood!'" Seems that this story might be continued...