WASHINGTON (AP) — Offering a pre-Veterans Day salute to U.S. troops, President Barack Obama said Thursday that the "American patriots" who voluntarily go into harm's way to keep the country safe and protect its cherished freedoms have the respect and admiration of a grateful nation.
The commander in chief also spoke movingly of having met a service member who was left on death's doorstep after being wounded in an explosion during his fifth tour of duty in Afghanistan, and how that individual was brought back to life, in part, through hours and hours of music therapy.
"He's even playing, as I understand it, a little bit of golf," Obama said as he opened a musical tribute to service members, veterans and their families. "We honor them with the beauty of music, music that has the power to inspire us and fill us with pride and, yes, sometimes to help us heal."
The program is the latest edition in the PBS series "In Performance at the White House." It was taped inside of a large tent erected on the South Lawn with a view of the White House, and was attended by first lady Michelle Obama, Cabinet secretaries and several hundred service members, veterans and families.
It was scheduled to be broadcast Friday on PBS stations nationwide.
The night featured rock and roll by the band Daughtry, performing via satellite from a USO concert in Japan, and country music from Willie Nelson. Hip-hop artist Common, singer Mary J. Blige, John Fogerty and Latin musician Romeo Santos also performed.
Obama said the mix of rock, country and everything in between was "fitting because here in America, no matter where you're from, no matter what music you listen to, we're all united in our respect and admiration for our brave men and women who wear our country's uniform."
Obama has said lifting up those men and women is one of his top priorities.
He met Wednesday with the top two officials at the Department of Veterans Affairs, Secretary Robert McDonald and Sloan Gibson, the deputy secretary, urging both to continue working to improve services, health care and accountability for veterans, the White House said.
Obama also regularly touts administration efforts to cut the staggering backlog of disability claims filed by veterans, reduce homelessness among them and help veterans, their spouses and children pursue higher education under the post-9/11 GI bill.
The Obamas also have pushed the federal government and private employers to make hiring veterans and their spouses a priority.
Earlier Thursday, the first lady put a spotlight on military children by inviting some who attend Maryland and Virginia high schools to a workshop with Nelson and Common.
Mrs. Obama said military kids are some of the most resilient young people she has ever met. She said their families move an average of six to nine times by the time they receive a high school diploma and that, each time, the students have to adjust to new homes, schools, neighborhoods and friends.
But there is a lesson in the continued inconvenience, Mrs. Obama said, even though it may not always be readily apparent.
"As tough as it is, this stuff makes you stronger and more resilient, and it's going to make you successful," she said as she welcomed the students to the ornate East Room for a tutorial on the history of music and the military. "So it's a badge of honor," she said. Nelson played guitar and sang.
Mrs. Obama and Jill Biden, Vice President Joe Biden's wife, lead a nationwide effort called "Joining Forces" to encourage the public to support service members, active duty and retired, through acts as simple as mowing their lawn.
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