First lady Michelle Obama said Saturday that the U.S. military specialists who killed terrorist leader Osama bin Laden showed "the very essence" of public service.
Mrs. Obama made her first public remarks about bin Laden's death during the commencement address at University of Northern Iowa. U.S. officials have said Navy SEALs shot and killed bin Laden and four others Monday at his luxury compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan.
"Just imagine, a small group of brave men, dropped by helicopter, half a world away in the dead of night into unknown danger inside the lair of the most wanted man in the world," Mrs. Obama told the graduating class at the UNI Dome in Cedar Falls. "They did not hesitate, risking everything for us, for our freedom and security. And they did it not just as Navy SEALs. They did it as husbands, as fathers, as sons. Their families were back here, with no idea of their mission or whether their loved one would ever come home."
The first lady evoked the SEALs' actions as part of a call for the graduating class to engage in public service after they leave the university.
"Now, that's the very essence of the word 'service,'" she said of the military action. "And the least we can do is give something back to these troops and their families who have given us so much."
President Barack Obama met Friday in Fort Campbell, Ky., with some of the Navy SEALs who led the raid on bin Laden's compound and presented them with the Presidential Unit Citation, the highest honor for a military unit.
Mrs. Obama's speech Saturday was the first of the 2011 graduation season and marked her first visit to Iowa since the 2008 presidential election.
She campaigned in Iowa often for her husband before he won the state's Democratic presidential caucuses three years ago and spoke Saturday about how important that was to his rise and eventual election as president. Iowa's caucuses traditionally kickoff the presidential election season and Obama's victory there helped him secure his party's nomination.
On Saturday, Mrs. Obama recalled the warm reception she received when she first visited Iowa.
"People didn't know a thing about me, yet they listened. They asked questions," she told the audience of about 16,000 in the university's football arena. "They gave me the benefit of the doubt and a chance to show who I was. And that's because people here in Iowa understand that everyone has something to offer."
The first lady had no other events in Iowa on Saturday.