JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — First Lady Michelle Obama steered clear of an ongoing political controversy over mothers and work and instead used a Thursday evening stop in Jacksonville to praise military families.

Mrs. Obama visited Naval Air Station Jacksonville as part of the one-year anniversary of her “joining forces” program, which aims to help veterans and their families.

She was greeted in a wide-open hangar by hundreds of high-school aged girls whose parents are in the military. During the hour-long event, television star Ellen DeGeneres appeared remotely via a big projection screen and told all of the young women that they were getting a $250 department store gift card that they can use for their upcoming proms.

The first lady said it was important to recognize that the children of people in the military are also making sacrifices and must often move from school-to-school, or deal with prolonged absences of one of their parents.

“You have lived lives that make you incredibly special,” Mrs. Obama said. “…You don’t take your families for granted.”

The first lady did not comment about the flap over a Democratic consultant’s comment that Ann Romney — the wife of presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney — isn’t qualified to talk about the economy because “she hasn’t worked a day in her life.”

Earlier in the day Michelle Obama said on her Twitter account, “Every mother works hard and every woman deserves to be respected.”

Some of those in attendance at the event said they were surprised by the gift cards and praised Mrs. Obama.

“Amazing,” said 17-year-old Frances Hartberger, who attended the event with her father, a U.S. Air Force master sergeant.

Mrs. Obama’s visit to northeast Florida comes at a time when the state retains its status as one of the big swing states that could tip the presidential election between President Obama and Romney in 2012.

Four years ago, Republican John McCain won Jacksonville and Duval County, but not by a large margin. Last year the city elected its first Democratic mayor in 20 years. Mayor Alvin Brown, as well as other area Democratic politicians such as U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, were on hand for the first lady’s visit.

Despite the presence of politicians, Mike Dooley said he was “glad” Mrs. Obama visit “wasn’t political.”

Dooley, a 20-year retired military veteran who was with his 18-year-old daughter Morgan, praised the effort to help military families.

“I’m glad it was what it was,” Dooley said. “It certainly put a different light on the first family.”


Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.


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