Washington • Leaders from the central Utah city of Richfield were feted at the White House on Wednesday for their support of military families, getting a personal thank-you from First Lady Michelle Obama.
Richfield was one of five winners of the Joining Forces Community Challenge, an initiative founded by Obama and Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden, to celebrate groups who back the country's troops.
Hundreds of people filled the south lawn of the White House, where guests listened to a military band and enjoyed refreshments in spite of the cold before Obama and Biden emerged to laud the winners.
"We knew we were going to get some support, but the outpouring of support hours logged, love shown far surpassed our wildest expectations," Obama told the crowd. "It shows every American is proud of men and women in uniform."
Biden called the winners "shining examples of what we've seen" around the United States. "To sum it up in one word, it's inspiring."
The city of Richfield with a population of 7,500 was one of 300 communities, foundations and non-profits that entered the challenge. The city has supported its area Army National Guard unit through four deployments since Sept. 11, 2001, waiving utility fees and enlisting businesses to give breaks to families left behind. Tens of thousands of dollars were raised for military family Christmas parties and for a veterans memorial.
City council members Richard Barnett and Mike Turner as well as Cody Workman, commander of the Utah National Guard's 222nd units based in Richfield, represented the city the only municipality honored.
"Coming from a small-town atmosphere and to be treated so kindly by these people of power was just amazing," said Turner, accompanied by his wife, Kristi. "Everyone has been so gracious and complimentary for our program."
Having been deployed multiple times throughout his 18-year military career, Workman has first-hand experience with Richfield's warmth and felt honored to be recognized on a national stage.
"The community is so supportive in every way," said Workman, who attended with his wife, DonaMae. "The most overwhelming thing for me was to see, on a national level, the concern for military families and their unique challenges."
The Joining Forces initiative focuses on connecting veterans with employment, education and wellness, working around their unique needs. Other winners included the Armed Forces Service Center in St. Paul, Minn.; Defending the Blue Line in Hastings, Minn.; Give an Hour in Bethseda, Md.; Project Sanctuary in Parker, Colo. and the People's Choice winner, Our Families First Foundation in East Greenwich, R.I. The People's Choice winner was picked by voting via Facebook; judges picked the five winners.
"We may all agree or disagree with politics surrounding certain things, but the fact that the American public is behind the soldier was probably the best part of the experience for me," Workman said.