First lady Michelle Obama, right, shakes hands with Marine Corps Lt. General Joseph Dunford, left, before a a speech at Camp Pendleton Marine Corps Base in San Diego Sunday, June 13, 2010. (AP Photo/Denis Poroy)
CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. -- First lady Michelle Obama is launching a national challenge for every American to find ways to make life easier for the families of U.S. troops.
Obama spoke to 3,500 troops and their families at the Marine base Sunday as part of her ongoing mission to help military families. She called Camp Pendleton and the surrounding Southern California cities a model for community support of troops.
But California Republicans called Obama's appearance a publicity stunt to help Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer, who is running for a fourth term and has been criticized by opponents for not doing enough to support troops. President Barack Obama has flown to California twice in recent months to help the imperiled incumbent's fundraising efforts.
Boxer and U.S. Rep. Susan Davis, D-Calif. accompanied Obama during her visit to the San Diego-area base on a sunny afternoon.
Obama paid tribute to the five Camp Pendleton Marines killed in the last week in Afghanistan. She told the crowd she came to the base for a simple reason:
"To help the rest of our country better understand and appreciate the incredible service of you and your families, and to make sure your voices are heard back in Washington and that your needs are met."
Obama began focusing on the needs of military families during the 2008 presidential campaign as the country fought two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and service members and their loved ones endured multiple deployments to the combat zones.
President Obama has proposed millions of dollars more for counseling, support services and military child care in his 2011 budget. Aides justified the spending on military families by saying their welfare is an important part of U.S. national security.
Marine Sgt. Keyonna Adkins, a single mother, said she could use the help.
The 23-year-old has struggled to find day care for her 3-year-old son. The base had such a long waiting list for its day care center, she finally went to a private one in nearby Oceanside, where she pays high rates.
"It's good there are a lot of programs, but we need day care," Adkins said.
Boxer spoke only minutes to the crowd, telling them how the president's economic recovery act provided funding to build a new hospital that will replace the 36-year-old facility on base, and gave money toward a new child care center.
She thanked the military wives who met with her, saying: "Some of my best ideas that have led to legislation for mental health benefits, compensation, etc. These have come from you directly."
Legislation supported by Boxer recently provided $7 million for a Naval medical center in San Diego and another bill she co-sponsored gave $10.9 million for treatment for burn victims at a military facility in San Antonio, Texas.
Republican rival Carly Fiorina has challenged Boxer's legislative record on the military, and the former Hewlett-Packard CEO has tried to fire up the GOP base by circulating a video clip of the longtime senator reprimanding a general for calling her "ma'am" at a Senate hearing last year.
"The bottom line is that Barbara Boxer has shown a total disregard for our men and women in uniform, and her record on security issues is, to put it generously, dismal," Fiorina's deputy campaign manager, Julie Soderlund, said in an e-mail to The Associated Press.