KANEOHE BAY, Hawaii – President Barack Obama stepped away from the seclusion of his quiet Hawaii vacation for what’s become a Christmas tradition: paying tribute to U.S. troops and the sacrifices their families make during the holidays and throughout the year.
After a morning of presents and carols with their two daughters, the president and first lady Michelle Obama took a short drive to Marine Corps Base Hawaii.
“Michelle and I know that we would not enjoy the freedoms we do if it weren’t for the incredible dedication and professionalism and work that you do,” Obama said.
Obama, dressed informally in dark pants and a blue shirt, called out the names of some of the military units stationed here, prompting loud whoops from the troops. He recalled speaking by phone on Christmas Eve with 10 service members stationed in places like Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.
“It was just a sampling of the incredible sacrifice that you and your families make every single day,” Obama said. The Hawaiian-born president wished the troops a “mele kalikimaka” – a local phrase for “Merry Christmas” – before he and Mrs. Obama spent about two hours posing for photos.
The visit to this wind-swept base on a peninsula on Oahu has become almost a ritual for Obama, who seeks refuge from the stresses of Washington during his annual vacation in Hawaii. He frequently visits the base’s golf course and gym.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel also offered his holiday wishes to troops by phone, calling military members stationed in Afghanistan on Wednesday, the Pentagon said. And Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, Jill, paid a visit to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., where they visited patients and families.
Mrs. Obama did not speak publicly during the stop at the Marine base, but in a Christmas video message released Wednesday, she said now that more troops are home from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the nation must find new ways to give back.
“It’s our turn to step up and show our gratitude for the military families who have given us so much,” she said.
The Obamas are expected to remain in Hawaii through Jan. 5.