CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
President Bush shook hands with U.S. troops on the Hickam Air Force Base tarmac yesterday as he prepared to leave Hawaii after an overnight stay. CLICK FOR LARGE
Commander in chief rallies troops
"They are serving freedom's cause," Bush says of Hawaii National Guard units
President Bush and first lady Laura Bush stayed on military bases for nearly their entire 16-hour trip to Honolulu Monday and yesterday.
After spending the night at the "distinguished visitor cottage" at the Makalapa Navy facility, the president and his wife joined about 300 isle troops for breakfast of scrambled eggs, ham, biscuits and sausage gravy in the Hickam Air Force Base Officers' Club yesterday.
The president addressed the troops for about eight minutes after breakfast. He strongly condemned the assassination yesterday of a Lebanese leader and said Syria and Iran were trying to undermine that country's government. He urged the U.N. Security Council to investigate the shooting death of Christian leader Pierre Gemayel, who opposed Syrian involvement in Lebanon.
DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
President Bush had breakfast with about 300 troops yesterday at Hickam Air Force Base, above, before attending a military briefing at Camp Smith. CLICK FOR LARGE
"Today we saw the vicious face of those who oppose freedom," the president said.
Bush, who stopped in Hawaii on his way back to Washington after an eight-day trip to Asia, also gave the troops some details about his efforts in Hanoi, Singapore and Indonesia.
"We talked about our common threats -- the common threat of terrorism, the common threat of pandemic outbreaks and the common threat of North Korea's nuclear weapons programs.
"I told them that the United States of America remains committed to Asia because we have key economic and security interests in the region. It is in our international interest that we be involved the Asian-Pacific region," he said.
Bush then turned his attention to boosting the morale of the troops of the Pacific Command.
"You are doing a really important job," he told them.
He thanked the military personnel for their service "on behalf of a grateful nation."
"You serve at a time when we witness an ideological struggle between those who love freedom and those who hate freedom," the president said. "I'm determined, like you are determined, that freedom prevails."
Referring specifically to the members of the Hawaii Army and Air National Guard, Bush said, "They are serving freedom's cause. We appreciate you volunteering to wear our uniform in a troubled time."
In Washington, the Democratic National Committee said, "Voters in Hawaii and across the country sent a clear message rejecting the Bush administration's permanent commitment to a failed strategy in Iraq."
Democratic National Committee spokesman Damien LaVera called the Bush trip "the latest photo-op with the troops."
After breakfast, the first couple traveled to Camp Smith in Halawa Heights, where the president and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice received a military briefing from Adm. William Fallon and other U.S. Pacific Command leaders. Laura Bush met military spouses for a discussion on housing, quality of life, education and other issues facing families stationed here.
The president, first lady and their entourage then jumped back into the motorcade for the short drive back to Hickam.
Bush stepped out of his limousine to greet about 250 members of the armed services from across the island. The servicemen and -women were selected by their units to attend the departure.
The president shook hands and talked briefly with some of the troops before boarding Air Force One at 9:50 a.m., about 30 minutes after his scheduled departure time.
"It was incredible," said Air Force Staff Sgt. Michael Addams of Seattle. "He was saying thanks for serving the country. It was an honor to be that close to him and be able to hear that from him."
Other troops said the president wished all of them a happy Thanksgiving.
Army Spc. Jose A. Perez, a combat medic who has completed one tour of duty in Iraq, said he expected nothing less.
"I know he supports the troops in every way," said Perez, a native of Cuba who calls Miami home. "I know that if he got the chance to be here the whole day and shake every person's hand, he would do it."
Senior Airman Margaret Verica of Cocoa Beach, Fla., described the experience as "breathtaking."
"For him to shake hands, talk to us and wish us a happy Thanksgiving -- that was just cool," she said. "I said, 'Thank you for all you do.' He told us thank you and that we're doing a great job out here and we're lucky to be in Hawaii."
Air Force took off about 16 1/2 hours after touching down on Monday evening when the president, first lady and Rice were welcomed by Fallon, Gov. Linda Lingle, Lt. Gov. James "Duke" Aiona, Mayor Mufi Hannemann and other local dignitaries. Fallon hosted a private dinner for the president and first lady Monday night.
While Bush spent about four more hours in Hawaii than his last trip on Oct. 23, 2003, this visit was much more subdued. During his last trip, Bush spent 12 hours on Oahu and visited the USS Arizona Memorial, the USS Missouri and Pearl Harbor Elementary School and attended two GOP fundraisers.
This time, the president and his entourage ventured off military property only when they were traveling to and from Hickam. Only one protester was seen during the entire trip.
Outside Camp Smith, a man held a sign accusing Bush of being a terrorist. The lone protester stood in front of about a dozen Honolulu police and military officers.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.