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First family arrives for island getaway


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POSTED: Friday, December 25, 2009

HICKAM » Nicole Johnson was among the throng of about 100 guests invited to greet President Barack Obama as he and the first family arrived yesterday at Hickam Air Force Base.

Cordoned off in an area a few hundred yards from where Air Force One taxied to a stop, Johnson cheered with everyone else as the president, wife Michelle and daughters Malia and Sasha got off the plane.

Many hoped to just get a glimpse of the first family and maybe snap a photo.

After greeting local government officials, Obama and the first lady made their way over to the crowd to shake hands, pose for pictures and wish the servicemen and women a merry Christmas.

“;It was amazing to be able to shake the hand of the president and say, 'Merry Christmas,'”; said Johnson, 37, an airman originally from Illinois and now stationed at Hickam. “;Mrs. Obama is amazing. She said she's happy to be here.

“;They said, 'Merry Christmas,' and thanks for everything that we do,”; she added. “;I just got to shake hands (with them), and that's the most amazing thing that I think I've ever been able to do in my life.”;

As he made his way down the line, Obama spotted 11-month-old Parker Makiya-Torco with her mother and grandmother—and he couldn't resist.

“;What a cutie! Come here,”; they quoted the president as saying as he reached out to hold baby Parker.

“;Unbelievable,”; said Parker's mom, Jodi Torco.

Air Force One touched down beneath sunny skies at Hickam at 2:41 p.m., kicking off the Obamas' traditional holiday vacation in Hawaii, where he was born and spent much of his childhood.

The vacation was delayed a day as Obama fulfilled his promise to remain in Washington until the Senate completed work on a landmark health care reform bill that is seen by many as the key issue of his presidency thus far. Soon after the Senate voted 60-39 to pass the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the first family was en route to Hawaii.

As they stepped off the plane, the Obamas were greeted by a delegation that included Gov. Linda Lingle; U.S. Reps. Neil Abercrombie and Mazie Hirono; Mayor Mufi Hannemann; Adm. Robert Willard, commander of the U.S. Pacific Command; Gen. Gary North, commander of Pacific Air Forces; and Col. Giovanni Tuck, commander of the 15th Airlift Wing at Hickam.

The mayor told reporters the first words the president said off the plane were “;Mele Kalikimaka.”;

David Milner was among the airmen waiting in the crowd, hoping just to see the president. He got more than that.

“;It was amazing to shake the hand of the most powerful man in the world,”; said Milner, 36, an airman from Hartwell, Ga. “;He said, 'Merry Christmas.'”;

Jeremy Akerson said it was great just to shake his boss's hand.

“;It was incredible,”; said Akerson, 29, an airman originally from Boston. “;I think to meet the commander in chief any time no matter where it's at—Hawaii or Washington, D.C.—is a good thing to do.

“;Not a lot of people get to do that.”;

His wife, Jenet, called the meeting “;awe inspiring.”;

“;You only see them on TV, but every once in a while you get a chance to see them up close and personal,”; she said. “;It's a very awesome feeling.”;

The Obamas stayed with the crowd for about five minutes.

The presidential motorcade left Hickam just after 3:05 p.m. and made its way to the rented Kailua beachfront home where the first family and guests will spend the next 11 days.

;[Preview]    Obama is greeted with aloha
  ;[Preview]
 

President Obama and his family were greeted by local service members at Hickam Air Field this afternoon.

Watch ]

 

The motorcade arrived at the home at 3:35 p.m., where the family and guests stayed for the night.

Obama has no public events scheduled during the trip.

Spending the holidays in Hawaii has been an annual tradition for the Obama family.

Obama was born in Hawaii and spent much of his childhood in the islands. He is a 1979 graduate of Punahou School.

His last visit, a year ago, was weeks before his historic inauguration as the 44th president. But it also was a time of sadness, coming almost two months after the death of his grandmother Madelyn Dunham, who helped raise him. The Obamas attended a memorial service for Dunham and also scattered her ashes off the Lanai Lookout in East Oahu.

During the vacation, Obama worked out most mornings at the Semper Fit gym at Marine Corps Base Hawaii in Kaneohe and played golf. He also visited with Marines and their families who were having their Christmas dinner on base.