ELMENDORF AIR FORCE BASE - President Barack Obama received a rousing welcome at Elmendorf Air Force Base on Thursday. Some 2,000 military troops and their families cheered as he saluted their service to their country and promised them the nation's support.
"As citizens of a grateful nation, we are humbled by their effort," Obama told the crowd, mostly attired in military fatigues. "I have no greater honor than serving as your commander in chief."
Obama told the soldiers he will increase the nation's defense budget and that the millions of dollars earmarked for defense will be spent properly, with more funds allocated to help military families. He saluted them for the sacrifices they make in the service of the nation, noting that many of those packed into the Air Force hangar were far from home.
"I will not risk your lives unless it is necessary," he said. "We will give you the support you need to get the job done, including support back home," with pay increases, childcare, better services for those injured in war, and more funding to the post-Sept.-11 GI Bill to further the education of service members.
Obama's brief visit to Alaska - his first to the state - came during a refueling stop on his way to Tokyo for his first trip to Asia.
Security was tight as the hangar filled with service members and their families, as well as civilians who are employed on base. But the crowd packed into the area before the podium was all smiles, and armed with cell phone cameras.
"It was awesome the way he recognized military families," said Frederica Norman, a military spouse from New York City, who was there with Sara Crawford, of El Paso, Texas, another military spouse.
Their husbands, both with the Army's 4-25th Brigade, are deployed in Afghanistan and won't return to the United States until February 2010, they said.
"I was thrilled that he was here," said Barron McLain, a career Alaska Air National Guard officer, there with his wife, Allison.
Specialist Kyle Kothstein, a 20-year-old combat engineer and paratrooper who said he will be deployed to Afghanistan in March, was there with several other men in his unit, all of whom expressed enthusiasm for Obama's visit. "It's pretty cool to see the president in Alaska," Kothstein said.
"It was amazing," said Specialist Robert Wyzanski, 22, of Boston, another of the combat engineers and paratroopers. "I think he is a great president.
"But please," said Wyzanski, "if you are going to quote me, say that I miss my son." Wyzanski said he has a 15-month old son, Jaiden, back home with his wife in Boston. The couple is expecting a second child, also a boy.
Among the Alaska politicians attending were Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, and Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan.
Two other members of Alaska's congressional delegation, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, did not attend. Nor did Republican Gov. Sean Parnell, whose aide said he had a speaking engagement that was booked a month earlier.