Alaska Star contributor Nina Peacock joined dozens of reporters and writers from across Alaska Thursday inside Hanger 1 at Elmendorf Air Force Base to observe President Barack Obama's arrival in Alaska. Obama was on his way to Japan, and Air Force One stopped in Alaska, as it has done with presidents before, to refuel on base. This was Obama's first time in Alaska, although he has said it will not count as a true visit until he is able to see more of the state.
Obama entered Hanger 1 to handfuls of cameras held up in the air, soldiers and airmen packed into the space in front of his podium, and a roaring crowd, who had waited from as early at 8:30 a.m. to see and hear the president. After Obama's greeting, Peacock spoke with airmen and soldiers about their impressions of the president. Here are her interviews below:
Airman 1st Class Cody Nations, Air Force
What do you think about the president coming here today?
I think it was a great experience. It was great to take time out of his schedule ... and good that he met with some of the families of injured soldiers, even (families of) soldiers that have died from the war. He was laid back. It was a very personal talk ... from a different perspective than I've seen in the military. That's the third consecutive president that I saw. I saw Bill Clinton, George Bush, and now him.
How did you get to see those other presidents in person?
Bill Clinton came to my hometown in North Caroline about a year and a half ago; he was campaigning for Hillary (Clinton). I got to speak with him, shake his hand, and get a picture of him. George Bush, I saw him in Washington, D.C. ... with my father.
This is the first time seeing a president live while being in the military. So, it was a little bit different experience. This time it was a little more personal. I listened a little bit more and I took to heart what we had to say.
You said, you listened more - why was that?
When I went to see George Bush and I saw Bill Clinton, ... I was in awe. Now being in the military, having the uniform on, I actually took to heart what the president had to say. I wasn't just kind of listening and being a bystander. Now it's more (that0 I'm actually wanting to hear what President Obama had to say. I wanted to hear what he had to say.
Because it's going to effect you directly, what you do...
Definitely, definitely affects me directly. I'll never forget it, like I said. It was a great experience because not many people get to see a president in office in person.
Plus he's your boss!
Yeah. He is my overall No. 1 boss. We work together.
He said a lot of things that would affect you guys - increasing pay, family, not sending you into a place of danger unless it's necessary...
Right, and that's stuff that we listen to because, let's face it, we would love to get paid more. We would love to not have to go and put ourselves in harm's way and have to worry about our families, but we do that, we make that sacrifice, we take the oath and that's why we do it. Even though some of the things that we do are hard, it's moments like this that make it all worth it.
Why do moments like this make it worth it?
Because, you see how great this country is. This is not only your boss - he is the president in the greatest country in the world, (and he) is speaking to us, almost personally and directly. To hear him say thanks, instead of listening to him on the radio or seeing him on television, it just makes it all worthwhile.
Staff Sgt. Marquitta Pinckney, Air Force
Did you get to shake is hand?
I did get to shake his hand.
What's your reflection on the president's visit?
This is a historical moment for me, I mean the first African-American president, and myself being African American, to me it was personal. And then being in the military, everything that he spoke about, all the promises that he made as far as taking care of the military, taking care of the country, it just makes me proud to serve. I don't think I've had a more proud moment being in the military then I did today.
Anything in particular that he said that was memorable?
It's pretty much that since we go out there and fight on the front lines, just knowing that when we come back home, our families are going to take care of us and America's going to take care of us. So, to me that's what I took most out of it.
Do you feel like the military has Obama's support?
Absolutely, 100 percent. Just by him coming out, taking the time to visit and speak to us. I know he was stopping here to ... refuel Air Force One, but the simple fact that he took time out of his schedule to come and talk to the military members, how much more support can you give?
Staff Sgt. Neshanne Dean - Air Force
What were you feelings about Obama coming here today?
Well, it was exciting seeing him in person, and to actually give a speech, it was kind of inspiring. He's just very charismatic. It was really nice to hear how much he supported us and how he's increasing our pay and increasing the goods for the Air Force and the military al together actually.
He did seem really comfortable up there...
Yeah... he was able to relate with everybody without being robotic up there.
How do you feel politically?
I am a fan. I'm from Oregon, so very democratic.
1st Lt. Robinson Matammu - Air Force
What's your reaction to the event today?
Oh, it was great. You know, to be able to be this close on the president, to hear him speak, to actually be in the room and feel the electricity of the room - it was great.
What's your sentiment about President Obama, his politics?
I really like what he's doing with the country right now. That fact that he's not going to rush to make a decision with the soldiers but letting us know that if we need to go in harm's way, he will send us in harm's way but he's going to take care of the soldiers and their families.
Do you have any concerns that you think he was addressing in terms of how the Army takes care of soldiers' families?
When soldiers return back from their tours and duty... whatever the problem is, that the country's going to make sure that they that rehabilitation that they need.
Staff Sgt. Terrence Lewis - Army
What were your reactions today to seeing president Obama?
I liked it, he took time out of his schedule just to come and talk to his troops. It was more than just a stop to refuel. He came out here and wanted to be here.
How does that make you feel?
I like it a lot. He showed that he cared for us and what we do, and he didn't forget our families either.
Is that really important to you - family?
Yeah because, the person in uniform is not the only person there, you know? You got your whole family backing you up.
1st Lt. Macmillan Achu - Air Force
What's your reaction to the event today?
You know, I was really touched by his speech. Just focusing on the actual importance of the military, people get out of sight of that. I'm very impressed by (Obama) talking about the importance of the military.
Is there any part that was particularly touching to you?
Talking about the military families ... is very important because whatever you do at home, it helps you out with what you do in the workplace. If I have problems at home, it's harder to work, and we do what's best in those situations... to take care of the family, it's very important.
What kind of feeling did you have this morning, knowing that you were going to come here, wait in line, see the president?
I really wanted to meet him and shake his hand, actually, but I didn't get a chance because I was too far back, but I'll get my chances. He's a great guy, I think. I think a lot of the focus is on politics. But I think you need to go and look beyond politics and look at the nation as a whole. We see the focus on politics, but what's important is what's right for our country. What it is that we need for our country is what's important. What decisions that we make, that's what's important. It's not the political aspects of it. It's what we do, as Americans.
1st Lt. Andrew Conatser - Air Force
So what are your reactions?
I thought it was really good. It was nice for him to stop by, especially because of what happened in Fort Hood last week.
Anything in particular that was meaningful to you?
Just the fact that he took the time to stop by. It's the first time I've ever seen a president in person.
Is it meaningful to you then that Obama came to Alaska?
It's meaningful to me because it happened while Obama was in Alaska. If I would have been in Tennessee, then it would have been meaningful in Tennessee. So, it is meaningful because it was the first time I had seen him but for me when I look back on it in 20 years, 25 years, it will be in Alaska.