President Barack Obama sought to give a morale boost to U.S. troops in Afghanistan on Friday, telling a crowd of nearly 4,000 soldiers in Bagram that the nation is united behind them this holiday season.
Obama apologized for the late notice of his visit, but he told the crowd, who are members of the 101st Airborne Division: “I wanted to make sure that I could spend a little of this holiday with the men and women of the finest fighting force the world has ever know. That’s all of you.”
The president became teary-eyed when talking about fallen soldiers and said he knew it was not easy to be away from home, particularly during the holidays. “I know it’s hard on your families,” he said. “You’ve got an empty seat at the dinner table. Sometimes during the holiday season, that’s when you feel the absence of somebody you love most acutely.“
But Obama said he could not meet his greatest responsibility of keeping the American people safe without the “extraordinary service” of the troops in the room.
“On behalf of me, Michelle ... and 300 million Americans, we are here to say thank you,” the president said. ”I also want to say thank you to your families back home so when you talk to them you know that they know they’re serving here with you, in spirit if not in body.”
Gen. David Petraeus, the commander of U.S. Central Command, introduced Obama to the group and presented him with “manly man” T-shirts specially made for him by military leaders.
“No one will mess with you if you wear this, Mr. President,” Petraeus said as he presented Obama with a shirt.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.