KANEOHE BAY, Hawaii (AP) — President Barack Obama stepped away from the seclusion of his quiet Hawaii vacation for what's become a Christmas tradition: paying tribute to U.S. troops and the sacrifices their families make during the holidays and throughout the year.
After a morning of presents and carols with their two daughters, the president and first lady Michelle Obama took a short drive to Marine Corps Base Hawaii, where nearly 600 troops and their families gathered in a mess hall, half-eaten pieces of cake still on the table from Christmas dinner.
"Michelle and I know that we would not enjoy the freedoms we do if it weren't for the incredible dedication and professionalism and work that you do," Obama said. "The least we can do is just let you all know we're grateful to you."
Obama, dressed informally in dark pants and a blue shirt, called out the names of some of the military units stationed here, prompting loud whoops from the troops. He recalled speaking by phone on Christmas Eve with 10 service members stationed in places like Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.
"It was just a sampling of the incredible sacrifice that you and your families make every single day," Obama said. The Hawaiian-born president wished the troops a "mele kalikimaka" — a local phrase for "Merry Christmas" — before he and Mrs. Obama spent about two hours posing for photos.
The visit to this wind-swept base on a peninsula on Oahu has become almost a ritual for Obama, who seeks refuge from the stresses of Washington during his annual vacation in Hawaii. He frequently visits the base's golf course and gym.
It's also one of the few moments when Obama appears in a public setting during his trip. Aside from a basketball game and dinner at a Honolulu restaurant, the Obamas have remained largely out of sight since arriving here over the weekend. Obama has played a round of golf nearly every day and the first family has spent much of the time at a vacation rental in an upscale neighborhood in Oahu.