Obama salutes troops in NJ as lawmakers look to future of military base

Barack Obama

President Obama puts his hand to his heart during the Pledge of Allegiance at the 102nd Abraham Lincoln Association banquet in Springfield, Ill., in 2009. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

As U.S. combat operations in Afghanistan are nearing an end, President Barack Obama visited Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in New Jersey Monday to thank the troops for their service.

 

Speaking in a hangar close by a massive aircraft, Obama got a warm welcome at the only U.S. base serving all three branches of the military.

The president was in Wrightstown to welcome troops home for the holidays and to thank them for their service.

“We stand united, we are proud of you. We support you, and we can never thank you enough,” he said to cheers and applause.

Air Force Staff Sgt. Jonathan Butler, who returned in August from an overseas deployment, said the president’s visit was a morale booster.

“It was very meaningful. I understand how he is trying to bring everybody home,” said Butler of Charleston, South Carolina. “We’ve been at war way too long, and I think it’s awesome.”

A veteran of service in Iraq, Army Sgt. Andrew Richardson of Maryland said he was pleased the president said U.S. combat operations in Afghanistan are ending.

“It’s a great thing. Most people over there now, they’re missing their families. It’s a good thing, bringing people back home because nobody really wants to be over there, but we have to do it,” Richardson said. “So it’s good all the way around.”

Cheers erupted when the president said he’ll sign the 1.1 trillion spending bill just passed in Congress that will fund the government for the coming year. The appropriations include a pay raise for the troops and health care for veterans.

As the troops hailed next year’s salary hike, members of New Jersey’s congressional delegation were thinking about the long-term operations of the military facility.

Concerned about the possibility of Pentagon spending cuts that could reduce the scope of the base mission, newly elected U.S. Rep. Tom MacArthur said his top priority as a member of the House Armed Services Committee will be ensuring the base doesn’t lose its mission as a refueling facility if KC10 tankers are phased out.

“As every KC10 is retired, I’m going to fight have a KC46 brought here in replacement, so that we don’t lose any mission here,” he said.

MacArthur, a Republican, was in perfect accord with New Jersey’s senior U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez, a Democrat.

Saying the facility is vital to national security and an important generator of New Jersey jobs, Menendez said he is urging the president to recognize the importance of maintaining mobilization and demobilization functions at the base instead of moving them to another state.

“If 20 percent of the entire National Guard and Reserve lives within 300 miles here, it’s a lot cheaper for the Army and for the services to mobilize people and demobilize people from this location than any other,” he said.

And the joint base is essential to the local economy, Menendez said.

“This is incredibly important to New Jersey — $7 billion in economic activity, 40,000 jobs, the second largest employer in the state,” he said.

Meanwhile, senior Airman Quentin Rose of Dallas said the president’s visit made him and his fellow service members feel appreciated.

“It was really good to see him come today and tell us that, finally, that after all 13 years of this with Afghanistan and all the places in the Middle East, that we’re about to all be out of there finally,” Rose said. “All the sacrifice that we made.”

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