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Obamas honors US troops during low-key Christmas in Hawaii

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During a quiet family vacation in Hawaii, President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama celebrated an annual Christmas tradition honoring American troops and military families. The President called members of the military on Christmas Eve, Tuesday, Dec. 24, 2013 and the first couple both honored military members and their families during their Christmas themed weekly address and by visiting Marine Corps Base Hawaii in Kaneohe Bay on Christmas Day, Dec. 25, 2013.

The Obamas are now in Hawaii spending a 17-day vacation during the Christmas and New Year holiday. The President has been enjoying a laid back Christmas vacation since leaving for his native Hawaii on Friday, Dec. 20. The whole Obama family with daughters Malia, 15 and Sasha 12, and the first pups Bo and Sunny embarked on the trip, and are staying in a rented beachside home on the island of Oahu in Kailua, an upscale Honolulu suburb.

The first family have been most spending time out of the public glare, the most public outing before visiting the base on Christmas was the first family attending on Sunday, evening, Dec. 22 in Honolulu the Oregon State-Akron basketball game part of the Diamond Head Classic tournament to support Michelle Obama's brother, Chris Robinson who coaches Oregon State that coincidentally lost on Sunday.

The President himself has been spending most of his days golfing at the Marine base's golf course and working out in its gym. It was during a visit the gym on Dec. 24, that a 10 year-old girl from Toronto, Canada visiting the Marine gym with her uncle had a chance to meet the President and get his autograph, the president wrote to her in her journal; "To Krystin - Dream big dreams!" accompanied with his signature.

The first families' down time including spending Christmas morning in their rental home opening presents and "singing carols" as most families across America did on the holiday morning.

On Christmas Eve, Dec. 24 the President phoned ten military service members, two each from "the Army, the Marine Corps, the Navy, the Air Force, the Coast Guard," wishing them a happy holiday from their Commander-in-Chief. Obama phoned members stationed in "Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain," and the four injured in the South Sudan last weekend while evacuating American citizens from the region. Speaking the next day, Dec. 25 at the Marine Corps Base Hawaii, Obama expressed the phone calls were as he said; "It was just a sampling of the incredible sacrifice that you and your families make every single day."

First Lady Michelle had her own Christmas Eve phone call tradition to make, as she has done for the last four years, Michelle answered children's phone calls as part NORAD's (North American Aerospace Defense Command) annual Santa Claus tracker as he makes his journey around the world delivering gifts. The First Lady was on the hotline from 11 p.m. Hawaii time for a half an hour taking nine calls as Santa was making his trek over the continent of Africa and the war torn region of South Sudan.

As in per tradition, President Obama was joined by First Lady Michelle Obama for the Christmas themed weekly address. The weekly address entitled "The President and First Lady Wish Everyone a Happy Holiday Season" was recorded before they left on Dec. 20, 2013 and embargoed to be released on Christmas morning, Wednesday, Dec. 25, 2013. The address focused on Christmas traditions, thanking the troops, and urging Americans to help others, part of the truly religious meaning of Christmas, and wishing all Americans a Merry Christmas from the entire Obama family including the first pooches.

Taking turns speaking President Obama and First Lady Michelle first discussed family Christmas traditions with the First Lady discussing at length Christmas at the White House with much of the decorations dedicated to military families. The First Lady recounted; "Here at the White House, over the past few weeks, we've had about 70,000 people from all across the country come visit us and look at our holiday decorations…. And we made certain to highlight some of the most powerful stories we know - the stories of our outstanding troops, veterans, and military families and their service and sacrifice for our country."

President Obama then thanked the members of the military for their sacrifices protecting the country; "Our extraordinary men and women in uniform are serving so that the rest of us can enjoy the blessings we cherish during the holidays. But that means many of our troops are far from home and far from family. So today, we want all of our troops to know that you're in our thoughts and prayers this holiday season." Obama also noted this year with the war in Iraq ended and the war in Afghanistan trailing off less members of the military are away from the families; "And here's the good news: For many of our troops and newest veterans, this might be the first time in years that they've been with their families on Christmas."

First Lady Michelle spoke about her joint initiative with Second Lady Jill Biden, "Joining Forces" whose purpose is "to rally all Americans to support our military families in ways large and small." The First Lady recounted that "folks from across the country have found new ways to give back to these families through their schools, businesses, and houses of worship."

The President expressed how important it is to volunteer and help those less fortunate by "helping out at soup kitchens, buying gifts for children in need, or organizing food or clothing drives for their neighbors." He stated how personal this is for the Obama family as a religious tradition; "For families like ours, that service is a chance to celebrate the birth of Christ and live out what He taught us - to love our neighbors as we would ourselves; to feed the hungry and look after the sick; to be our brother's keeper and our sister's keeper."

President Obama urged all Americans to volunteer "regardless of our faith, those are values that can drive us to be better parents and friends, better neighbors and better citizens." While First Lady Michelle said it should be part of every American's New Year's resolution to "pledge ourselves to living out those values by reaching out and lifting up those in our communities who could use a hand up."

On Christmas Day afternoon, the President and First Lady visited the Marine Corps Base Hawaii meeting with close to 600 service members and their families enjoying Christmas dinner in Anderson Hall at the base.

President Obama delivered some brief remarks mostly thanking members of the military for the sacrifices to their country; "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. The least we can do is just let you all know we're grateful to you."

Obama also wished them a Merry Christmas in Hawaiian; "We hope all of you have a Mele Kalikimaka, and we hope you guys have a great new year as well." The President and First Lady spent almost two hours at the base taking photos with the service members and their families that were in attendance.

President Obama has had a difficult year, with his approval rating rocking bottom toward the end of the year after a disastrous rollout of his healthcare law, the Affordable Care Act in October. Speaking at his year-end press conference on Friday, Dec. 20, Obama said that during the winter break all he wants to do is have "a couple days of sleep and sun."

The President did not plan any public appearances during his vacation, but still has briefings especially regarding the situation in South Sudan, and has signed bills into law including the National Defense Authorization Act and two-year Bipartisan Budget Bill on Thursday, Dec. 26.

The President and first family will remain in Hawaii until after the New Year leaving on Sunday, Jan. 5, 2014 to return home again to Washington, D.C. where the President faces a tough midterm election year.

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Bonnie K. Goodman is the Editor of the Academic Buzz Network, a series of political, academic & education blogs which includes History Musings: History, News & Politics. She has a BA in History & Art History & a Masters in Library and Information Studies, both from McGill University, and has done graduate work in Jewish history at Concordia University as part of the MA in Judaic Studies program. Her specializations are US, Canadian & Israeli politics.

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