RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany – First lady Laura Bush (search) on Tuesday thanked U.S. soldiers for giving up their safety and the comforts of home to fight for democracy in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"Each of you has a greater impact than you can ever imagine on people that you will only know for a brief time," she told troops and their families in an aircraft hangar.
"All of you are delivering the greatest gift they'll ever receive by sacrificing your own comfort, your own safety and your own lives so that others might know freedom."
Mrs. Bush, who also visited about 20 wounded soldiers at nearby Landstuhl (search) Regional Medical Center, flew to Germany a day ahead of the president, who was attending meetings with NATO leaders in Brussels, Belgium. Ramstein Air Base (search) has been heavily used in support of post-Sept. 11 U.S. military campaigns.
While Germany's government and most of the population oppose the war in Iraq, the two sprawling facilities remain symbols of U.S.-German ties built up after World War II. Ramstein has been the place where planes carrying the wounded land — and also a more somber way station for the return of the bodies of U.S. troops killed in action.
Mrs. Bush was scheduled to rejoin her husband Wednesday in Mainz, a city near Wiesbaden where the president is to hold talks with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder. The president also is scheduled to visit the 1st Armored Division in Wiesbaden, including some of the same troops he surprised in 2003 with a Thanksgiving Day visit to their mess hall in Baghdad.