WASHINGTON – President Bush called nine U.S. service members deployed from Japan to the Persian Gulf on Saturday to recognize their service to the nation and wish them holiday cheer.
Placing the telephone calls from his mountaintop presidential retreat at Camp David, Md., Bush talked to eight men and one woman, a member of the Coast Guard stationed in the Gulf.
"The president wished them a Merry Christmas and thanked them for their service to our country," said White House spokesman Allen Abney. "He just wanted to tell them that he was thinking of them and their families at this holiday season and that the American people were behind them and supported their efforts overseas."
The White House did not release the names of the U.S. service members Bush called, but said that in addition to the servicewoman, the president spoke with two members of the Army and two members of the Air Force deployed in Iraq; two members of the Navy at sea; a Marine in Okinawa, Japan; and a member of the Coast Guard stationed at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Bush's father, former President George H.W. Bush, made a call overseas too.
The elder Bush, who recently was appointed to lead the United Nations' effort to help victims of the South Asian earthquake, told Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf that he would soon visit the quake region to inspect relief work, Pakistan's state-run television reported on Saturday.
An estimated 87,000 people were killed and 3.5 million were left homeless when the 7.6-magnitude quake struck Pakistan and the Himalayan region of Kashmir on Oct. 8.
The U.N. estimates 2.5 million people are living in tents below elevations of 4,920 feet, while 350,000-400,000 others are still at risk in higher areas, where snow has started falling and temperatures dropped below freezing.
Among those joining the president and his wife, Laura, at the wooded compound in Maryland's Catoctin Mountains are Bush's father; his mother, former first lady Barbara Bush; Laura Bush's mother, Jenna Welch; and the first couple's twin daughters, Barbara and Jenna.
Bush and his relatives as well as military families were attending a candlelight service on Christmas Eve at the Camp David chapel. The group also was watching an annual Christmas pageant put on by children of U.S. service members.
The first family's menu for a Christmas Day lunch includes herb-roasted free range turkey, corn bread dressing, mashed potatoes and giblet gravy, green beans, sweet potato souffle, pumpkin and pecan pies and red velvet cake.
The president and Mrs. Bush fly to their ranch in Crawford, Texas, on Monday, returning to Washington on New Year's Day.
In his radio address on Saturday, Bush urged Americans to look for ways to volunteer their time and talents to those in need.
"There are many among us who are hurting and require a helping hand," he said, citing the victims of hurricanes that struck the Gulf Coast. "We pray for their strength as they continue to recover and rebuild their lives and their communities."