Obamas Thank Troops in Christmas Message, GOP Vet Recalls Why He Served

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WASHINGTON -- President and first lady Obama gave troops a special message of thanks to U.S. troops in  the president's taped weekly radio and Internet address, and urged Americans to to help support military families this holiday season.

Separately, a Republican congressman who served combat tours in both Iraq and Afghanistan offered the GOP message to troops for the holidays.

In a Christmas message released early for the weekend, Obama said serving as commander in chief has been his greatest honor as president. He saluted the "selfless spirit" of those who serve and said he has been "humbled, profoundly" by those who made the ultimate sacrifice.

"So to all our men and women in uniform spending the holidays far from home -- whether it's at a base here in the states, a mess hall in Iraq or a remote outpost in Afghanistan -- know that you are in our thoughts and our prayers," the president said in a message released Thursday.

"And this holiday season -- and every holiday season -- know that we are doing everything in our power to make sure you can succeed in your missions and come home safe to your families."

Given his own Christmas gift of Democratic-led Senate passage of a health insurance overhaul, Obama offered praise for the military before leaving Washington on Thursday. He then took one question in which he said he was sending a holiday wish to reporters.

"I'm on my way right now to call a few of them and wish them merry Christmas and to thank them for their extraordinary service as they're posted in Iraq and Afghanistan," he said.

Mrs. Obama, who doesn't normally appear in the weekly address, recalled her visits with "military spouses doing the parenting of two" to keep their households together.

"But even these strong military families can use a hand, especially during the holidays," she said. "If you live near a military base, you can reach out through your workplaces, your schools, your churches.

"There are so many ways to help -- with child care, with errands, or by just bringing over a home-cooked meal," Michelle Obama said.

For service members on active duty around the world, the president added that kids can send greeting cards and adults can send care packages or prepaid phone cards. He directed listeners to the White House Web site "for more ways to let our troops know you care."

Thousands of Marines left for Afghanistan in the days prior to Christmas, part of the president's surge of 30,000 forces to the region. He has said he wants to set a benchmark of July 2011 to start pulling them out of the embattled country.

California Rep. Duncan Hunter said he knows well the longing to be home for the holidays, and asked Americans to keep in mind those less fortunate and the members of the military .

"Thoughts of home remind us of why we serve: because we're proud to be Americans, because we want to pass on to our children the blessings of liberty that we inherited from our forefathers, and because nothing matters more to us than protecting our homes and our families," he said.

He added that despite the separation of families, "This is not a time for sadness or regret."

Adding some politics into the GOP's weekly radio response, Hunter noted the country's 10 percent unemployment rate and Republican solutions for increasing jobs and reducing government debt.

"I hope we also take a moment this year to reflect on those suffering here at home. For too many families, this will be a difficult Christmas," he said.

"Let's resolve in the new year to end misguided efforts to create new laws that will cost even more jobs, whether it's the 'cap and trade' national energy tax, the government takeover of health care, 'card check' or even more tax increases," Hunter said. "Working together, we can make the next holiday season even brighter for all Americans."

Even in these tough economic times, Obama said, there's still much to celebrate this Christmas, including the birth of Jesus.

"The love family and friends. The bonds of community and country. And the character and courage of our men and women in uniform who are far from home for the holidays, away from their families, risking their lives to protect ours," he added.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.