FORT HOOD, Texas – President Bush attended an Easter (search) service Sunday at Fort Hood (search) where he offered prayers for peace and the well-being of American soldiers and their families.
For a third straight year, the president made the 50-mile helicopter flight from his ranch in Crawford to mark Christianity's highest holiday at the largest active-duty armored post in the military and a base that has contributed thousands of troops to the U.S. force in Iraq.
"I want to wish all the fellow citizens and their families a happy Easter," Bush told reporters after the service. "We prayed for peace, we prayed for our soldiers and their families. It's an honor to be here at Fort Hood to celebrate Easter with those who wear the nation's uniform."
Bush and his family worshipped at the 4th Infantry Division Memorial Chapel along with several hundred other worshippers, some of whom wore Army fatigues and other uniforms. The first family occupied the entire right front pew. Joining them were Bush's parents, his wife and his twin daughters.
There was no fanfare for the first family during the service, other than a brief recognition at the beginning. One of the pastors thanked the president's mother for getting him out of bed early for Easter service and said it was a good habit. "He may go somewhere one of these days," the pastor said to laughter from the congregation.
The president and his family then returned to the ranch for the day. Their Easter dinner menu included Texas grapefruit; homemade mozzarella salad; glazed ham; green chili cheese grits soufflé; roasted asparagus with lemon dressing; chive biscuits; fresh fruit; coconut cake; and blueberry pie.
Bush was returning to Washington on Monday, but did not plan to be back at the White House in time for Monday's traditional Easter egg roll on the South Lawn. His plans for the week include a speech on freedom and democracy Tuesday in the Rose Garden and a trip to Iowa Wednesday to promote personal accounts for Social Security.
Earlier Sunday, the top U.S. military officer in the Mideast spoke of hopeful developments in Iraq and their effect on the number of U.S. troops in the country.
"I think that we've gone from a primarily military environment, to a primarily political one. And that's a very encouraging sign," said Army Gen. John Abizaid, the commander of U.S. Central Command.
"Obviously, the longer we have a delay in the formation of the Iraqi government, the more uncertainty there will be. The more uncertainty, the greater chance for escalated violence," he told CNN's "Late Edition."
"American forces provide the shield by which the political process can take place. And American forces also have got to develop the Iraqi security forces. When politics move forward and Iraqi security forces move forward, you will start to see not only a big change in the prospects for peace and prosperity in the region, but an opportunity for a pretty substantial drawdown of our own forces," Abizaid said.
Military leaders have said that the extra 15,000 or so U.S. troops added during the run-up to Iraq's elections in January would be gone by the end of March. That would leave the U.S. force at about 138,000 troops, thousands of whom are from Fort Hood.