President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama greeted military service members and their families at a holiday dinner held Thursday afternoon at Marine Corps Base Hawaii.
"Hello everybody, Merry Christmas. It’s so nice to see you all," said Obama, dressed in dark khaki pants and a plaid long-sleeve shirt with rolled up sleeves, shortly after 4:30 p.m. "Everybody here has done such extraordinary service on behalf of the country. Every Christmas we have the opportunity to come by and say thank you not only to you, but also to family members who are here because you guys serve right alongside those in uniform."
The visit marked the Obamas’ seventh consecutive Christmas Day greeting at the base in Kaneohe.
Standing with the first lady, who wearing a patterned dress with black flowers and a peach-colored flower pattern on top, Obama reassured the crowd of about 420 people assembled in the mess hall that America is a safer place because of their service.
"This is an important year. We’ve been in a continuous war now for almost 13 years," he said. "Next week we will be ending our combat mission in Afghanistan."
In response, someone in the crowd then shouted "hurrah" and people clapped.
"Because of the extraordinary service of men and woman in the American armed forces, Afghanistan has a chance to rebuild its own country. We are safer. It’s not going to be a source of terrorist attacks again. We still have some very difficult missions around the world, including in Iraq. We still have folks in Afghanistan helping Afghan security forces. We have people who are helping deal with Ebola in West Africa and obviously we’ve got folks stationed all around the world, but the world is better. It’s more peaceful, it’s more prosperous and our homeland is protected because of you and because of the sacrifices you make each and every day."
According to press pool reports, before Christmas Eve dinner with family and friends, Obama made phone calls to U.S. service members from each branch of the military to express his gratitude for their service.
On Christmas morning, the first family opened gifts and sang carols at their vacation rental home in Kailua before spending part of the afternoon at the beach.
Obama, his wife and daughters Malia and Sasha pulled up midday in their motorcade to Bellows Air Force Station in Oahu, where they were joined family and friends at a beach on the air base near Kailua Bay.
Christmas Day marked the first family’s sixth vacation day on Oahu. The Obamas are expected to stay at the luxury rental home for about two weeks.
The Associated Press contributed to this report