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President Bush Thanks Military, Families During Fayetteville Visit

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FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. — President George W. Bush has wrapped up a busy visit to Fayetteville and Fort Bragg.

President Bush left the Fayetteville Regional Airport aboard Air Force One around 3:30 p.m. Friday. The presidential motorcade arrived at the airport about 15 minutes earlier.

After speaking in front of a crowd of 4,200 inside the Cumberland County Arena Friday morning, the president got a firsthand look at training exercises and a taste of military life at Fort Bragg.

At noon, President Bush was treated to lunch at an open air Mess Field Kitchen of the 528th Special Operations Support Battalion from Fort Bragg.

"There's no other experience for us. This is the greatest honor we could ever have in the Army or Armed Forces," said Sgt. Richard Newton, mess kitchen supervisor.

The president was offered a choice of lasagna or Cornish game hen from a mess kitchen trailer. By 12:07 p.m. he was eating a plate of lasagna in a mess kitchen tent alongside troops from Psychological Operations, Civil Affairs, Special Forces Rangers, Special Operations Support and other soldiers.

"He didn't compliment me about the food. He didn't say anything to me," said Sgt. Michael Barham, a mess kitchen cook. "I've heard little rumors that he liked it, he liked the lasagna real good. I also saw his plate. He ate a pretty good portion of his lasagna, although he did not eat all of it."

After wearing a suit earlier in the day, the president had changed into a Ranger Airborne hat, blue shirt, dress slacks and black cowboy boots for his Fort Bragg visit.

After his meal, Bush shook hands with about two dozen troops and spoke briefly with local and national media.

Prior to lunch, the president viewed a non-combatant evacuation demonstration at Range 68. The 22- to 25-minute demonstration was performed by Special Operations units of the United States Army.

The units included Rangers from Fort Lewis, Wash., Special Forces Green Berets from Fort Bragg, and the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment from Fort Campbell, Ky.

The exercise involved troops rescuing several people being held hostage in a mock American Embassy and the use of various military aircraft.

From his vantage point from the third floor of an adjacent building, the president, along with National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, Senior Advisor to the President Karl Rove and Chief of StaffAndrew Card, watched as Army Rangers and other soldiers fought their way in and out of the building.

As part of the operation, a "Little Bird" helicopter carrying four Rangers landed on a nearby rooftop and paratroopers performed a military freefall, landing in a nearby drop zone.

The drop zone quickly became a landing zone for two Special Operations MH-47 Chinook helicopters carrying troops, four motorcycles and a Ranger Special Operations land vehicle. The vehicle, described as a modified Land Rover, is used for particular Ranger missions.

From above, another group of Rangers fast-roped, or rappelled, from a MH-60 Blackhawk onto the roof of the makeshift embassy. They cleared the building room by room, setting up blocking positions for other troops.

Once the building was cleared and the hostages were safely secured, Rangers moved to another side of the building.

An MC-130T Air Force Special Operation Force refueling aircraft flew overhead with the Blackhawk and a Chinook in tow. The Blackhawk was being refueled at the time.

Afterwards, the president said the troops looked "well trained" and said that he was glad they are on our side.

"It was the best place for him to see all things that were happening,"said Spc. Charles Ulrich, an Army Ranger from Fort Lewis who participated in the demonstration. "There was a lot of things that were taking place at one point in time. It's sort of like being at a football game and being at the 50 yard line."

Air Force One landed at the airport around 9:20 a.m. Upon his arrival, the president and members of his staff were welcomed by U.S. Senate candidate Elizabeth Dole, Republican Robin Hayes of Concord, Second District Congressman Bob Etheridge and Seventh District Congressman Mike McIntyre of Lumberton.

From there, the president was whisked off to the Cumberland County Arena where he was greeted inside by a crowd of 4,200 people.

Attendees waved American flags, held up homemade signs and chanted "USA, USA" as the president was introduced.

Among those in the audience were members of the military from Fort Bragg and Pope Air Force Base, military families, local school children and members of some community organizations.

During his

27-minute speech

, Bush shared the stage with members of the military. The president thanked them and their families for their sacrifices and contributions.

"We face a dangerous war. I'm proud of the courage -- not only of the soldiers who volunteer for battle -- but for the loved ones who remain behind. Not only am I proud of our soldiers, I'm proud of the wives and husbands and sons and daughters and moms and dads and on behalf of a grateful nation, we thank you as well," Bush said.

The president made special mention of two men who recently lost their lives serving in Afghanistan.

Army Chief Warrant Officer Stanley L. Harriman and Air Force Technical Sergeant John A. Chapman died serving in Operation Anaconda. The president said that they "died in a just cause for defending freedom and they will not have died in vain."

The president also talked about continuing efforts in the war on terrorism.

"These terrorists are now on the run and we intend to keep them on the run," he said. "We will hunt them down one by one."

To a standing ovation, the president said "we will defend the innocent lives of the American people by bringing terrorist killers to justice."

"They are going to find there's not a cave deep enough to escape the long arm of American justice," Bush said.

The president also talked about stopping the spread of weapons of mass destruction. "There is no margin for error. There is no chance to learn from any mistake. Men who have no respect for life must never be allowed to control the ultimate instruments of death," Bush said.

The president said that the U.S. military must have everything it needs to meet the objective and announced that he has asked Congress to quickly pass a one-year, $48 billion increase for national defense, including a pay increase for the military.

While many Fayetteville residents hoped to catch a glimpse of the president during his visit, a few were invited to meet him.

"I never thought anything like this would happen to me," said Jane Davis, a registered nurse and military wife. Davis was a member of Bush's welcoming party.

President Bush honored Davis as an example of lifetime commitment to service during his speech at the arena. The Red Cross volunteer spent time at Ground Zero tending to rescue workers.

The president also met the wives of a Fort Bragg soldier and a Pope airman killed in Afghanistan.

Friday's visit is the president's third trip to the Tar Heel state this year.

During a visit to Charlotte last month, Bush talked about the war on terrorism, pushed his Welfare to Work plan and met with former welfare recipients. He also attended a fundraiser for Republican U.S. Senate candidate Elizabeth Dole.

In January, Bush spoke in Winston-Salem the day after his State of the Union address. The president talked about education and the war on terrorism.

Bush is the eighth U.S. president to visit Fort Bragg.