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Obama Hails Troops, Families at Commander in Chief's Ball

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, (01/21/2009) - President Barack Obama saluted U.S. troops and their families, paying special tribute to wounded warriors and families of the fallen, during an inaugural ball last night that included a live videoconference with deployed Illinois National Guardsmen.

"Tonight isn't simply about the inauguration of an American president," Obama told the audience at the Commander in Chief's Inaugural Ball. "It's a celebration of our military and our military families, so going forward you will have our support and our respect."

The ball, co-hosted by the senior enlisted advisors of the five branches of the armed forces, and attended by Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the service chiefs, was among 10 official inaugural balls the president and first lady Michelle Obama attended last night.

Obama pledged that he, along with Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric K. Shinseki, would work tirelessly to serve thoise who have served the nation in uniform.

"Every single day that I am in the White House, I will try to serve you as well as you are serving the United States of America,"Obama told the group, which included about 300 wounded warriors, families of fallen servicemembers and military families.

"It is wonderful to be surrounded by some of the very best and bravest Americans,"Obama said. "Your courage, grace and your patriotism inspire us all. To you, and to all those watching around the world, know that as president, I will have no greater honor or responsibility than serving as your commander in chief."

Obama said the celebration was made somber by the knowledge that many U.S. troops are serving in harm's way.

He spoke to some of those troops -- members of the Illinois National Guard's 33rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team -- during a live video feed from Kabul, Afghanistan.

Army Command Sgt. Maj. Mark Bowman, the top enlisted soldier in Task Force Phoenix, rendered the new commander in chief his first presidential "hooah"and introduced his fellow soldiers, many from the Chicago area.

Bowman invited Obama to return to Kabul to "sit down with some of the great Afghans we work with."

"As we develop their security forces,"he continued, "come on back when you get a chance, sir."

Obama bantered with the troops about Chicago neighborhoods and baseball teams, then turned serious as he thanked them for their service and pledged his support.

"No matter where you are from, we are all grateful to you for your outstanding service,"he said. "You make us proud, and we are going to do everything we can to make your work go smoother.

Obama told the troops they need to know that "every single American, regardless of party, regardless of what their politics are, support you, and will always support you."

As the United States fights two wars and faces dangerous threats to its security, "we depend on the men and women of our armed forces to keep us safe,"he said.

Obama noted that service and sacrifice extend to the families that stand behind the men and women in uniform.

"Every time a serviceman [deploys], there is an empty seat at the table back home, and a family that has to bear an extra burden,"he said. "And that's why tonight we don't just salute our troops, we salute the military families who have earned the respect of a grateful nation."

The president reiterated the call he made during his inaugural speech for the United States to embrace the deeply held values upon which the nation's foundation was built. "While the tests we face are new, and the ways in which we meet them may be new, the values on which our success depends are old,"he said.

"Those values -- like hard work and honesty, courage and tolerance, loyalty and patriotism - those are values that are embodied in our armed forces,"the president said.