President Bush on Tuesday said that when it comes to the military, his time in office will be remembered as the early years of a generational struggle against terrorism and of "a global coalition led by the United States" to fight for others' freedom.
At a military parade in honor of the president and the armed services at Fort Myer in Arlington, Mr. Bush said that of all his goodbyes in his final days in office, "nothing compares to the honor of standing before you today."
He told the troops the missions he sent them on were justified.
"The decisions I made as your commander in chief have not always been popular, but the cause you have served has always been just and right," the president said. "The missions you have carried out have always been necessary."
Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen said he'd been carrying a journal with him as he visited troops during the holidays for them to write messages to Mr. Bush, and the admiral read some of them to the president. One was a bit of advice from an admiring Air Force master sergeant who said Mr. Bush demonstrated agility in ducking the shoes thrown at him during his last trip to Iraq.
"Next time pick up the shoe and throw it back. We got your back," the sergeant wrote.
The journal is intended to be a parting gift to the president and first lady from military families.
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, who President-elect Barack Obama has asked to stay on into his administration, portrayed Mr. Bush as prescient even before he won election in 2000 for being able to see the ways the military would have to change to face modern enemies -- what he called "the unconventional and invisible threats."
Mr. Gates said Mr. Bush has left the military better prepared by changing the military base strategy that existed during the Cold War, fusing intelligence and military action together better than ever before, and increasing technology such as boosting to 6,000 the number of unmanned aerial vehicles.
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