- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 24, 2005

ASSOCIATED PRESS

President Bush called nine U.S. service members deployed from Japan to the Persian Gulf yesterday to recognize their service to the nation and wish them holiday cheer.

Placing the telephone calls from his mountaintop presidential retreat at Camp David, Mr. Bush talked to eight men and one woman, a member of the Coast Guard stationed in the Gulf.

“The president wished them a Merry Christmas and thanked them for their service to our country,” said White House spokesman Allen Abney. “He just wanted to tell them that he was thinking of them and their families at this holiday season and that the American people were behind them and supported their efforts overseas.”

The White House did not release the names of the U.S. service members Mr. Bush called but said that, in addition to the servicewoman, the president spoke with two members of the Army and two members of the Air Force deployed in Iraq; two members of the Navy at sea; a Marine in Okinawa, Japan; and a member of the Coast Guard stationed at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Among those joining the president and his wife, Laura, at the wooded compound in Maryland’s Catoctin Mountains are Mr. Bush’s father, former President George Bush; his mother, former first lady Barbara Bush; Laura Bush’s mother, Jenna Welch; and the first couple’s twin daughters, Barbara and Jenna.

Mr. Bush, his relatives and military families were attending a candlelight service on Christmas Eve at the Camp David chapel. The group also watched an annual Christmas pageant put on by children of U.S. service members.

In his radio address yesterday, the president urged Americans to look for ways to volunteer their time and talents to those in need.

Earlier in Iraq, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld served Christmas Eve dinner to dozens of U.S. soldiers in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, then fed them his view — with a mix of optimism, caution and emotion — of why the war must be won.

“We will win this war. It’s a test of wills, and let there be no doubt that is what it is,” he said. Mr. Rumsfeld told the troops that “generations before you have persevered and prevailed, and they too were engaged in a test of wills.”

“In this fight, the vast majority of Iraqis stand on the side of freedom,” he said over the roar of helicopters flying over a regional U.S. military headquarters that once was a palace of Saddam Hussein.

Mr. Rumsfeld, winding up a five-day trip that began in Pakistan and included stops in Afghanistan and Jordan, said the battle for Iraq is part of the wider global war on terrorism, which he called “this long war against terrorism, and it will be a long war.”

Mr. Rumsfeld said the Christmas season was a time to remember those who have been lost in combat.

“You folks have helped liberate some 25 million people for whom hope was never there before,” he added.

Before he spoke, Mr. Rumsfeld helped serve the soldiers a dinner of rib-eye steak, lobster, crab legs, Cornish game hens and all the seasonal fixings. Grinning widely and wearing a white cook’s hat, he worked his tongs as many of the soldiers snapped pictures of him and politely asked for their helpings.

“Steak’s the big seller tonight,” he said after the first several dozen soldiers had gone through the line.

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