Anchorage Daily News gallery of 46 photos available HERE.
Dignitaries in attendance included Democratic Senator Mark Begich and Republican Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan. Senator Lisa Murkowski, still recovering after plowing through the one-foot tall, 1,900+ page health care boondoggle recently passed by the U.S. House, had a prior commitment in Kotzebue, and Congressman Don Young did not return to Alaska for the recess, although he generously donated his two tickets to Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ethan Berkowitz and his wife. Republican Governor Sean Parnell also had a prior commitment to address the Associated General Contractors in downtown Anchorage, but Lieutenant Governor Craig Campbell was there to represent him.
An estimated 2,000 people were on hand to listen to Obama's speech. By all indications, it was not a mandatory formation for military personnel, although I can tell you from personal experience that senior NCOs and officers were probably strongly "encouraged" to attend if available (it's called "mandatory fun"). Attendance tickets were actually parceled out to the different military units on Elmendorf and Fort Richardson.
Before speaking to troops for roughly 15 minutes, the president said he met with the family of Marine Cpl. Gregory M.W. Fleury, a Service High School graduate who died on October 26th, 2009 while serving in Afghanistan. Obama promised the troops they'd be provided with a clear mission, equipment and public support at home. "I want you guys to understand I will never hesitate to use force to protect the American people or our vital interests," Obama said. "But I also make you this promise -- I will not risk your lives unless it is necessary to America's vital interests. And if it is necessary the United States of America will have your back." Read the complete transcript of Obama's speech HERE; Obama's entire 15+ minute speech was also captured by KTUU and is embedded below:
One unidentified airman posted a comment to KTUU's story, criticizing their coverage of Obama's appearance, and claiming it made the troops sound like Obama groupies:
Guest Today 6:00:15 PM
As one of those servicemen required to attend todays event, I would like to straighten out a few of KTUU facts. The article made it sound like we wanted to be there an hour early out of excitment, hardly, we had too be there early to get through the metal detectors. That is nothing special about Obama, I did the same to see Presdent Bush. Also, the families and servicemen that met with the President were not all KIAs (obviously, as some of the servicemen that met with him are still on Active Duty). All that being said, it is still an honor to meet the Commander in Chief who I have sworn to uphold the orders of, whether I agree with them or not.
A separate ADN story discusses the itinerary and purpose of the trip. After the short layover, Obama left Anchorage for his first major trip to Asia as president. Obama was expected to travel first to Tokyo, where he would speak on his Pacific Rim policy and meet with Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama. A surging China and newly assertive Japan are chipping away at America's standing on diplomacy and trade. Obama will also add Singapore and South Korea to the 16 foreign countries he's already visited.
Prime Minister Hatoyama swept to power vowing a more equal partnership with Washington. He's promised to halt Japan's refueling of U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan, review its basing agreement for 47,000 U.S. troops and explore the possibility of a new Asian trading block excluding the United States. On the other hand, he's pledged $5 billion to aid Afghan development.
But the highlight of Obama's trip is the stop in Singapore on Saturday November 14th for the annual Asia-Pacific economic summit, where 21 nations assemble to discuss regional economic interests. Complicating the summit is a resurgent wave of protectionism, spawned in part by America's economic problems.
Obama's biggest challenge in Asia is the rising economic and military power of China. Obama will meet with Chinese leaders in Shanghai and Beijing, tour the Great Wall and Forbidden City and hold a town hall meeting with Chinese youngsters at a Shanghai museum during a three-day stay. Issues on the menu include the vast trade gap between the U.S. and China, the undervalued Chinese currency, and a laundry list of minor disputes on everything from Chinese tire exports to DVD piracy. Obama also wants Chinese help in thwarting nuclear programs in Iran and North Korea, and its cooperation on a new climate treaty. This will also be a major test for the new U.S. Ambassador to China, former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman Jr., who, because he's a Mormon, is considered by many to be a particularly inspired selection.
Obama will then cap his trip with a visit to South Korea as his administration prepares to send an envoy to Pyongyang for rare direct talks.