***image1***RHEIN-MAIN AIR BASE, GERMANY – Amidst frigid temperatures and blowing snow, President George W. Bush, met by German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, arrived here Wednesday as part of his European tour.
Accompanied by Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card, President Bush stepped off Air Force One and waved to a crowd of approximately 100 civilians and military members, including Brig. Gen. Rosanne Bailey, 435th Air Base Wing and KMC commander, who was the official greeter for Chancellor Schröder upon his arrival earlier in the morning.
After greeting other high-level officials, President Bush stepped into his motorcade and drove to Mainz, Germany, where Chancellor Schröder hosted talks about the future of NATO and rebuilding efforts in Iraq. According to White House officials, the president was met by first lady Laura Bush – who visited the KMC Tuesday. The couple took a tour of the Gutenberg Museum as part of his visit with the German chancellor.
Mainz is the hometown to Johannes Gutenberg, inventor of the printing press, and the museum houses the world’s first printing presses and a Gutenberg Bible dating to 1455, according to city officials.
After the visit, the president met with nearly 3,000 U.S. military members and spouses from the Air Force and the Army’s 1st Armored Division at Wiesbaden, Germany, many of whom were in Iraq when the president made his surprise visit during Thanksgiving.
“We are honored that the president and Mrs. Bush have chosen Wiesbaden to visit with Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines and family members of the United States European Command,” said Maj. Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, commanding general of the 1st Armored Division.
The president’s whirlwind tour began with back-to-back meetings with NATO and European Union leaders in Brussels, Belgium, where he affirmed that “in this new century, the United States and Europe reaffirm that commitment (of democracy, freedom and rule of law) and renew our great alliance of freedom.”
***image2***First lady visits the KMC
A day earlier, Mrs. Bush visited Ramstein and Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in an effort to show her gratitude not only for the military members, but their families as well.
The visit started at LRMC leaving 15 patients with presidential pins and a lifetime of memories.
“This is a dream come true for me,” said Spc. Geoffrey Ives, an injured Soldier with the 615th Aviation Support Battalion, 4th Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division. “I’ve been in the Republican party for a long time. This is tremendously inspiring and something I’ll tell my grandchildren.”
The next stop hit home as the first lady rallied in Ramstein. More than 1,500 military members, spouses and children took part in the historical encounter.
“Anytime the first lady takes time out of her already busy schedule to stop by and give the military thanks, it makes you realize that Americans do care,” said Master Sgt. Patrick Austin, 723rd Air Mobility Squadron, Air Mobility Control Center superintendent.
The event also included the U.S. Air Forces in Europe Band, The Gatlin Brothers and the “American Idol” runner-up, Diana DeGarmo, as a warm-up to Mrs. Bush’s appearance.
“I am thrilled to be at the home of the 435th Air Base Wing, the 86th Airlift Wing and the 38th Combat Support Wing. There is no place I’d rather be than spending time with the men and women of the United States military and their families,” said Mrs. Bush. “On behalf of my husband and all Americans, we want you, and all the men and women who are serving around the world, to know we support you, we believe in you, and we’re proud of you.”
After giving her speech, Mrs. Bush honored military families one step further and met with deployed members’ spouses for lunch.
“I know a little bit about having your life turned upside down because the person you love wants to serve the country he loves. You make countless sacrifices to help your loved one fulfill their duty. We’ll never forget your commitment or the dedication you have to your loved ones,” said Mrs. Bush.
Kerri Ward, one of the 23 spouses chosen to dine with the first lady, said the gratitude Mrs. Bush showed to the spouses made her feel just as appreciated as the military members themselves.
“I appreciated being recognized as an important part of my husband’s military career. When ‘daddy’ gets deployed, I am on 24-hour duty. It’s hard work, and I don’t hear thank you a whole lot. It was an awesome feeling hearing it from Mrs. Bush,” said Mrs. Ward.
(Spc. Todd Goodman contributed to this story)