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President Bush visits Luke

President George W. Bush greets troops from the 56th Fighter Wing at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz., August 29, 2005. The President arrived at Luke before going to an El Mirage town hall meeting to rally support for his new Medicare plan. (Photo by Senior Airman Joseph Thompson)

President George W. Bush greets troops from the 56th Fighter Wing at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz., August 29, 2005. The President arrived at Luke before going to an El Mirage town hall meeting to rally support for his new Medicare plan. (Photo by Senior Airman Joseph Thompson)

LUKE AIR FORCE BASE, Ariz. (AETCNS) -- Air Force One touched down here Aug. 29, offering a unique opportunity for more than 200 Airmen to see President George W. Bush.

The president and first lady Laura Bush arrived at 9:35 a.m. and were met by several distinguished guests including Sen. Jon Kyl, Sen. John McCain, Gov. Janet Napolitano and Rep. Trent Franks.

The president took a moment to wave to Airmen
before he left the base in a motorcade for a town hall-style speaking engagement in El Mirage.

After he participated in the meeting about Medicare prescription drug benefits held at a retirement community, he arrived back at the base at about 11:35 a.m. to depart for his next stop in California - but not before meeting with Luke Airmen along the flightline.

Despite an excessive heat warning and temperatures hovering near 110 degrees, 200 Airmen waited for the opportunity to shake hands with the president and first lady.

While standing by at the Desert Star Enlisted Club to be escorted to the flightline, a room full of Airmen of all ranks watched TV monitors with interest as the president spoke to senior citizens just a few miles away in El Mirage.

"I spent the whole weekend ironing my uniform and polishing my boots," said Airman 1st Class Hope Windtberg, 56th Aerospace Medicine Squadron. "Last week I met General Looney -- this week, the president of the United States. It's an incredible honor."

Staff Sgt. Shahira Bennett echoed Airman Windtberg's words and added, "I was speechless when I first heard of his visit. I am so excited to meet him."

While waiting, most said they were appreciative of the opportunity, saying such a chance doesn't happen often and they were glad to be part of it.

"This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience," said Staff Sgt. Tim Neal, 61st Fighter Squadron non-commissioned officer in charge of life support.

Sprinkled throughout the room were Airmen dressed in desert camouflage uniforms, an indication they had been deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom or Operation Enduring Freedom. Those wearing DCUs were allowed to be in the front of the line to get the best opportunity to shake hands with President Bush.

Senior Airmen Charles Boniface and Kolby Konopaski, 56th Civil Engineer Squadron fire department members, who each served six months at Baghdad International Airport, agreed it was a great moment.

"Our families are excited back home," Airman Konopaski said. "(President Bush) is coming here to shake our hands. It's an honor."

"He's the man," Airman Boniface said. "We support him 100 percent."

Others present were excited to share the news with family as well.

"I called my mom to tell her," said Airman 1st Class Chris Wells, 56th CES. "It's pretty cool and something I probably won't get to do again."

First sergeants in the crowd were especially excited about their Airmen being able to see the president.

The first sergeant for the 56th Medical Group, Senior Master Sgt. Jack McCoy, said, "It just doesn't get any better than this. This is an awesome opportunity for men and women of Luke to see our commander in chief. How huge is that?"

Col. Robin Rand, 56th Fighter Wing commander, shared his enthusiasm over the president's visit.

"We are honored to have the President of the United States here today at Luke Air Force Base," Colonel Rand said. "I am proud of the men and women who are assigned to Luke and honored to have this opportunity for them to see the president."
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