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Obama thanks troops for service on Christmas visit to base

President Barack Obama pauses during his his year-end news conference in the White House briefing room in Washington, December 20, 2013. REU
President Barack Obama pauses during his his year-end news conference in the White House briefing room in Washington, December 20, 2013. REU

By Ros Krasny

KANOEHE BAY, Hawaii (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama and wife Michelle thanked U.S. troops for their service on Wednesday during a Christmas Day visit to Marine Corps Base Hawaii in Kanoehe Bay.

The president addressed about 580 active duty service men and women for about three minutes, wishing them a "Mele Kalikimaka," and then spent time talking to troops individually and posing for photographs.

Obama told the troops assembled in the Anderson Hall dining facility that he had spent part of Christmas Eve speaking with 10 members of the military, stationed in Afghanistan, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere.

"It was just a sampling of the incredible sacrifice that all of you and your families make every day," Obama said.

The White House said earlier the service members wounded on Saturday during an aborted rescue mission in South Sudan had been among those Obama had called.

Four military personnel were injured when their aircraft were fired upon during a mission to evacuate American citizens from chaotic South Sudan.

In an audio and internet message earlier on Wednesday Obama lauded the troops returning from service overseas.

As 2013 draws to a close "fewer of our men and women in uniform are deployed in harm's way than at any time in the last decade," Obama said, citing the end of the war in Iraq and a winding down of action in Afghanistan.

"For many of our troops and newest veterans, this might be the first time in years that they've been with their families on Christmas," he said.

Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, Jill, who have been spending Christmas at home in Delaware, visited injured military members at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center near Washington, D.C., on Wednesday.

Obama used the Christmas Day broadcast as a chance to call Americans to volunteer in their communities.

"For families like ours, that service is a chance to celebrate the birth of Christ and live out what He taught us - to love our neighbors as we would ourselves; to feed the hungry and look after the sick; to be our brother's keeper and our sister's keeper."

The Obamas recorded the greeting at the White House before departing on Friday for a two-week vacation in Hawaii.

The White House said the Obamas spent Christmas morning opening presents and singing carols.

(Reporting by Ros Krasny; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

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