President Obama on Monday compared service members to "Santa in fatigues" for what they do to protect Americans, even during the holiday season.
"We can gather with family and friends because you are willing to hug yours goodbye and step forward to serve," the president told a group of about 3,000 service members and their families at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst After a long day we can come home because you're willing to leave your home and deploy. We get to celebrate birthdays and anniversaries and holidays, go to soccer games, go to dance recitals because you're willing to miss those of your family. We are free and safe and secure over here because you're willing to serve over there."
The president touted the recently-passed $1.1 trillion spending bill that will prevent the government from shutting down at the end of the year. He has not yet signed it, but he talked about the provisions that will affect the military, including shielding base commissaries from budget cuts, pay raises for members of the military, and health care for wounded soldiers and veterans.
"You've always been there for us. We've got to be there for you," he said.
He acknowledged the work troops are doing to fight the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in the Middle East and Ebola in West Africa. The president also reflected on the coming drawdown in Afghanistan, where just 15,000 troops will be stationed at the end of the month - a change he called a "turning point" for the nation. When he took office, Mr. Obama noted, there were 180,000 American personnel serving in Afghanistan and Iraq.
He admitted that the end of the war "doesn't mean everything's great in Afghanistan. Afghanistan's still a very dangerous place."
"But I want you and every American who has served in Afghanistan to be proud of what you accomplished there," the president said.