updated 1/10/2006 10:40:00 AM ET 2006-01-10T15:40:00

Former President Bill Clinton surprised U.S. troops arriving from Iraq when his refueling stop at the Bangor International Airport coincided with the arrival of two flights carrying soldiers.

Clinton was returning Monday night from Paris where he had met with French President Jacques Chirac to discuss plans for his charitable organization, the Clinton Foundation.

His plans for a quick departure were waylaid when a problem was discovered with the aircraft, allowing him to join a line of local troop greeters who meet each plane carrying soldiers returning from overseas or leaving for duty.

“Thank you for your service,” Clinton said as he shook hands and hugged many of the soldiers. He autographed hats, cards and other items.

The soldiers, about 600 of them, were returning to bases in Oklahoma, Texas and Georgia. Their two chartered aircraft had landed for fuel.

“This is great,” Staff Sgt. Anthony Thompson of New York City told the Bangor Daily News.

Clinton’s private jet, a Falcon 900, was scheduled to land for fuel, but there was a mechanical problem as well, said Rebecca Hupp, airport manager.

There was a report of smoke but firefighters were not summoned when the plane touched down at shortly after 6 p.m., Hupp said. Another aircraft was brought to Bangor, and Clinton departed for White Plains, N.Y., at 10 p.m., she said.

While the flight was scheduled to land for fuel and to clear customs, airport administrators didn’t know that Clinton was on the plane, she said.

Clinton had some fun when Army Spc. Joshua Ruschenberg used a cell phone provided by troop greeters to call to his sister-in-law, Shancy Garrison, in North Carolina. He handed over the phone to the former commander in chief.

“Hi, Shancy, it’s Bill Clinton,” the former president said into the phone.

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