Last week, U.S. Army Cpl. Steven Baker was wounded while on patrol in Afghanistan's Wardak province. Friday night in Germany, President Barack Obama pinned a Purple Heart medal on his chest.
"I couldn't stop smiling," Baker said after Obama's two-hour visit at the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, where many soldiers wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan are taken for treatment.
As Obama swung through Germany on a foreign trip that will take him to the beaches of Normandy Saturday to mark the 65th anniversary of the Allied D-Day invasion, he met American troops injured in Iraq and Afghanistan: One a war he has pledged to end, the other a war he is in the process of escalating.
Baker, 24, was riding as a gunner in an MRAP armored vehicle on May 30 with two other soldiers when it was hit with a roadside bomb. The Corinth, Miss., native was taken to a medical facility in Bagram, Afghanistan, for treatment, and then flown to Landstuhl — and learned of Obama's visit just yesterday.
"I thought they were kidding," Baker said.
He was one of six soldiers to whom Obama presented the Purple Heart in recognition of his injuries, and one of dozens the president met as he toured hospital wards and a recreation center for recovering troops.
'It was quite an honor'
Baker, a member of the Fort Drum, N.Y.-based 10th Mountain Division, said he hoped to re-enlist after recovering at Landstuhl, and that he was looking forward to visiting his wife and family, first.
Sgt. Matt Berth, 26, of Rhinelander, Wis., an Army engineer, was recently injured in an explosion that struck his vehicle as he was driving on a highway near Kandahar. He had been at Landstuhl for a week when Obama came to give him a Purple Heart.
"It was quite an honor, coming from him," Berth said.
When Obama swung through Germany last summer for a speech in Berlin as he sought the presidency, he canceled plans to visit Landstuhl after the Pentagon raised concerns about political activity on a military base.
Some Republicans criticized Obama for skipping Landstuhl in April when he was in Germany for a NATO summit.
Soldiers who met him Friday, however, said they were impressed that the commander in chief came to commend their service.
Berth said Obama told the soldiers they were the first thing on his mind each morning, and thanked them for their service.
"That 'thank you' meant a lot," Berth said.