Stationed on the farthest island in Alaska’s Aleutians, Coast Guard Fireman Michael Joseph feels like he’s living at the end of the earth. But he wasn’t too far away to receive a Christmas Eve greeting from President Bush.
“First thing he said was, ’Michael, Merry Christmas,” said Joseph, 24, of Tucson, Ariz., one of 20 men at the Coast Guard’s Loran Station Attu. “It was great.”
Placing calls from his mountaintop retreat at Camp David, Md., Bush talked to 10 members of the U.S. military around the world and in the United States to thank them for their service and share holiday greetings.
Joseph told The Associated Press in a telephone interview that his name was among those submitted for the honor of receiving a call from Bush. He said he was surprised and elated to learn two weeks ago that he would be among those talking to the president on Christmas Eve.
Joseph, who has been stationed on the Aleutian island for nearly nine months, awoke at 2:45 a.m. local time to prepare for the call at 4:15 a.m., which at Camp David was 8:15 a.m. EDT. The conversation lasted three or four minutes. He said Bush told him, “I want to say thanks for your service out there and the sacrifice you’re making.”
Bush asked about the island, its weather and the Coast Guard mission there, Joseph said. After the president finished, the Camp David operator connected Joseph to his wife, Amanda, in Tucson.
“It was pretty nice just to know that all the hard work that we do out here gets recognized by the president,” Joseph said. “Not many people back home where I’m from can say they’ve talked to the president.”
Bush placed the calls to the service members, including six stationed in Iraq, on Friday morning from the western Maryland retreat where he was to spend Christmas Day. He is to fly to his Texas ranch on Sunday, where aides say he plans to relax until after the new year.
“As these members of our armed forces sacrifice to protect our freedom and liberty, the president wanted to express his gratitude for their service and sacrifice and to wish them all a merry Christmas and happy holidays,” White House spokesman Ken Lisaius told reporters in a conference call.
Here are the names of the troops Bush called:
- U.S. Army Pfc. Kenneth L. Vest with the United Nations Command Security Battalion at Camp Bonifas in South Korea.
- U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Eric A. Julian with the 300th Area Support Group, 736th Transportation Company, stationed in Talill, Iraq.
- U.S. Marine Cpl. Robert Restaino Jr. with the Reconnaissance Platoon, 24 Marine Expeditionary Unit, Special Operations Capable, II Marine Expeditionary Force stationed with the U.S. Marine Corps Forces in the Atlantic.
- U.S. Marine Cpl. Malcolm N. Hedgepeth with Headquarters Battery, 2d Battalion 10th Marines, Provisional Infantry Battalion, stationed in Iraq
- U.S. Navy Hospitalman Roman R. Cruz with Bravo Surgical Company, Combat Service Support Group 15, stationed in Fallujah, Iraq
- U.S. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Michael D. Watts, a hospital corpsman with SEAL Team Three of the Naval Special Warfare Task Group, stationed in Iraq.
- U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Santiago James Fontanez with the Air Force Office of Special Investigations in Baghdad, Iraq.
- U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Benjamin J. Miller with the 16th Logistics Readiness Squadron of Hurlburt Field, Fla., deployed in Iraq
- U.S. Coast Guard Fireman Michael M. Joseph at the Coast Guard’s Loran Station in Attu, Alaska.
- U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer 3rd Class Melissa M. Johnson on the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter, MUNRO homeport, Alameda, Calif.