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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, January 3, 2010

Obama stayed near marine base

By Dan Nakaso
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

The Marine base's Semper Fit gym has been a daily stop for the vacationing Barack Obama. Bridget Schowalter, a military dependent, was among those working out there on Wednesday.

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

On Christmas Day, the president and first lady Michelle greeted diners at the base’s Anderson Hall, as they did last year. Obama also has used the base for his press statements during this vacation.

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President Obama has stayed even closer than usual to Marine Corps Base Hawaii on his latest O'ahu vacation.

And the reasons are probably as much security-conscious as symbolic for a wartime commander in chief from the Democratic Party.

"The military tends to be more right wing, conservative leaning, and there's a bias when you have a Democratic, liberal president," said Michael Naho'opi'i, who graduated from the Naval Academy in 1986, retired as a lieutenant commander and is now executive director of the Kahoolawe Island Reserve Commission. "A lot of it has to do with security. But it does show that he supports the troops."

As on last year's Hawai'i Christmas vacation as president-elect, Obama has begun his days with early-morning workouts at Marine Corps Base Hawaii's Semper Fit gym, which sits next to his beachfront rental home in Kailua.

But on this trip, Obama has returned to the nearly 1,000-acre base several times after working out: to take family and friends for private beach time Dec. 27 at Pyramid Rock out of the eye of reporters and photographers; to play a private basketball game in the gym, also on Dec. 27; to make two widely publicized statements about the Christmas Day attempted terrorist attack on a commercial airliner; and, joined by the first lady, to shake hands with Marines, soldiers and sailors on Christmas Day, for the second year in a row.

As the president's Hawai'i vacation neared its conclusion, he returned to the base again yesterday, with family and friends, to enjoy the beach after a morning visit to Sea Life Park in Waimänalo.

Last year, during an August vacation break from the presidential campaign trail, Obama stepped out from the same rental home he's staying in now to deliver a sidewalk statement on Russia's incursion into neighboring Georgia.

Various media reports at the time referred to the "palm tree-lined driveway" that served as a backdrop for Obama's statement.

This time, Obama's entourage erected an ad hoc briefing room, along with a decidedly more presidential-looking podium, inside the Mauka Ballroom of the Marines' Klipper Golf Course.

"He is the commander in chief and he takes that seriously," said Dan Boylan, a Hawai'i political commentator and University of Hawai'i-West O'ahu professor. "But the security guys clearly want to keep him close to base."


Even for military members who preferred Republican Sen. John McCain for president, Obama is still their commander in chief, said Jim Hickerson, 75, a Vietnam POW and retired Navy captain who lives near the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific at Punchbowl.

During his Navy career, Hickerson met and admired President Reagan in California and said, "I am not a very big Obama fan."

"But it's great to have a president here, there's no doubt about it," Hickerson said. "The president's the president. I have the utmost respect for the office. He's our commander in chief. Having him come by (Marine Corps Base Hawaii) is an honor, whether you respect him or not."

The base is well suited to accommodate the president and his family.

Anderson Hall — where Obama and the first lady thanked military members for their service and wished them Merry Christmas — is outfitted with new 52-inch and 42-inch flat-screen televisions and has been named the best chow hall in the entire Marine Corps three years running.

"We feel our amenities exceed what you would typically find at other bases, without calling them extravagant," said Col. Robert D. Rice, commanding officer of Marine Corps Base Hawaii. "We're particularly proud of our Klipper Golf Course and its newly refurbished club. Our Semper Fit gym, where the commander in chief has worked out each morning of his stay thus far, has approximately 20 percent of its strength-training equipment replaced or upgraded each year. Our basketball court in the gym just had its floor resurfaced in September, as it has almost every year in the last several years. Our cardio training equipment is as modern as you'd find in most gyms out in town."


Marines have been assigned to the Windward side's Mokapu Peninsula since Dec. 7, 1941, when Japanese fighters strafed Naval Air Station Käne'ohe Bay eight minutes before the main attack on Pearl Harbor.

On Jan. 15, 1952, Marine Corps Air Station, Kaneohe Bay was officially commissioned. Today, Marine Corps Base Hawaii is home to more than 7,500 Marines and more than 7,000 family members, with hundreds more sailors, Marines and civilians pouring in each day.

Rice, the base's commanding officer, said the Marines "enjoy a superb relationship with the White House staff and Secret Service, and eagerly look forward to supporting future presidential visits to Hawai'i."

The Marines' accommodations are good to go for the leader of the free world, said base spokesman Maj. Alan Crouch. But there is one spot on base that even the Marines can't improve on, Crouch said.

Where the first family enjoyed a beach picnic at Pyramid Rock, Crouch said, "there's no improving on perfection."