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President Offers Thanks to Troops During Annual Pageant of Peace

By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Dec. 5, 2008 – As they have for 85 years, Americans gathered in front of the White House on the area known as the Ellipse last night for a ceremony to light the national Christmas tree.

President George W. Bush reminded the large crowd gathered for the 2008 Pageant of Peace that there’s meaning behind the ceremony.

“During Christmas, we celebrate the blessings of the season and the blessings that surround us every day,” Bush said. “And the greatest of these blessings is freedom. Today, we give thanks to the brave men and women who protect the American people by defending freedom around the world. Over the past eight years, my greatest honor as president has been serving as commander in chief of the finest military ever known.”

The nation’s servicemembers and their families never are far from his thoughts, Bush said.

“And they’re always in our prayers,” he added. “America honors their service, and we are grateful to the sacrifice of the families who stand by their side.”

Two representatives of the military families Bush spoke of -- Kayleigh Kepler, 11, and Lindsey Van Horn, 9 -- were on hand to help the president and the first lady light the tree.

Kayleigh is the daughter of Army Staff Sgt. Scott Kepler, who will deploy to Iraq next year with the 1st Infantry Division’s 1st Brigade, 101st Forward Support Battalion, based at Fort Riley, Kan.

Lindsey’s father, Army Chief Warrant Officer 3 Robert D. Van Horn, is deployed to Iraq with the 743rd Military Intelligence Battalion, which has its headquarters at Fort Carson, Colo.

The tree the girls helped to light is a 42-foot Colorado blue spruce lit with 50 strings of LED lights donated by General Electric Co.

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