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Commander in chief mingles with crowd

July 05, 2007|By ERIN JULIUS

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MARTINSBURG, W.VA. - For Nancy Benton, a presidential peck on the cheek made this Fourth of July a special one.

President George W. Bush was in Martinsburg on Wednesday to speak to members of the West Virginia Air National Guard's 167th Airlift Wing.

"I said, 'Mr. President, can I have my picture taken with you,' and he said, 'Absolutely, a little Fourth of July cheer,'" Benton said.

Benton, of Bunker Hill, W.Va., described the president as "very gracious, very personable."

She was among hundreds of people who crowded in close to the president while he shook hands, gave hugs and posed for pictures.

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When he arrived, Bush and children of Air National Guard members led the crowd in the Pledge of Allegiance.

During his speech, Bush called the servicemen and servicewomen gathered in an aircraft hangar Wednesday some of the Mountain State's "bravest and most dedicated citizens."

He drew laughs when he joked that his wife, Laura Bush, couldn't join him in Martinsburg because he'd told her to "fire up the grill."

Dora Woodward, of Hedgesville, W.Va., balanced on a metal barrier in an attempt to see the president through the crowd.

Woodward, who was decked out in red shorts, red earrings and a white shirt, described herself as patriotic.

"It's exciting to see the president of the United States, especially at our military place," she said.

"I love my country," Woodward said.

Mike Eshbaugh, of Brunswick, Md., drove to Martinsburg hoping to say hello to Bush, an old buddy from boot camp at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas, Eshbaugh said.

Eshbaugh didn't get a chance to speak with Bush, but could tell the president "still has a lot of Texas swagger about him," Eshbaugh said.

Bush displayed his leadership skills during boot camp in 1968, Eshbaugh said.

"He was always looking out for individuals, his troops," he said.

Brittany Kesteven, 16, was seated on a stage behind the president during his speech and later shook his hand.

Brittany, of Smithsburg, said the president seemed really friendly.

Brittany attended the event with her stepfather, Capt. Steve Sigler of the 167th.

Wednesday was the first time Sigler saw the president in person, he said.

"He was very energetic when he talked about the war on terror," Sigler said.

The president seemed like a "good guy" and was confident, he said.

"He had that little strut you see on TV," Sigler said.

Ralph Funk, of Hancock, didn't meet the president, but sent his 167th Airlift Wing baseball cap through the crowd.

Funk spent 21 years as a member of the Air National Guard unit.

Bush signed Funk's baseball cap, which eventually was returned to an ecstatic owner.

"This is an honor," Funk said.

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