FORT JACKSON, S.C. (Army News Service, Nov. 5, 2005) -- President George W. Bush visited Fort Jackson Friday where he observed training, attended graduation and spent private time with area Gold Star families.

It was the first presidential visit to the installation in Columbia, S.C., in more than 50 years, post officials said.

The president's first stop on post was to the"Fit toWin" training course with Soldiers in their first week of Basic Combat Training.

"I am honored to be here with you today," President Bush said to Soldiers assigned to Company E, 2nd Battalion, 60th Infantry Regiment. "I want you to tell your loved ones that I came by to see you. I also want to tell you how proud I am of your willingness to serve. Every time I am with Soldiers, I feel more confident about the direction we are going in the Global War on Terror."

"That was a special opportunity that doesn't come often," said Capt. Kyle Stevens, commander, Co. E. "For me though, the thrill was seeing my Soldiers and the glow on their faces when he greeted them. This makes basic training a very memorable experience for them."

The Soldiers from 3rd Battalion, 34th Infantry Regiment, who graduated Friday, culminated their time at Fort Jackson with an equally memorable experience.

President Bush was the guest of honor at graduation where he addressed the Soldiers, their families and much of the Fort Jackson community. He also presented outstanding Soldier and drill sergeant awards.

Flanked by Brig. Gen. James H. Schwitters, Fort Jackson commander, and Lt. Col. Reginald Cotton, commander of 3rd Battalion., 34th Infantry Regiment, Bush delivered a 20-minute speech, opening his remarks with a loud "Hooah!"

"I want to congratulate those of you who have completed your Basic Combat Training," he said. "I thank your families for their support, and I want to thank those who worked hard to train you. You have stepped forward and volunteered in this time of danger. You need to know you make Americans proud.

"Soldiers who have marched on this field have battled fascists, dictators and terrorists. Our Soldiers have brought freedom to millions of people they never knew," he said. "Because of their efforts, America is stronger; America is safer; and America is free." He ended the speech with Fort Jackson's motto "Victory Starts Here!"

Following the graduation ceremony, President Bush made a stop at the U.S. Army Chaplain Center and School where he met and greeted chaplains and chaplain assistants.

He then spent private time with area families who have lost a Soldier during the War on Terror.

(Chris Rasmussen writes for the Fort Jackson Leader.)