From Sunlen Miller
This afternoon, President Obama visited Landstuhl Regional Medical Center located near Ramstein Air Force Base, Germany to visit wounded U.S. troops. The president awarded six Purple Hearts to soldiers and Marines wounded in action.
The medical center is the largest American hospital outside of the Unites States, a 138-bed medical facility that provides care to approximately 245,000 American military personnel and their families spread throughout the European theater.
Aides described the stop as a “very good, warm, yet sober” visit.
The president visited the Intensive Care Unit as well as a regular ward, meeting with 22 individuals receiving treatment. He spoke with the doctors, nurses and technicians on staff about the “issues and the challenges they were facing,” according to deputy National Security Advisor Mark Lippert, who accompanied the president during the visit.
Obama then stopped by the USO Warrior Center, an outpatient center that provides services such as free Internet access and phone calls for the outpatients, and met with about 75 uniformed personnel.
“It’s a sort of rest-and-relaxation center for the outpatient treatment, people receiving an outpatient treatment on Landstuhl there,” Lippert said.
During his visit, the president was led by Col. Brian Lein, the commander of the Regional Medical Center, and Gen. Carter Ham, who’s in charge of the U.S. Army component in Europe.
President Obama’s visit to Landstuhl was made after an earlier controversy.
At the height of the general election campaign last July, then-Sen. Obama attempted to plan a visit to Landstuhl while on a trip that included a stop in Germany.
The visit, which ultimately was cancelled, was dragged through the mud of the political campaign. The Obama campaign, after many half-answers attempting to explain the cancellation, said it was because of the impression that the visit could be viewed as “political in nature.”
The McCain campaign created an ad attacking Obama for his cancelled visit, asserting that Obama "made time to go to the gym, but cancelled a visit with wounded troops. Seems the Pentagon wouldn't allow him to bring cameras."
When ABC News asked Obama about the controversy during a stop in London on July 26, 2008, he defended his decision to wait on a trip to Landstuhl.
“I was going to be accompanied by one of my advisors, a former military officer," Obama said, referring to one of his foreign policy advisors, retired Maj Gen. Scott Gration. "We got notice that he would be treated as a campaign person, and it would therefore be perceived as political because he had endorsed my candidacy but he wasn’t on the Senate staff. That triggered then a concern that maybe our visit was going to be perceived as political. And the last thing that I want to do is have injured soldiers and the staff at these wonderful institutions having to sort through whether this is political or not or get caught in the crossfire between campaigns."
"So rather than go forward and potentially get caught up in what might have been considered a political controversy of some sort," Obama said, "what we decided was that we not make a visit and instead I would call some of the troops that were there. So that essentially would be the extent of the story."