*President Barack Obama arrived in Hawaii on Thursday for a holiday vacation in the state where he was born and lived as a child.
The president, first lady and their daughters came to the island of Oahu for a more-than-weeklong vacation away from Washington. The Obamas have no public schedule and are expected to celebrate the holidays in private at a rented compound in Kailua.
A crowd of about 75 military servicemen and women and Hawaii politicians including Gov. Linda Lingle greeted Air Force One when it landed at Hickam Air Force Base. Obama took several minutes to greet military personnel and their families before getting in a black SUV for the ride to his vacation home.
People carrying cameras, dogs and children lined the streets along the road as his motorcade made its way to Kailua from the air base.
Some flashed the shaka or “hang loose” sign at the nation’s first Hawaii-born president. Others held placards wishing the Obama family a Merry Christmas.
A group of Hawaiian sovereignty activists standing near Pinky’s restaurant in Kailua spelled out “End US Occupation of Hawaii.”
Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann predicted the national media attention the visit is receiving will boost the state’s tourism industry.
“I think it’s going to create all kinds of demand,” Hannemann told KHON from Hickam, where he was among those greeting the president. “People are going to want to come here when they see the president sunning and funning in Hawaii.”
Obama left the White House earlier on Christmas Eve after the U.S. Senate passed health care legislation. Obama leaves behind a Washington bitterly divided over his top domestic priority. The first family’s departure was delayed until senators took action.
Obama spent part of last December in Hawaii, where his mother and grandmother raised him. The family has made an annual tradition of coming back to the islands.
Obama was born at Kapiolani Medical Center in Honolulu and attended Punahou School from fifth grade until he graduated from high school.
He’s staying at the same rented oceanfront vacation home as last year on a quiet block of Windward Oahu.
The Secret Service has set up multiple security checkpoints in the neighborhood, while the Coast Guard has set up a no-entry zone in part of Kailua Bay fronting the home.
President & First Lady send Christmas Greetings To the Troops
But before leaving for Hawaii, the president and first lady Michelle offered Christmas wishes to the nation on Thursday, including a special thanks for the U.S. military. They urged Americans to help support military families this holiday season.
In his weekly radio and Internet address, Obama said serving as commander in chief has been his greatest honor as president. He saluted the “selfless spirit” of those who serve and said he has been “humbled, profoundly” by those who made the ultimate sacrifice.
“So to all our men and women in uniform spending the holidays far from home — whether it’s at a base here in the states, a mess hall in Iraq or a remote outpost in Afghanistan — know that you are in our thoughts and our prayers,” the president said in a message released two days early because of Christmas. “And this holiday season — and every holiday season — know that we are doing everything in our power to make sure you can succeed in your missions and come home safe to your families.” Watch: