US President Barack Obama speaks to the press after a meeting with Filipino counterpart Benigno Aquino in the Oval Office of the White House on June 8, 2012 in Washington. Obama and Aquino met to discuss the two nations' relationship, issues effecting the Pacific Ocean nation and other international issues. (Photo by BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/GettyImages)
By NBC's Ali Weinberg
KANEHOE, HAWAII - President Obama spent part of what could be his last full day in Hawaii participating in an annual tradition for his wife Michelle and him: greeting Marines at the base near his vacation home here.
The president's holiday might end as soon as Wednesday, White House officials said, a day before the Senate returns to session to work on a way forward on avoiding the so-called fiscal cliff.
But the president's attention was far from tax hikes and spending cuts as he and the First Lady slipped around a corner of the Anderson mess hall at Marine Corps Base Hawaii to greet military families as they ate an early Christmas dinner.
In short remarks, the president, dressed casually in a blue button-down shirt and khakis, thanked the service members and their families - mostly Marines, but some Army and Navy as well - for enduring the challenges of military life.
"Not only do those in uniform make sacrifices but I think everybody understands the sacrifices that families make each and every day as well," he said.
The president also noted that the country is "still in a wartime footing," even as the troop drawdown in Afghanistan, slated to conclude in 2014, continues.
"Some of you may have loved ones who are deployed there; some of you may be about to be deployed there," he said. "So we want you to know that it's not easy. But what we also want you to know is that you have the entire country aligned with you."
After his remarks, the president and First Lady disappeared behind the mess hall walls, where they posed for pictures with troops.