A crowd of Soldiers, their families, civilians and the press gathered at Biggs Army Airfield Tuesday under the watchful eye of the Secret Service to see President Barack Obama arrive in El Paso.
The purpose of the president’s visit was to outline his plan for immigration reform in a speech made at Chamizal National Memorial on the banks of the Rio Grande on the border of the United States and Mexico.
Despite the relatively pragmatic use of Fort Bliss’ flight facilities, Team Bliss was enthusiastic to see Obama again during his second visit within a year. Among those who got to meet the president were Staff Sgt. Canaan Wiseman, 5th Armored Brigade, and Capt. Ryan Harmon, C Company, 2nd Battalion, 5th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, who were there on the tarmac to meet the president when Air Force One landed.
“There are a lot of people that go through their whole career that never even see a president, and I actually got to shake his hand and greet him,” said Wiseman. “It’s not every day that you get to meet the boss.”
“A week after Osama Bin Laden was killed, it’s nice to see the commander-in-chief in person and shake his hand,” said Harmon.
Alexis Veliz, a seventh grade student from Ensor Middle School in Horizon City, got signatures from the president when he arrived in El Paso, one on his cap and one on his Marine Corps flag.
“I couldn’t believe that I actually got the president’s signature,” said Veliz. “I just thought the fact of meeting him was good enough.”
After meeting with the Soldiers and families of Fort Bliss, Obama got in his convoy and went to Bridge of the Americas Port of Entry for a quick tour, followed by a visit to Chamizal National Memorial.
Chamizal was once site to a long-running boundary dispute between the United States and Mexico. The course of the Rio Grande had moved south into Mexico, causing that land to be a point of contention between the two countries. President Lyndon Johnson finalized the 1963 treaty in 1964 with Mexican President Lopez Mateo, unveiling a monument signifying the cooperation between the two countries to end a century-old border dispute.
Obama used this site of international agreement to highlight the importance of immigration reform, another pressing international issue largely involving Mexico.
“Immigration is not just the right thing to do, it’s smart for our economy,” he said. “It’s for this reason that businesses all across America are demanding that Washington finally meet its responsibilities to solve the immigration problem.”
Obama cited the safety of El Paso as proof of increased border security.
“Despite a lot of breathless reports that have tagged places like El Paso as dangerous, violent crime in Southwest border counties has dropped by a third,” said Obama. “El Paso and other cities and towns along this border are consistently among the safest in the nation.”
The meat of the president’s El Paso visit had to do with immigration, but passing through Fort Bliss nevertheless raised morale for those attending the disembarkation.
“We have five combat brigades here, brigades going to Afghanistan, brigades going to Iraq, so it’s good to see that he’s coming here to show support for the base,” said Harmon. “This is going to be one of the premier bases in the Army in about five years, if it isn’t already, so it’s getting there, and it’s nice to see that he’s supporting that.”