FORT LEE, Va. — In a farewell visit of sorts, President Barack Obama on Wednesday told Virginia-based service members that the U.S. military is setting a good example for the rest of the country during a heated and divisive political campaign season.
The outgoing commander in chief thanked them for serving and said the U.S. military is the world's best because "we've got the best people."
"Sometimes, especially during election season, the country seems divided," Obama told about 550 troops at Fort Lee, without elaborating further on the heated presidential contest between Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump.
He praised the troops for setting a good example.
"You're unified in your mission. You do your job. You look out for each other," said Obama, who will leave office in January. "You remind us we're one team, we're one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. That's what you stand for."
While at Fort Lee, Obama also participated in a town hall-style event that was airing Wednesday night on CNN. Obama visited the same day that the Pentagon announced that 615 more troops were being sent to Iraq to help set the stage for an Iraqi-led battle to claim Mosul. The northern Iraqi city has been the Islamic State group's main stronghold for more than two years.
Obama reflected on his nearly eight years as president, saying that of all the privileges of the Oval Office, there's none greater than serving as commander in chief of the finest military in the world.
"We have the strongest military because we have the best people. You inspire me and Michelle and the American people," he said. "I just want to say thank you from the bottom of my heart."
Obama occasionally makes such thank-you visits, meeting mostly recently with troops at Naval Station Rota during a July trip to Spain. Similar stops have taken place over the years at bases in Texas, California and New Jersey, among others, where he meets with soldiers he has sent into harm's way, most notably in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Obama took office with the U.S. in the midst of wars in both of those countries. In Iraq, he steadily lowered troop levels and declared on Aug. 31, 2010, that their combat mission was ending, though at least 4,565 troops remain in an advise-and-assist role. In Afghanistan, Obama increased troop levels, which peaked at about 100,000 in 2010 before a steady reduction. About 8,400 troops are expected to remain in Afghanistan through the end of his administration in January. They have two missions: training and advising Afghan forces, and supporting counter-terrorism operations.
Meanwhile, the U.S. leads a coalition of 60-plus nations working to defeat the Islamic State group, which has footholds in Syria, Iraq and Libya.
Associated Press writer Darlene Superville in Washington contributed to this report.