DARWIN, Australia--The 1,700 troops, dressed in fatigues, stood expectantly Thursday as the commander-in-chief took the podium and gave them a rallying cry.
“I want to hear it, so let me say it first: Aussie, Aussie, Aussie!” President Obama chanted, drawing a booming response: “Oi, Oi, Oi!”
They weren’t Obama’s forces; they were troops from the Royal Australian Air Force Base, where the president stopped for a brief visit at the end of a two-day stop Down Under.
But there was good reason these troops were responding to the U.S. president: They will soon be part of a new partnership with the United States.
Obama announced Wednesday that he is sending 250 Marines here next summer to begin company rotations of six months.
The expanded partnership is the first step in the Obama administration’s foreign policy shift away from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which the U.S. is winding down. The White House says it is increasing its focus on economic growth and security in the Asia Pacific region.
The president was eager to sell his vision to the Australian public in speeches before Parliament in Canberra and here at the Darwin base.
In his brief remarks to the soldiers, Obama paid tribute to the two countries’ 60-year alliance, which began in World War II. And he noted that it was in Darwin, which he called “Australia’s Pearl Harbor,” where U.S. and Australian troops suffered heavy losses after being bombed by Japanese fighters. The USS Peary battleship was sunk off the coast of this base in Australia’s remote Northern Territory.
Obama cited the partnership between the two nations in Iraq and Afghanistan and stated: “Now, here in Darwin and Northern Australia, we’ll write the next proud chapter in our alliance.”
The soldiers cheered him heartily.