President Donald Trump is holding his first public event in Colorado since his election Thursday as he delivers the commencement address at the U.S. Air Force Academy graduation in Colorado Springs.
After an introduction by Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson, Trump acknowledged applause by saying, "You just like all those brand new, beautiful airplanes that we’re buying."
The president stayed mostly true to his prepared remarks, picking up energy a bit as he spoke about the strength of the American military and a goal of "peace through strength."
“Our country is doing well," he said. "Our country is respected again. We are respected again. And we’re reawakening American pride, American confidence and American greatness.
“No longer will we sacrifice American interests to any foreign power. We don’t do that anymore. In all things and ways we’re putting America first and it’s about time.”
He also made a few references to Space Force and Space Command — to which Colorado Springs would like to be a permanent home.
"We have things under development like of which you’ve never seen, life of which you could never conceive," he told the crowd. "We will soon have something I started, and it started slow, but we’ll soon have Space Force."
He described graduates' paths forward as military trailblazers.
"You will redefine warfare at a critical time in American history… You will explore the boundaries of space and keep America forever proud and forever free."
In a section of the speech during which he congratulated various accomplishments by academy athletes, the president called up to the stage the winner of the college home run derby, Nic Ready, joking, “I want to feel this guy’s muscles.” And he did. And then shook his hand.
The president walked out at 11:23 a.m. to loud applause and, of course, "Hail to the Chief," then watched as the graduating class of 2019 arrived on the field at Falcon Stadium, also to a huge ovation.
Nearly a thousand cadets — 731 men and 258 women — are graduating in the ceremony.
Before the address, graduates' family members enjoyed great weather and the anticipation of seeing the president speak.
Michelle Swenson, sitting in the front row, wore a glittery "I (heart) Trump" pin and showing off a sign that read "Keep America Great" that she planned to hold up during the president's commencement address.
She said today would be "epic" — not only watching her granddaughter's fiance graduate from the Air Force Academy but seeing the president speak in person.
"It's a dream come true," she said. And to top it off, her granddaughter gets married this Saturday. Swenson lives in the San Francisco area and comes from a military family.
"We have Army, Marines and Air Force."
Her son, who is retired from the Army, was stationed at Fort Carson in Colorado Springs.
Randy Smith came from Gainesville, Georgia for his son's graduation and said it was a huge honor to have Trump give the commencement address. Media is not allowed to get comments from the bleachers, which were nearly full with parents and members of public, so he leaned over a banister to share his thoughts.
"I'm not really worried about him speaking about politics," Smith said. "I think he's doing a great job as president. I just don't see him going there. I think he does a great job of supporting the military. And that's what I'm looking forward to today — is his support."
Christopher Campos is an active duty airman stationed at Travis Air Force Base in northern California, and is watching his younger brother graduate today.
"I'm really excited," he said, eating some nachos under sun and blue skies before the ceremony. "It's a big step but he's ready for it. I told my brother to do better than me and he's here," said Campos, who enlisted. He said he's never seen the President speak in person.
"Getting to see him is nice. He's the boss."
Graduates will leave the academy with a five-year service commitment in addition to other requirements depending on the types of training, education and scholarships they received.
The academy last hosted a sitting president in 2016.
Thursday will be the first time a sitting president has given the commencement address since President Barack Obama spoke to Air Force Academy graduates in 2016.
Vice President Mike Pence spoke to U.S. Military Academy graduates at West Point over Memorial Day weekend, promoting Trump's support for the troops and told them to prepare to lead soldiers in combat.
"It is a virtual certainty that you will fight on a battlefield for America at some point in your life," Pence said.
A coalition of progressive groups organized an anti-war protest outside of Colorado Springs City Hall on Wednesday ahead of Trump’s visit, specifically warning against any military intervention in Iran. The event drew more than a dozen people.
Organizers intentionally held the event a day before the graduation, not wanting to detract from the ceremony.
"I wouldn't have wanted my graduation ruined by a political protest, but I do think there's a message to be sent," said Kathryn Smith, a protester and Air Force Academy graduate herself.
Trump last spoke publicly in Colorado days before the 2016 election, in which Colorado was considered a swing state. A top Republican leader said the president was not expected to hold any other official events in the state during his visit.
Colorado Public Radio reporter Caitlyn Kim contributed to this story. This story will be updated.
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